Kendall Square is a bit of a whistling ghost town at the moment, but there’s a bright spot in one quiet corner: Earnest Drinks, a new restaurant-coffee shop-ice cream stand-bar from Aaron Cohen, who also runs Gracie’s Ice Cream in Union Square. Both shops are named for his kids.
He admits that now is not an ideal time to open a new business.
“We obviously would love more customers than we’ve had. The building we’re in is about a quarter full, so that’s not great,” Cohen admits. “There’s not a lot of foot traffic, especially on this corner.”
Happily, he has attracted fans who enjoy his ice cream in Somerville. The quiet debut has also allowed him and chef James Lavigne (Barbara Lynch’s Stir) to get creative and experiment.
“The menu philosophy is a little bit chaotic. We can try a lot more stuff than if we’d been busier from day one, and the menu is big for such a small space,” he says.
Ergo, a roster of dishes that read like a friend is enthusiastically chatting with you about his latest great invention in a college dorm room.
A mixed green salad is “the second healthiest thing on the menu right behind ice cream, and the most vegan.” A Southern cheese dog slathered with pimento? Well, “You can put any kind of cheese on a hot dog, but Chef James thinks house-made pimento is how to do it best, and he’s got the knives, so we kind of just go with it.” And a meatloaf burger comes with the helpful reminder that Earnest also validates parking. Non-sequiturs are big here, and that’s part of the charm.
There is no rhyme or reason to the menu, but that’s OK, just go with it and have fun. This is the kind of place where you’ll find pickles cured in Kool-Aid, lending them a faint neon pink glow, and cheese dip alongside Bugles. Hey, when’s the last time you had Bugles?
Gracie’s ice cream is on offer, of course, with the same wacky flavors as at the Somerville original — Twinkies and jam, salty Oreo, fruity pebbles. Get a virgin frappe or spike it with alcohol. A word about the alcohol: Cocktails are strong. Try a margarita or Mai Tai to go, but don’t make plans later. (If you do need a jolt, coffee is from the North Shore’s Atomic Coffee Roasters.) There are also plastic yard flamingos for sale, because these are strange times.
For now, Earnest is open for patio dining and takeout, and you can’t go inside except to use the bathroom. Naturally, there’s a cheeky flow chart on the door explaining the set-up.
399 Binney St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-631-9113, www.orderearnest.com.