Nia Grace is no stranger to the restaurant business. As the owner and operator of the award-winning Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, nestled at the edge of the South End and Roxbury, and co-founder of the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, she is quite familiar with the landscape. But even she knew opening a new restaurant during a pandemic would require a creative and intentional approach rooted in community and some good comfort food. This approach would be the foundation of the newly opened Underground Cafe & Lounge, located on the ground floor of the LightView residence building for Northeastern students.
The Underground, just blocks away from Darryl’s, is a soul food-inspired cafe and lounge with a focus on breakfast and lunch served all day. While Darryl’s is a full-service restaurant known for its live music, Sunday brunches, and flavorful, soulful eats, the Underground fills a void in the neighborhood for affordable and tasty quick-service food.
Grace, a Roxbury native, understands the legacy of the community in which she was born and raised and is committed to contributing to its future. She made a point to mention her local upbringing during the Underground’s grand opening event on September 20, 2021, at which attendees were able to sample dishes such as sweet meatballs and a vegan spinach and artichoke flatbread.
That night, the room was filled with the sounds of Roxbury-based musician Gregory Groover Jr. and his band, as well as members of the local Roxbury and South End community, artists, curators, acting Mayor Kim Janey, State Representative Chynah Tyler, and a host of other city officials and community leaders who all made remarks regarding the importance of creating spaces and supporting our local restaurants.
The Underground is “more than just food and beverage,” said Grace during her opening remarks, regarding the vision for the restaurant as a vessel for culture. “It is about artistry. It is, in fact, about the art on the walls.”
The art she referenced is a rotating collection curated in partnership with Artists for Humanity, a Boston organization that “provides under-resourced teens the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design.” Artists for Humanity co-founder and renowned local artist Rob Gibbs, aka ProBlak, was also in attendance at the grand opening and declared that the Underground is “here to stay,” although it was originally imagined as a pop-up extension of Darryl’s.
The Underground’s stated purpose is to “celebrate the intersection of flavor and heritage, representing a collective journey that unifies us through food, art, culture, and community.” On the menu, that comes through as a something-for-everyone collection of dishes, many drawing inspiration from soul food. Breakfast, for example, includes Belgian waffles (try the green tea version, with a subtle hint of sweetness), southern egg pies, and yogurt parfaits that come in flavors like peach cobbler or strawberry shortcake. All day long, there’s macaroni and cheese (“baked, browned, and bubbling,” promises the menu; add jerk chicken or another protein of your choice to really round out the meal), flatbreads, and smoothies, including the Husky Pride (pineapple, banana, coconut, and vanilla protein powder), a nod to Northeastern’s mascot. To keep things fresh, the Underground team continues to release drink specials, such as a refreshing iced green tea with ginger. There are also various grab-and-go beverages, snacks, and pastries available for those on the move.
The Underground has a perfect blend of savory and sweet dishes, with plenty of creative vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. While the restaurant has only been open since earlier in September, a couple crowd favorites are already emerging: the barbecue chicken flatbread and the jerk chicken melt.
Everything about the Underground has been thoughtfully sourced. From the Dedham-based Fazenda Coffee Roasters used in the restaurant’s coffee drinks to the art on the walls, the restaurant was designed with the neighborhood in mind as a space to celebrate food, culture, and the integrity of local roots.
Since the Underground is located within student housing, it may be easy to assume that it would be filled mostly with college students, but since its opening a few weeks ago, the restaurant has already become home to a diverse group of regulars seeking out an inviting space with great food and coffee.
Beyond food and art, Grace expects to fill the needs of the community by hosting entertainment, meetings, and more. Stay tuned to the Underground’s website and social media as the team rolls out an event calendar in the future.
The schedule is somewhat shortened through the end of September, but come October 1, the Underground will be open for dine-in and takeout weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Preordering is available online, and students can pay onsite with their Husky Dollars.