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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

The family restaurant Full Moon is 15 and counting

Kathy Rushe and her niece, Terese Hurley, had lunch at the toy-filled Full Moon restaurant in Cambridge.

By Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Kathy Rushe and her niece, Terese Hurley, had lunch at the toy-filled Full Moon restaurant in Cambridge.

Full Moon restaurant, celebrating its 15th anniversary, has everything a kid could want. Buckets of toys, crayons for doodling, and, to keep them occupied and still in sight, a play space complete with toy trains and play kitchen.

But it’s not just the children who are in heaven.

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“Kids come in and see the play area and their faces light up,” says co-owner Sarah Wheaton. “Then the parents see we have craft beer, and their faces light up.” There is a kids’ menu here, but something like mac and cheese or chicken fingers comes with fresh melon, orange, and carrot sticks. More sophisticated choices, better fits for adult palates, include slow-cooked Latin-spiced shredded pork, seafood stew in lemongrass-coconut-ginger broth, even a tapas plate. “Our menu is heavily influenced by our cooks, who are from various countries and backgrounds,” says chef and co-owner Julian Frigo, Wheaton’s husband. The dishes attract locals without children too. “If you come on a weeknight at 8, the place is filled with neighbors,” says Wheaton.

Then there are the little touches that only a parent can appreciate. “The mac and cheese comes out in two minutes,” says Karen Gray, a patron of 12 years. “You get instant satisfaction.” Once the kids eat, they can run off and play while parents enjoy their entrees and sip wine. Of course, some tots would rather romp around than eat. “A lot of that mac and cheese gets eaten by mom and dad late at night,” says Wheaton. As another thoughtful touch, Full Moon sells cookies to-go to help get kids out the door when it’s time to leave.

Full Moon restaurant owner Sarah Wheaton.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Full Moon restaurant owner Sarah Wheaton.

“When you have young children and you want to eat out, it’s a very complicated thing,” says Wheaton. She speaks from personal experience. Sisters Sarah and Cary Wheaton were moms of little ones, endlessly frustrated by the challenges of family dining. Says Sarah Wheaton, “I would go out to eat and think, why do they keep putting hot plates in front of my toddler?”

Both were experienced in the restaurant industry — Cary co-owned The Blue Room and East Coast Grill, Sarah had worked in restaurants since high school. They fantasized about opening the perfect family restaurant. When a space became available in Huron Village, they decided to go into business.

They hired a chef who turned out not to have their vision. The food took too long and costs were too high. “Parents with young children have no patience for food that takes 45 minutes,” says Sarah. They let that chef go and Frigo took over, untrained and proud of it. “I had worked in restaurants my whole life,” says Frigo. “It was a natural crossover from floor to kitchen.” Frigo also painted all of the restaurant’s art. He runs Full Moon with Sarah, while Cary is now the executive director of Billings Forge Community Works in Hartford.

‘Full Moon has become a memory for a lot of families of when their kids were little.’

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Today, Sarah’s sons, Charlie, 15, and Nick, 19, have worked the floor along with Cary’s daughter, Mei, 17, and several nieces and nephews. Nick, now in art school himself, designed Full Moon’s 15th anniversary logo, which works the word ‘moon’ into the curve of the 5 in 15.

Full Moon’s extended family is growing up too. Sarah Wheaton has hired some of the very first patrons who came as toddlers. “Full Moon has become a memory for a lot of families of when their kids were little,” she says. Longtime customer Jennifer Taplin remembers discovering her oldest child’s first tooth coming in one day at Full Moon.

The restaurant remains as busy as ever. Family dining is on the rise, and parents are becoming more conscientious about what their children eat. Kid-friendly restaurants are popping up in numbers in other foodie towns like baby-booming Brooklyn, where bringing your kid to an adult restaurant is popular.

Taplin says that the comforting environment sets Full Moon apart. “You feel like you’re in her own home,” she says. This means all aspects of being a parent are welcome and accepted.

“Every once in a while, we get a dad leaving the restaurant holding his crying child above him, stiff as a board because he doesn’t want to leave,” says Wheaton. “The dad is apologizing, but the other patrons are smiling, because they have all been there, and it’s all OK.”

Full Moon, 344 Huron Ave., Cambridge 617-354-6699, www.fullmoonrestaurant.com.

Adrienne Smith can be reached at adrienne.n.smith@gmail.com.
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