The stretch of Boston Avenue in Medford that runs behind the Tufts University campus has long been known for the most classic of college cuisine: greasy, gooey pizza. So when the new cafe Tamper opened in October, throwing around buzzwords like “organic,” “sustainable,” and “humanely raised,” it caught attention in the neighborhood.
“I had one of the local guys at the liquor store tell me that he wishes me luck because he likes bacon and [he assumes that] since we’re organic, we don’t have bacon,” says co-owner Adam Liebman. “He didn’t think we had butter and he wanted grease and potatoes for breakfast. He’d heard rumors we were this healthy thing.”
Healthy, sure. But bacon is on the menu.
Tamper, named for the instrument to make espresso, serves breakfast and lunch daily, brunch on weekends. Liebman and business partner Jason Hutchinson cofounded Boloco with one of Liebman’s Boston University pals in 1997, serving healthy burritos — using all the same buzzwords. After leaving the company four years ago, Liebman learned that the chain would be closing its Tufts area branch in May. He was offered the space for a new venture.
Tamper’s design is open and clean, both industrial and modern, with plenty of light from large windows. In looks, it might be compared to another nearby coffee shop, the popular Diesel Cafe in Davis Square. Like its food, Tamper’s design is respectful of the environment, relying on mostly recycled and reclaimed materials. Wood on part of the bar comes from a demolished Tufts building; the communal tables, which seat 42, were constructed by Leverett woodworker Stewart Olson from material he got at a local mill.
Presentation is important. Liebman, who lived in Vienna and calls himself a “bit of a Eurosnob,” adopted several cafe practices from across the Atlantic. Dishes come with silverware fit for Thanksgiving dinner, while coffee and tea are served in transparent ceramic mugs accompanied by small plates and stirring spoons.
Coffee from Barrington Coffee Roasters ($2.01) gets the most attention, Liebman says, but customers are already gravitating toward particular dishes. (The odd pricing is intended to round up to a zero or five with tax.) The breakfast sandwich ($3.73), an English muffin made in-house by Hutchinson with scrambled eggs and maybe just a bit too much Jack cheese, is by far the most popular food item, he says (bacon can be added for $1.88). A bowl of steel-cut oatmeal ($3.74), which was inspired by a California bike ride Liebman took that ended with breakfast prepared over a wood stove, is a gluten-free delight with pecans, bananas, and maple syrup. The oats take almost an hour to simmer, he says. “There aren’t a lot of places that serve steel-cut oatmeal.”
Weekend brunch adds more morning options, most ridiculously good. French toast ($8.79), two slices of brioche with maple syrup, is simple, straightforward, and superb, dense without being heavy. Salami and eggs ($8.08) is a surprise, perhaps the most flavorful dish on the menu with two scrambled, salami bits, onions, and Jack cheese, accompanied by toast and very good home fries. Tofu scramble ($9.25) is the one minor disappointment, a neon-colored combination of tofu, green peppers, onions, and kale with toast and home fries. Despite its striking appearance, it’s quite bland.
Lunch is a work in progress, with several sandwiches just added. The most popular, chicken pesto ($8.92), combines homemade pesto and mozzarella with house-marinated chicken on Iggy’s country white bread. It’s nicely balanced and the pesto tastes noticeably fresh. Turkey club ($8.92) offers thick slices of roast turkey, bacon, plenty of tomato, greens, and mayo on the same bread. It works, but the sandwich would be more manageable if the turkey were carved thinner.
Hummus on country white ($7.95) combines greens, carrots, and pickled vegetables, and would be better wrapped in pita. The taste is fine, but a giant serving of hummus throws off the proportions.
Banana bread ($2.25) is perfectly baked, not overly sweet. A chocolate-chip cookie ($1.64) looks fluffy, but has a surprising soft, gooey texture. A cup of coffee or flowery, delicious jasmine green tea ($2.53) is important here.
As for the dubious liquor store guy, says Liebman, “He comes in all the time and gets the bacon,” says.
FYI: A side of bacon goes for $2.02.