Local Space for Global Flavors
There is no other way to fully understand the deep-rooted charm of Allium, an independently-owned specialty foods haven, than to walk through the Tudor-style facade and be greeted by the epicure’s dream pantry.
I walk past Brookline Booksmith and the iconic Coolidge Corner Theater towards a market/cheese shop/café trifecta located in the S.S. Pierce Building. Historically home to the Coolidge & Brother General Store (est.1887), this iconic hub formerly served as the commercial center and namesake of this Brookline neighborhood.
Allium produces dishes to share with passersby who get hooked by the artisanal charm, and stay for the complete sensory experience. The emerald-tiled wall and the ceiling lined with hanging plants create a grounded, harmonious feeling. Handwritten labels and menu boards echo the casual precision with which the ingredients are molded into masterpieces. It has a familiar feel; the marketplace and cheese shop become your pantry, and the café your kitchen.
Catered to the gastronome, the market is filled with specialty items ranging from Cherokee purple tomato shrub, to walnut mustard, to white truffle honey. The floor-to-ceiling cabinets that showcase the eccentric goods take my eyes on their own visual adventure. On choosing products to sell, founder and General Manager Talia Glass says, “We look for products that have a story to tell with value: products that taste great, that are genuine, that are honest and, usually, simple.”
Beaming from the back corner of the store, cheese cases display the largest selection of domestic and imported cheese in the area. Like a proud farmer showing off their harvest, a team member is always around to curate cheese boards and answer questions about the unique assortment. Talia’s vision for the cheese section was “a cheese and charcuterie shop with a totally kick-ass selection of cut-to-order cheeses that honor farmstead cheesemaking, small farms and producers, and traditional, global cheesemaking practices, while again, not offering the same stuff that every other shop in the Boston area is bringing in.”
The cafe portion features bread sourced from Clear Flour Bread in Packard’s Corner, as well as coffee from Massachusetts’s own George Howell Coffee, paying a modern homage to the general store that preceded them. Instead of focusing on local goods from New England, part of Allium’s philosophy is to source products from small producers around the world. This belief is rooted in the idea that “people sometimes lose track of quality, craftsmanship, and the cultural importance of foods when they are hyper-focused on ‘eating local.’”
The menu itself is inspired by the ingredients, experiences, and insights of Glass and her crew. With a team as carefully selected as the ingredients, Allium is constantly buzzing as the dishes are realized through their insight. The food tastes of the honest joy the team shares. Inherent to Allium is their candid philosophy surrounding their food: “It’s pretty simple: Eat good food. Eat food that tastes good. Eat food that’s made with good ingredients. Eat food that’s grown with good practices. Eat food that’s made with good intentions and systems. Eat food that supports good, local economies. Eat good food. Cook good food. Celebrate good food.”
The pastry case, filled with impeccably arranged desserts, resembles a still-life painting rendered with contrast and crisp composition; a citrus olive oil bundt cake with a blood orange glaze becomes the focal point. A winter citrus infusion gives the base a sour note to balance the richness of the cake. Portuguese olive oil makes up for the lack of dairy in the dessert, making it a great option for vegans and non-vegans alike. Executive Pastry Chef Kelly Fernandes’ attention to taste is embodied in the fresh chocolate chip cookies, which are baked in batches throughout the day. The cookie gets its nuance from the nutty browned butter, adding a depth of flavor.
In their own take on the classic Italian soda, Allium offers tea and shrub sodas. Drinking one felt like listening to a juicy tête-à-tête between two effervescent individuals. The Earl Grey soda was a refreshing take on an iced tea, but nothing superior to the traditional version. I found the strawberry shrub soda invigorating, however; it celebrated the authentic strawberry flavor often bastardized in commercial drinks.
The baguette is the star of the Banh Mi, which uses a soy-ginger marinated tofu instead of the usual pork. Biting into the baguette creates a symphony of crackle, as pleasing to hear as it is to taste. Pickled carrots, daikon radish, sliced jalapeño, and cilantro all provide a welcome contrast to the flavor of the tofu. But if the Banh Mi shows off Allium’s innovative flair, their grilled cheese demonstrates their spectacular ability to master the simplest dishes. Among the more garden variety offerings, the Yaffa salad provides a rather simple mix of fresh leaf lettuce, cucumbers, hearts of palm, tomatoes, radishes, and chickpeas, revived by a bright carrot-ginger dressing.
To order the cheese board is to visit a museum with a personal tour guide. Beaming as only a proud mother could, Head Cheesemonger Chelsea Germer explains the origins and peculiarities of the masterful collage she has created. Designed specifically for each customer, the board is a chefs-d’œuvre. Highlights include house-made Italian pickled vegetables with star anise, a blue cheese cold-smoked cheese over hazelnut shells, a local Capella with truffle honey, and floured almonds coated with dry edible flowers.
A place where food from around the world is explored and celebrated, Allium Market stays true to its historic home as a welcoming commercial center. Rooted in its ingredients but ready to cultivate original dishes, Allium enhances the pantries and palates of the community through its curated market and menu–and the community reciprocates. According to Glass, “Customers bring their families in, hold birthday parties here, and have started to become like family to us…I always tell my staff, our customers don’t need us. They can go spend their money anywhere! It is we who need them, and so it is up to us to keep offering something special, something unique, something worth their time.”
Allium Market and Cafe, 1330 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02446