On an unassuming side street, away from the crowds of Harvard Square, is a hidden gem of a restaurant. Around the corner from Au Bon Pain on a one-way alley, its location isn’t the only deceiving thing about this establishment. Its name, First Printer, makes the place sound less like an eatery (it’s certainly not as clear-cut as more direct titles like The Cheesecake Factory or California Pizza Kitchen) and creates a more historic, nostalgic vibe – which is exactly what it’s going for.
The restaurant, which opened in early 2012 in the space formerly occupied by Herrel’s Ice Cream, is situated on the site where America’s first printing press was housed. A plaque advertising the historical importance of the location was discovered in the basement of the building during renovations, ultimately inspiring the restaurant’s name. With shiny wooden tables and burnt red and brick walls, the atmosphere oozes an old-time Americana feel. Antique type cases and framed newspaper clippings – some close to 300 years old, according to the restaurant’s website – along with dim yellow lighting, only further this vintage ambience. Even the names of certain menu items – cocktails called the Journalist, The Correspondent and the Fedora, for instance – play to the old-style printing press theme.
The decor may be old-fashioned with a twist, but the menu is decidedly more modern. Originally, First Printer’s fare was noticeably Southern, and reviews from its early months reference dishes of fried alligator and frog legs as well as lobster hush puppies and Cajun fried bass. However, nearly two years since its opening, the rotating seasonal menu has evolved. There are still hints of Southern inspiration: Fried chicken and waffles topped with maple bourbon butter and homemade marmalade have been featured on the past two menus.
In general, though, the cuisine is more diversified. The menu is rife with innovative, comfort-food selections from different cultures. Its fall menu listed a French-inspired bouillabaisse seafood stew next to a traditional Greek plate of eggplant-potato Moussaka, complete with pine nut cream and squash marinara. The current winter menu offers the quintessential Asian staple – stir-fry noodles in a sweet and spicy sauce, as well as more conventional Bostonian dishes like New England clam chowder and a lobster roll, spiced up with chipotle orange aioli. The variety is ultimately refreshing. With a wide assortment of not only entrees, but also salads, sandwiches, flatbreads and burgers, the options are plentiful, but in no way overwhelming. And the dishes themselves are unique without being overly experimental: Lamb chops served with a mint chimichurri sauce and mussels prepared with apple cider are just a few examples of the restaurant’s unique take on classic meals. Indeed, at First Printer, there’s truly something for everyone.
Along with such a broad array of food choices, prices also vary considerably – something that may help those on a college budget. Entrees typically range from $18 to $30, and ordering drinks will inevitably increase the bill substantially. Yet for those who still want to enjoy a nice evening out without the hefty price tag, First Printer makes it possible. Sandwiches and burgers are typically between $12 and $14, and salads and appetizers, many of which are large enough to act as a main meal, often cost even less. And with a full bar, First Printer offers an affordable late night menu for those who want to pop in for a quick bite between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. on weekends – another enticing factor for the college-aged crowd.
First Printer is located on 15 Dunster St. in Harvard Square and is open for lunch, dinner and late-night food Monday through Saturday, and for brunch on Sunday. For questions or to make a reservation, call (617)-497-0900.