On a late December afternoon, shortly before Harvard officially adjourned for winter break, a group of four women sat around a table at Blackbird Doughnuts in the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center — to study, in theory, but also to catch up over glazed treats.
“I always say I’m going to study here,” said Idil Tuysuzoglu, a sophomore at Harvard. “And then I’m just three bites into my bagel and kind of enjoying the ambiance and I’m like, Oh well, guess I’m not going to be getting any studying done today.”
Since the Smith Campus completed its two-year renovation in the fall of 2018, the Cambridge community has used it not just as a space to study, but also to hang out, take tours, and eat. Over a series of weeks after the formerly named Holyoke Center reopened, seven restaurants and coffee shops debuted in the space; while there are no plans for another to open on the lower level, a Harvard representative told Boston.com that, “On the 10th floor, a new cafe called The Heights will be opening [in early 2019], and will be open to Harvard students, faculty, academic personnel, staff, alumni and their guests.”
“I feel like there are so many options,” said Catherine Cook, a Harvard alum who works on campus. “It’s healthier here, except for the doughnuts. It’s very Cambridge. People are just more health aware.”
Healthy options do, in fact, seem to be a driving force within the center. The majority of restaurants and cafés offer food that deviates from the standard greasy or sugar-laden college fare. You won’t find burgers (well, aside from the cheese-stuffed beef and mushroom burger at Saloniki) here but, rather, bowls of congee at Bon Me and crispy Brussels sprouts at Whole Heart Provisions. And while most of the vendors are part of a chain, the Smith Campus outposts often serve something that can’t be found at their other locations, primarily breakfast dishes.
There are countless places to eat around Harvard Square, but it’s rare to find non-students choosing a university center as their go-to dining destination. Here are the seven vendors that have transformed the center into a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinking haven — and may change your mind about campus dining standards.
On the Eastern side of the Smith Campus Center, Blackbird Doughnuts occupies a sleek space facing Holyoke Street, one where students sit at round tables and inside spacious booths while snacking on some of Boston’s best doughnuts. All of the coveted flavors are here, including the Everything Bagel Doughnut and The Blackbird, its signature cake doughnut. This location also has seasonally rotating slushies; frozen cider is currently whirring through the slushie machine, with frozen hot chocolate debuting soon. Doughnut minis are available (three to an order), as is custom Blackbird coffee from Fazenda Coffee Roasters, plus crimson red doughnuts during special Harvard events.
Bon Me has been serving fast-casual Asian food to Cambridge’s student population for a while now, with a food truck parked at the Harvard Science Center and a handful of other locations, including a test center, scattered around Cambridge. The Smith Campus location, though, is the only one with breakfast. On the morning menu, which is offered from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on weekdays, diners can find congee with chicken broth and rice porridge, overnight oats soaked in soy milk and topped with fruit compote, and Vietnamese coffee. Fans of Bon Me’s sandwiches will enjoy the Bon Me Brekkie, a toasted baguette stuffed with sliced hard boiled eggs, cucumbers, green scallions, and a fiery mayo dressing. Other dishes include coconut noodle salad, miso kimchi ramen, and the K-Town Throwdown, a rice bowl with gochujang chicken, hard-boiled egg, kimchi, and chinese broccoli.
Part of the original Holyoke Center, Oggi Gourmet opened in 2007 but had to move to the rear corner of the building at 30 Dunster St. when renovations began in 2016. The deli provides perhaps the most student-centric menu in the space: salads, sandwiches, and soups, along with the option for pickup or delivery. What it’s best know for, though, is pizza, available by the slice or pie. Ask for the special of the day, or put together your own pie from ingredients like spicy sausage, almonds, and basil pesto.
Walk into the student center from its main entrance on Mass. Ave. and you’ll immediately see Pavement, the coffee chain’s eighth location and one of the center’s busiest vendors in the morning. Pavement fuels caffeine seekers throughout the day, and serves homemade bagels, sandwiches, and overnight oats — and, in the warmer months, coffee soft serve. The coffee shop is also one of a handful of places in the city where you can order Oatly oat milk, a milk alternative that is growing in popularity.
As the student center’s most upscale restaurant, Saloniki in Harvard Square also takes the biggest departure from its other locations. While diners still can order the Greek restaurant’s gyros, salads, and pita plates, they also can tap into dishes new to this location, namely handmade phyllo pies including spanakopita, chicken and mushroom, and greens and cheese. A full-service bar is offered here, with coffee, beer, wine, and cocktails on tap that range from the tequila-based Mykonos to the rum-centric Thessalotiki. Tables are scarce at lunchtime, when both students and professionals in the area flock here to eat, but if you can come later in the afternoon, the bar is a great place to post up for a drink and a couple of lamb meatballs.
Located just outside of the ground floor’s large study area is Swissbäkers, a pastry wonderland where croissants come stuffed with ham and cheese, chocolate, almond, and spinach. Quiches, Berliners, pretzels, and cookies fulfill every bread devotee’s dream, and a soup of the day provides a rotating menu item (hope for the roasted squash). For a true taste of Switzerland, try the muesli bowl with rolled oats, seeds, nuts, and milk — though you should definitely get a pastry to go as well.
Whole Heart Provisions
This plant-based fast-casual spot is the newest member of the Smith Campus Center, and Whole Heart Provisions’ third location in the Boston area. Like Bon Me, it has a breakfast menu that is exclusive to the Harvard location, and includes three rotating açai bowls that are available all day: PBJ, Fraises, and Harvest. Diners will find familiar menu items, too, like The Mission with shiitake mushrooms, edamame, shaved Brussels sprouts, and Japanese eggplant; and the falafel dog with tomatoes, pickles, tahini, and mustard.
Smith Campus Center; 1350 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; vendor hours vary; commonspaces.harvard.edu/smith-campus-center