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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.