The bustling Middle Gray Cafe opened in August, steps from the Brookline Village T stop. The open, bi-level space has room for writers to work on laptops, commuters to eat arepas with co-workers, and parents with strollers to wake up with a well-made latte. The cafe is inviting, with reclaimed wood, subway panels, and neutral tones that allow bright prints and other art on the wall to pop.
Co-owner Catalina Piedrahita says the name Middle Gray comes from a technical photography term that refers to the ideal setting for showing off art, which is one of the main purposes of this cafe. It also serves as a performance space and gallery. The restaurant is run by Piedrahita, her husband, Alvaro Morales, and Piedrahita's mother, Adriana Garces, who does most of the cooking. All of them are from Colombia. Menu influences span continents: spiced couscous, beef meatballs, Colombian arepas, Spanish tortilla. Though the team has worked in hospitality "in some capacity," says Morales, this is their first restaurant.
Mornings are when the space shines. A latte ($4.25) is strong, rich, and piping hot, arriving in a large mug with a delicate design in the steamed foam. An immensely satisfying sandwich called "egg and homemade chorizo and apple ham" ($8.50) features a runny yolk and a thick slice of roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with apples, carrots, and chorizo, topped with caramelized onions, all tucked into a flaky croissant. If there is ham involved, we must have missed it, but the delicious sandwich certainly doesn't need anything else to make it richer. Colombian bread pudding ($2.50) is rich with just the right amount of sweet, topped with dulce de leche and oozing a kind of sweet-tart passion fruit filling. It would be much more delicious hot, but rather it's ice-cold, directly from fridge to plate. Banana bread ($2.50) is fresh and moist, but an apple streusel bar, pre-wrapped to go, is stale and tough on the bottom, soggy on top. Breakfast and lunch offerings overlap with a variety of arepas and egg and meat sandwiches.
The Middle Gray currently serves dinner Thursday through Saturday with a bar bites menu on Tuesday, which provides a free tapa with each drink. In the next few weeks, there are plans to be open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. We are the only filled table on Thursday evening, so perhaps that's why they offer us the special advertised for Tuesdays. For each Coronando IPA ($8) and the pitcher of Aperol spritz ($25) we order, the table receives a complimentary bar bite; first, a plate of miniature skewers of savory sausage, along with beer mustard. Next, punchy deviled eggs, and finally a plate of creamy hummus topped with chopped onion, accompanied by toast points.
Still hungry after happy hour, it's time to order off the menu. Chicharrones and plantain chips ($4) feel like they should be the complimentary snack, tasting like they have been dumped from a convenience store bag into the dish. Eggplant escabeche ($7) is better, with sweet-and-sour flavors, served over toasted tortillas, though the chewy eggplant is somewhat undercooked. A simple tortilla espanola ($6) is flavorful but on the cold side. Couscous and beef meatballs ($7.75) have too much cinnamon and not enough salt; they are also lukewarm. Many of the dishes we sample have potential but suffer in execution.
Arepas are much better. Though the maize wrapping is more pita-like, a bit tougher than we are used to, the flavorful shredded-beef filling of carne desmechada ($8.99) is comfort food at its best. Topped with homemade fresh cheese and a tomato-onion sauce, two of the arepas would make a fine meal. Vegetarian roasted portobello arepa ($8) with pepper escabeche and pesto has good flavor, but the cold filling isn't very appealing. Items on this menu would improve a lot if they were heated.
Thoughtful service, delicious Aperol spritz, and complimentary bites make dinner enjoyable, but not for destination dining. If the kitchen can take its tapas to the level of its breakfast game, the Middle Gray will have all the makings of an ideal neighborhood hangout.
THE MIDDLE GRAY
6 Station St., Brookline Village,
617-608-3480, www.themiddlegray.com.All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible with lift between floors.
Prices Pastries, sandwiches, and arepas $2.50-$9.99. Dinner tapas
Hours Sun 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon
7 a.m.-6 p.m., Tue 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Thu-Fri 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (Hours changing in the next few weeks; call ahead.)
Liquor Beer and wine
What to order Egg and homemade chorizo and apple ham sandwich, carne desmechada arepa, tortilla espanola, banana bread.
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.