I was invited to try John Harvard’s Brewery and Ale House brunch in Harvard Square in February through the Boston Brunchers. With six locations between Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island, I was looking forward to a more mainstream brunch than what I typically go for. They added a brunch menu in November, so I was curious to see what they had to offer.
Some background: I’m the first to admit that I’m completely spoiled by attending events through the Boston Brunchers. It’s free food, the opportunity to meet other bloggers, and try new restaurants. As you might assume, the restaurants know we’re coming – these events (and I do consider them to be events rather than regular meals) are set up in advance – they know we’re providing blog posts about our experiences. So, because I’m dining as a disclosed reviewer, I expect the best food possible to come out of the kitchen (i.e. the same or better than what I would receive dining anonymously). During this visit to John Harvard’s I dined with my boyfriend. They had our reservation, knew we were coming from the brunchers group, and our server knew I was reviewing and that this was a complimentary meal.
We sat down to a variety of menus – a huge lunch/dinner menu with everything from salads, sandwiches, pizza, and entrees; a brunch menu; and a drink menu.
Our waiter was kind, but inexperienced. I think he had two tables during our hour and a half meal – it was very quiet for lunch on a Saturday in Harvard Square.
At the start of the meal we were served a the bread basket. The pieces of bread were hit or miss – I had one soft and fresh piece, and then the other two I tried were hard and dried out.
I ordered a hot chocolate. The presentation was good – a cute mug with some foam on top – and our server proudly explained that he made it himself and hoped I would like it. When I took a sip, I realized it was warm milk and sugar. Not a hint of chocolate. After his introduction, though, I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything.
My boyfriend ordered a decaf coffee, which was mediocre and not quite hot enough. I was optimistic that the drink difficulties would be overshadowed by the food, though.
We started with the Harvard Ale Steamed Clams. The tomatoes and smoked bacon were a nice addition, although the bacon was all very soft (a slight crispiness would have been a nice contrast to the soft clams). The bowl had plenty of broth and the subtle flavors were a good way to start the meal. One of the clams hadn’t opened, which was strange to see plated.
For my meal I had the Eggs Benedict that was served with a side of homefries. The homefries were fine and the onions were a nice touch. The star of the show, however, had major difficulties: there was something off about the hollandaise – the consistency was far too thick and it had an overpowering tangy flavor, the poached egg was completely hard inside, and the english muffin under the lackluster ham wasn’t toasted and added a soggy component that didn’t help any other element of the dish.
All I could bring myself to eat were the homefries and a few bites of salty ham. I haven’t experienced a dish with so many inedible elements in a very long time.
My boyfriend ordered the Steak and Eggs. The steak, which he ordered medium, was severely undercooked in some areas and overcooked to a crisp in others. The white of the eggs was also undercooked – I love a drippy yoke, but the whites shouldn’t be clear on a sunny-side up egg.
There were few diners at 12:30pm on Saturday and, after my brunch experience, I understand why. None of the details the kitchen should be looking for were considered. I can’t help but wonder: who was back there Saturday morning and were they tasting or testing anything?
Sure, I’ve had my share of difficult meals and I sometimes blame it on a bad day, but John Harvard’s knew we were coming – my name and ‘Boston Brunchers’ were listed on the host’s reservation sheet. I’m curious what quality of food I might have received if they didn’t know who I was.
Furthermore, Boston Brunchers and I reached out multiple times to the restaurant for a comment on this meal and my experience. We received no response.
Maybe for a beer and some fries John Harvard’s is an acceptable option, but not for brunch.
My visit to John Harvard’s Brewery and Ale House was set up through the Boston Brunchers. Our meal and two non-alcoholic drinks were complimentary. We provided a tip. As with all EatingPlaces posts, opinions are my own.