When word got around that three of Cambridge’s most popular restaurants closed in less than three months this past winter, townspeople people began to worry. Would Cambridge’s energetic food scene suffer?
A recent walk around downtown Cambridge has dispelled this concern. In fact, we’re glad to report that a new wave of cool places has energized the area. Katie Clendaniel, Executive Director of Cambridge Main Street, agrees. “We are marketable as a destination, and even though business come and go, the reputation stands, and we continue to build on that. We have already built a reputation as a food destination thanks to various places – Bistro Poplar, Ocean Odyssey, and even more casual establishments like Carmela’s Cucina and our dockside establishments. Also, events like Taste of Cambridge have helped launch and sustain the connection with Chesapeake Bay foodway focused on Blue Crab and now giving exposure to Snakehead Fish.”
So, if you haven’t gone to Cambridge lately, here are some places that have opened recently that you need to check out.
Ava’s and Theos
Who is not familiar with the award-winning Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar or the all-American classics served by Theo’s Steakhouse? Both have been a staple in St. Michaels– Ava’s since 2008 with Theo’s opening three years later. To the delight of many fans, Ava’s in Cambridge has just celebrated their first anniversary, and Theo’s opened just last month. Says owner of both restaurants, Chris Agharabi about the decision to open in Cambridge: “First, the three restaurants that closed, had nothing to do with the town itself. What it comes down to for us is that at the end of the day there are a lot of good people who live and work there and they needed some options. Cambridge has a historic and cool downtown. Business is good and not as seasonal as in St. Michaels. We have a lot of locals who are regulars.” One regular is Elyse Camozzo from Easton, who is impressed with the friendly and pleasant atmosphere and prefers the Cambridge location. “Food is consistently good, and they have a nice wine selection. The wait staff is knowledgeable. Good service.”
Some of the crowd’s favorites at Ava’s includes their Detroit deep dish pizza, meatballs, and fresh mozzarella. As much as possible, they use fresh, locally sourced produce and make their food from scratch. This includes all the pizza dough and mozzarella. The menu is basically the same as St. Michaels, but the Cambridge location is larger and has a big event room capable of accommodating a group of 30.
With Theo’s recent opening, the menu is not as extensive, and there are a few differences from the one in St. Michaels. They are also still working on the wine list. But, according to Agharabi, he’s been pretty happy with the response from customers. “We put some money into the restaurant and have brand new equipment.” Despite their sleek and upscale environment, shorts and boat shoes are welcome.
We spoke with Anna Tiernan from Doylestown, PA, who ate at Theo’s the weekend they opened. “I had a yummy salad and the best crab cake sandwich! We had great service. This was a relaxing and really enjoyable meal.”
Ava’s: 543 Poplar St, Cambridge
Open seven days for lunch and dinner at 11:30 am
Theo’s: 305 High St, Cambridge
Dinner: Wednesday-Sunday at 4:30 pm
Happy hour daily starting at 4:30 pm
There is a reason this eatery is being included even though they are not located in the downtown area. That’s because most people we spoke to, mentioned this Indian restaurant as being one of their new favorites in Cambridge. Bombay Tadka (Tadka meaning a type of cooking technique), has been open since April 2018 and has seen a steadily growing repeat business.
Owner Rohit Shinde thinks he knows why. His customers, he says, are eager to try foods from different cultures. He describes Indian cooking as covering all six tastes that create the flavorful and complex food found on his menu: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Additionally, Indian cooking contains a wide range of vegetarian options such as Saag Paneer or Gobi Manchurian, as well as meat-eater favorites Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Chettinad.
As the ambassador of this cuisine, Shinde has been offering a weekly Sunday buffet. Last month he held an Indian Street Food Festival, bringing a varied selection to a sold-out, standing room only crowd. To assure that more people have the opportunity to experience some of their specialties, he’s extended this month’s Ganesh Festival over a three-day period. Shinde recommends keeping up with their specials on social media, particularly Facebook.
For those who think Indian food is spicy, Shinde wants to assure them that all food is cooked to order and they will accommodate any level of spiciness. Ben Lee, who works in Cambridge, agrees. “Every dish I’ve had there has been excellent. The owner is really good at recommending you a dish you’ll enjoy based off of your previous visits or tastes. Also, the paratha is to die for. It’s one of my favorite flatbreads I’ve ever had.”
Late-breaking news: Bombay Tadka is looking to open a carry-out location in Easton. Stay tuned.
Bombay Tadka: 1721 Race St.
Lunch: 11 am to 2:30 pm
Dinner: 5 pm-10 pm
Closed on Mondays
Maiden Maryland Sweets & Treats
In March, when Tammy and Tracy Lynndee opened their gift shop featuring goods made by local artists and artisans, ice cream was never part of the plan. They had an extra room at their shop and thought about selling craft sodas, and Maryland made snacks. But then a friend gave them this advice, ‘if you’re going to sell anything, you need to serve ice cream. That’s the real missing link in Cambridge.’ He was right, and their business exploded. In only the two months since they rented additional space and opened Sweets and Treats, they have sold over 1600 gallons of ice cream.
The shop sells Hershey’s ice cream, chosen after much research. “It’s a known and great product, says Tammy Lynndee, “and it allows us to keep our price point low so that we’re community-friendly. Tracy and I have been single moms, we’ve felt the pinch of having to provide for our kids. So, we didn’t want any family to feel like they have to mortgage the house to bring the kids out for ice cream.”
To serve their dairy-free customers, the pair has gone to Cream Cruisers out of Baltimore. “Through them, we get sorbet push-pops that are so good,” says Lynndee, “We have them in watermelon and strawberry-lemonade flavor. Plus, we also sell Hershey’s lemon sorbet.”
Whatever you’re craving, chances are one or more of their many flavors can satisfy. As proof, the shop is always packed with smiling customers. Lyndee thinks it’s because Cambridge has a lot to offer visitors. “Cambridge has become a destination; not just locals are coming to our town. We see people from DC, Philly, and Virginia. We have people spending a week here on their vacation from California, Colorado, and Wyoming. If you’re coming to Cambridge, you’re getting something different; you’re not getting something that you can find in any city.”
Maiden Maryland Sweets and Treats: 315 Gay Street (corner of Poplar)
Monday-Thursday noon-8 pm.
Friday & Saturday noon-9 pm.
There is a certain nostalgic atmosphere about Blue Ruin. It’s part New Orleans, part Cheers, part cocktail lounge, and part neighborhood bar. Which is precisely what owner Doug Kyle and “Head Mixologist” Paul Dendorfer hopes you take away from your visit. After all, the name Blue Ruin, refers to the nickname given to homemade (bathtub) gin during the 1920’s Prohibition. To further add to this nostalgia, Blue Ruin is currently working with a distillery to make their own blue-tinted gin.
The cocktail bar, located on the corner of Race and Gay, opened at the end of July. “There is something for everyone, we’re not just a cocktail bar,” says Dendorfer. “You could get cocktails. You could get a glass of wine, a draft beer, or a 2.50 can of beer.”
And that’s only part of what makes them so different from others in the area. Blue Ruin serves classic cocktails; mixtures that most bartenders will need to consult in their how-to guide: Rickeys, Manhattans, Old-Fashioned, and Side Cars. They also pay homage to their town with Cambridge inspired cocktails with names such as Underground Railroad and Long Wharf Punch. “And then there is stuff that I play around with,” says Dendorfer. June Cuddy, Western Shore resident and first-time visitor to the bar was enjoying one of his specials, the Cocoa’s Essence cocktail. “This drink is beyond delicious,” she said and mentioned how much she liked the overall vibe of the bar. “I’ll be back.”
Another difference worth mentioning is freshness, not typically a word associated with a bar. “We make our own fresh-squeezed grapefruit, orange, and, lime juices,” says Dendorfer. “We use all fresh local herbs. We make all our own syrups, limoncello for cocktails, and vanilla bourbon. I make my own tonic for gin and tonic. We don’t have any flavored spirits; you’re getting natural flavors going into your cocktails.”
Blue Ruin is being mentioned in this compilation of new eateries in the area because it’s about to start serving food. Not tapas says Dendeorfer, but shareable plates. “You won’t be getting an appetizer, salad, and entrée. You’ll be able to make a meal out of it, but it will be different.” Also, look for their current menu of 33 cocktails to double in size by next month. Something tells us this is just the beginning.
Blue Ruin: 400 Race Street
(Starting September 9th)
Sunday-Thursday 4 pm to midnight
Friday and Saturday 4 pm to 2 am