Where to Highland Fried, formerly the East Coast Grill, in Inman Square.
What for Tiki drinks, fried chicken, and barbecue, where generations of Cantabrigians have feasted on spicy seafood and potent libations.
The scene Chill. Blues music plays in the dining room. A dude in the adjacent lounge area fiddles with a juke box, trying to make it run. (There’s Hall and Oates and the Pixies, for when it does.) A family with kids contentedly munches chicken. A happy hostess offers tours of the revamped digs, pointing out that the rec-room-style space that used to be the Lava Room — a Polynesian-themed party lair — is now great for parties, complete with a pool table and arcade games, and that a group of 20 will be swinging by tomorrow. There are flickers of the old East Coast Grill: a few tiki-themed tchotchkes, flames on the chalkboards and along the walls. Outside, pay respect to the plaque that commemorates the deeper history of the place: It was once Jake & Earl’s Dixie BBQ, run by meat master Chris Schlesinger (who now has a hand in The Automatic, a similarly themed joint down the block).
What you’re eating Fried chicken and assorted snacks from Mark Romano and Marci Joy, the husband-wife duo who run Somerville’s foolproof hangout, Highland Kitchen. Chicken comes whole or as a three-piece dinner, with biscuits and sides like collard greens, chicken and andouille gumbo, or Creole potato salad. There’s barbecue, too: pulled pork, beef brisket, burnt ends. BBQ nachos come with a sinfully smooth cheese sauce, texturally similar to what you’d find at the movies but far creamier (and more authentic). Smaller appetites can try a griddled cheeseburger or a smoked portobello burger, topped with fried green tomatoes. A chalkboard advertises daily specials like local oysters and garlicky yu choy (leafy Chinese greens). For dessert, chocolate peanut butter pie.
Care for a drink? Pick your tropical poison from the crimson cocktail menu framed outside. Perhaps an Aku Aku, with pineapple, peach, mint, and rum? Or a Mai Tai, billed as an “ancient Hi Fri secret”? Or if you’re really nervous before a first date (and this would be a prime place for one), go for a Salted Lime Slushie, filled with tequila.
Overheard Musical musings; familial fretting. “Mark picked out all our music,” a hostess tells a guest, who marvels at the jukebox’s impressive size. “Are you from The New York Times?” jokes a waiter as a woman snaps a photo of the chalkboard with her phone. A couple of dudes with beers and wool hats commiserate at the bar, apparently hiding out from their families. “To my in-laws, I must be Satan,” one tells the other.
1271 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-714-4662, www.highlandfried.comKara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.