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A variety of Italian bar snacks, bread sticks, and wine glasses are arranged on a floor with asymmetrical stone tiles.

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Harvard Square’s New Italian Restaurant Bar Enza Is ‘Not Your Grandmother’s Trattoria’

Del Posto alum Mark Ladner is focusing on bar snacks to start, but his famous 100-layer lasagna is coming soon

A selection of bar snacks at Bar Enza in Cambridge.

Bar Enza, Harvard Square’s newest Italian restaurant, is “not your grandmother’s trattoria,” says chef Mark Ladner, who is collaborating on the project with the Lyons Group (Rochambeau, Scampo, Sonsie, etc.). Located inside the Charles Hotel in the space of two prior Italian restaurants, Rialto and Benedetto, Bar Enza is a “neo-trattoria” with a penchant for bar snacks.

“A lot of the philosophy behind the way that the food is prepared is very traditional,” says Ladner, “but the preparation is a little more modern, trying to be relevant in 2021 — but not losing the nourishing aspects of traditional Italian food.”

So, there’s a gigantic meatball holding a barbecue secret at its core, but there’s familiar bruschetta, topped with imported Italian products and local basil. There’s a chicken parm sub, an ode to Italian-American dining, but there’s also a major focus on pastas, both dried and fresh. Bar Enza is “more about celebrating the spirit of the Italian table than authenticity of any specific region,” says Ladner, and that includes the Italian-American table, which itself has plenty of regional differences depending on where you go in the United States.

Four small pieces of bruschetta with charred edges sit on a white plate on a light wooden table.
Bar Enza’s bruschetta is “pretty traditional,” says Ladner. It’s topped with tomato filets from Vesuvius, anchovies from Sicily, and basil from Eva’s Garden in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

The restaurant quietly opened in early fall and has been ramping up its menu since then; the offerings will continue to evolve and expand, but the early weeks have been heavily focused on bar snacks. More pasta dishes and entrees will be available in the coming days, including Ladner’s famous 100-layer lasagna from his days at Del Posto, a now-closed fine-dining landmark in New York.

While Ladner has spent much of his recent career in New York, Bar Enza is actually a homecoming for him: A Belmont native, he first cooked in Harvard Square in the late 1980s at a pizzeria called Cafe Fiorello, later working at Todd English’s original Olives location in Charlestown.

Five little sandwiches of beef tartare between potato chips sit on a silver platter, with a glass of red wine in the back.
Bar Enza’s beef “club” features chopped beef tartare sandwiched between vinegared caper potato chips.

At Bar Enza, Ladner’s ingredient sourcing is a mix. He’s leaning on his longtime New York contacts while also getting to know Massachusetts products better (including produce he buys from the farmers market right outside the Charles Hotel twice a week), and he’s importing products from Italy as well — think Pecorino from Abruzzo, tomato filets from Vesuvius, anchovies from Sicily. The aforementioned gigantic meatball features something from a little closer to home: whole dry rubbed and smoked brisket and pork shoulder from local barbecue chain the Smoke Shop, whose owner, chef Andy Husbands, went to culinary school with Ladner. (One of Smoke Shop’s locations is right in Harvard Square.) The meatball — which is “bigger than a baseball,” says Ladner — is made of ground pork, veal, beef, and both sweet and spicy Italian sausage, and a chilled cube of Husbands’s barbecue is folded in; the whole thing is bound by mashed potato and plunged into marinara sauce to relax. “When you take it out, the barbecue is reverted back to being incredibly tender and juicy,” says Ladner. “We’re hoping it’s going to be one of our signature items.”

Here’s a closer look at a few other bar snacks from Bar Enza’s early weeks. (The menu is changing and growing by the day, so note that these exact dishes might not be available when you visit.)

Saffron Suppli

Four crispy fried rice balls sit on a silver platter on a red bar stool.
Bar Enza’s saffron suppli are served atop a bed of fried rice.

Suppli — rice balls — are the Roman relatives of arancini. At Bar Enza, they have a melted pecorino center, and they’re breaded in rice flour, egg, and fried rice before being fried. “It should be pretty gooey when it’s hot,” says Ladner. The garnish is more of the fried rice; dip the molten interior of the suppli in it. The saffron comes from Abruzzo.

Ciabatta Sticks

Three long, skinny breadsticks in a silver vessel sit on a light pink banquette by a window, with a plate of thick white dip.
Bar Enza’s ciabatta sticks with mascarpone and olio nuovo.

Bar Enza serves a couple of breads, including these ciabatta sticks developed with René Becker of Cambridge’s Hi-Rise Bread Company. “It’s basically his ciabatta loaf that’s been stretched out and baked,” says Ladner. “Really crispy on the outside, soft in the center.” The sticks are served with whipped mascarpone, olio nuovo (just-harvested olive oil), black lava salt, and Amalfi lemon pepper.

Diners might also find puffed garlic zeppole on the menu, which start with a garlic butter pate de choux that’s piped, frozen, and fried from frozen for a light, puffy texture.

Baked, Stuffed Olives

Plump olives in shades of brown sit on a white plate alongside olive-shaped brown meatballs.
Bar Enza’s baked, stuffed olives feature sweet Italian sausage and Cerignola olives.

Bar Enza’s take on olives all’Ascolana, a dish typical of Italy’s Marche region, is “basically a meatball” made from Cerignola olives, sweet Italian sausage, vegetables, and egg. It’s formed into a plump olive shape and fried; like the aforementioned ciabatta sticks, it’s meant to have that perfect crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside balance. The dish is garnished with more Cerignola olives.

Bar Enza is currently open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with indoor seating available, as well as bar and lounge seating and two private dining rooms. There’s also a seasonal patio in the hotel’s courtyard. Reserve online.

A slice of fig cake, chocolate bonbons, and a couple other desserts are arranged on white plates on a wooden table.
A selection of desserts at Bar Enza in its early days. The current menu includes a ricotta semifreddo and diplomatico.

Bar Enza

1 Bennett Street, , MA 02138 (617) 661-5050 Visit Website
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