The Longfellow Bar feels almost like a homecoming for Michael Scelfo.
The chef, who moved with his wife to Boston from Long Island, N.Y., in 2001, has spent the past few years topping off his extensive resume with his own restaurants, Alden & Harlow and Waypoint — both successful Cambridge destinations that have made him a household name locally. But he’s returning to his roots with Longfellow, a casual bar in the space above Alden & Harlow, which will offer dishes like elevated pigs in a blanket, wings, and fried chicken — food that doesn’t require a fork and knife, just two hands and an appetite.
“This is a throwback to the cooking I did early on in my career in Boston when I didn’t have a lot of clout and I was younger,” Scelfo said. “A lot of the jobs I was taking then had a bar food component. I wanted to be a serious chef, but the people I worked for wanted burgers and snacks and fries. And I was like, Well, I’m going to do it all from scratch.”
Along with finger food, Longfellow Bar — which is on track to open in mid-December — will offer playful, carefully-curated cocktails; the opening cocktail menu will feature drinks named after the staff’s favorite album tracks, Scelfo said. It will all be part of a relaxed, neighborhood vibe that the chef is excited to cultivate.
“I get to make my own calls and do it exactly the way I want to do it,” he said. “It’s fun for me to do [bar food] and it’s relaxing, but it’s also challenging to get back in there and see what I have to say about this kind of food.”
To find out what Scelfo does in his downtime when he’s not dreaming up bar snacks, we chatted with the chef about his favorite record shops, dim sum spots, and the first restaurant in town that made an impression on him.
“I’ve been going to Chinatown for [almost] 20 years, everywhere from Peach Farm to China Pearl to Shojo to Winsor [Dim Sum Café]. I think Chinatown, for me, is kind of steady; the stalwarts have been there for as long as I’ve been around. [Shojo owner Brian Moy] is infusing the new school of restaurants and hospitality with his chef. They’re doing cool things in Chinatown. And his family has owned China Pearl for many years. He’s got some lineage there and he’s also a friend, so I love to go down there and support those places.”
“I always seek out the authentic Latino places, because that’s the food I gravitate towards. There was an amazing place in Jamaica Plain, [El Oriental de Cuba], that did Cuban sandwiches and stews, almost like caldos. I was really obsessed with that place when I came to town.”
“I decompress with records and comic books. You can go over to Vinyl Index in Bow Market. It’s an awesome record shop owned by people who really know records. I’m into anything that’s got a soul component to it, whether that’s old soul like Otis Redding or new soul like Daniel Caesar. I’m kind of a hip-hop junkie, too, so it’s a great place to go to for hip-hop records.”
“Trina’s [Starlite Lounge] in Inman Square is on my way home. It’s always warm and welcoming there. The food is no frills, delicious. You can get a hot dog, you can get tater tots, you can get a pepperoni roll that’ll jazz you up.”
“I like to cook at home. I’m really passionate about cooking for friends and family. For me, that’s how I’m able to cook on a personal level. But if we’re going out to celebrate, we’d go out to Oleana. It’s classic, and I love the food. I think [chef Ana Sortun’s] importance to our food community is unrivaled. She’s a class act, through and through.”
“SRV has great bar snacks; Bar Mezzana, Toro have great bar snacks. I’m excited to do my own bar snacks. I just love touching my food, getting dirty with it, having a very unpretentious experience where you can pass and grab and tear. You’re literally breaking bread. That’s the way I feel like most people eat. I feel like that’s humble and honest and authentic. That experience speaks to me.”
“We’ve been [taking road trips] a lot, especially with the leaf change. I just took a drive up to Franconia Notch State Park to take photos. There’s a short two-mile hike that’s great. I took a ride out to Mass MoCA; it’s beautiful in the Berkshires.”
“I had a really good meal at Chickadee [in the Seaport] when it opened up. I’ve always been a fan of [chef] Jon DaSilva’s cooking — I think that’s a spot that I’d like to go back to soon. I was a big fan of what he’s done at Spoke.”
A drink and a show
“I go to the Paradise quite a bit. I find that a lot of bands I like to see are at the Paradise or House of Blues. The Sinclair also has been known to get a good show for me. It’s super convenient and right around the corner from Alden & Harlow. I grab a drink there and then go to a show. I think that’s going to be the fun of Longfellow.”