Alexandra Whisnant and Bobby MacLean want to serve you a glass of wine that will make you cry (joyfully), alongside a dessert — an ultra-rich chocolate mousse, perhaps, or a meticulously made-from-scratch tiramisu — that may also make you cry. And they want you to consume these entirely in the moment, free from the glare of your cellphone screen and the distractions of the internet, at their intimate new cellphone-free wine and dessert bar, Zuzu’s Petals, in Cambridge’s Inman Square. (Need help giving up your cellphone permanently? Whisnant and MacLean invite you to join their monthly meeting for support.)
Located in the old City Girl Cafe space at 204 Hampshire St., Zuzu’s Petals is an ode to yesteryear, with records playing and diners chatting with others around them as no one has their head buried in a digital screen. There are no QR codes to scan; there are no online payments to make. “We just want to create — I don’t want to say old-fashioned — a real dining experience,” says MacLean.
Named for the symbol of real life in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, Zuzu’s Petals aims to create a space for food and wine lovers to savor a perfect glass of wine, paired with an excellent salami or a lovely dessert, free of distractions.
Zuzu’s Petals combines the strengths of Whisnant, founder of the exceptional Somerville-based chocolate and dessert shop Gâté Comme Des Filles, and MacLean, founder of local grocery shop Picnic & Pantry (formerly known as In Season Food Shop), which are both located at Bow Market.
MacLean puts his skills curating local products for his shop into the compact savory portion of the Zuzu’s Petals menu. There’s a cheese board, which includes hearty portions of several local cheeses (MacLean is particularly fond of Jasper Hill’s Oma), as well as salami by Vermont-based Babette’s Table, paprika nuts from Cambridge’s Nüssli118, cherry rosehip hibiscus jam from V Smiley in Vermont, and a baguette from one of the best breadmakers in town, Waltham-based Bread Obsession. There are also a couple of smaller combinations for those who don’t want to go all out.
Babette’s Table is “the finest crafter of salamis you can possibly find,” says MacLean, and it’s a good example of the Zuzu’s Petals philosophy: There are other good salamis at lower prices, but MacLean and Whisnant want to offer the best examples of fine craftsmanship they can hunt down. “We want to trigger memories, emotions, and feelings,” says MacLean, “so we’re less concerned about price and more concerned that people will come in here and have the salami that literally melts in your mouth and you’ll never forget it.”
“We’re just trying to make a place for the person who’s obsessed with food,” says Whisnant.
For dessert, Whisnant is focusing on classics she says are hard to find done well. She’s infusing her creme brulee with tonka beans (don’t ask where they come from), which impart a “magical almondy” flavor. The chocolate mousse is similar to the one she serves at Bow Market — a fan favorite — but even better, she says, because she steeps the Zuzu’s version with an “obscene” amount of vanilla beans. A chocolate souffle may appear on the menu at some point, too. That was the original vision for Zuzu’s Petals, says Whisnant: “chocolate souffle, red wine, records.”
For wine, there are by-the-glass selections only — reds, rosés, oranges, and whites from a variety of countries (including Whisnant’s mother’s homeland, Croatia) and at a variety of prices. The casual drinker will find several wines to love around $14 or $15, while connoisseurs may want to venture into pricier territory with, for example, a $33 glass of La Rioja Alta’s 2014 gran reserva viña arana, which the menu describes as having notes of cherry pie, cigar, and dill.
“We wanted to have really regal wines, wines that have been refined for hundreds of years,” says Whisnant. “You can come in and get a glass of really, really good wine, and that’s enough; it’s deeply satisfying. We want these wines to be things that you dream about afterward.”
Whisnant is not a sommelier, she notes, “more like a curator” and lover of wines that feel “alive” in the glass, wines that she thinks about for days after drinking them.
So what’s the deal with the cellphone rule? “We don’t like cellphones,” says MacLean. “We think they’re ruining culture.” (Both MacLean and Whisnant have given up their cellphones.)
“We’re hoping we can start a movement where people are creating cellphone-free spaces and making that a priority,” says Whisnant. “We can just go on and on about all the damage they’re doing.”
“You want to walk into a place where people are staring into each other’s eyes,” says MacLean. “That’s what we have. We have the records, we have the wine, we have cheese and bread. We want people to reconnect after COVID.”
Hours are limited to Friday and Saturday evenings for the next few weeks; check the Zuzu’s Petals website to make a reservation or sign up for the newsletter for updates on the unique new destination in Inman Square. Keep an eye out for the start of outdoor seating a little bit later this summer, too.
“This is a place for everything that people care about,” says MacLean. “These are wines that make you cry; these cheeses and salamis and jams are what life is worth living for. [Zuzu’s Petals] is for things like this, and for no screens, and for human interaction.”