Remember when Harvard Square had all-night cafeterias filled with procrastinating students and desperate local bohemians? David Zebny (Harvard, ’84) doesn’t go back that far, but he’s pushed the hours to midnight at his new, affordable Z Square. He’s also brought back a sausage platter in tribute to the lamented Wursthaus and, crucially, has hired Paul Sussman as his chef, who ran the now-defunct Daddy-O’s in Inman Square. That restaurant, more than any other recent attempt, recaptured the playful, thrifty spirit of the old Harvard Square with breakfast-type comfort food on all its menus, and international inspirations more hearty than authentic. Z Square, as a result, has breakfast, lunch, and dinner at all hours; a jazz soundtrack; and a California-moderne look that is not so different from the old cafeteria Bauhaus. Not everything is perfect, but that’s part of the scene.
In fact, nostalgia reaches all the way back to the 1930s with the reintroduction of the paid bread basket ($3.95). That gets you foil-wrapped butter and four quasi-French rolls, possibly with your other appetizers, possibly not. If the soup of the day ($3.95/cup; $4.95/bowl) is curried vegetable, you should certainly have that. It’s well flavored and packed with fresh vegetables.
Daddy-O’s chipotle wings ($6.95) are upscale Buffalo wings, but little harm is done. The chipotle powder, applied duringfrying, doesn’t have the expected smoke and is more sneaky-hot than the usual fiery Tabasco effect. Our little cup of blue-cheese dressing could have used more cheese, but the celery and carrot sticks were there, for reasons not even Buffalonians know. Ten wing segments are a nice snack, and a bunch of cress under the wings makes foran extra treat they’ve probably never heard of in Buffalo.
A special endive salad ($7) had more blue cheese in an excellent vinaigrette dressing on a salad of mostly frisée and field greens, with four token leaves of endive. This suits a student hangout where many diners will be ordering endive for the first time. Crispy potato cakes ($4.95) are somewhat bland la tk es with a nice frisée salad. The sautéed-mushroom and Swiss chard crêpe ($6.95) is another filling and pleasant vegan dish, with evenmore flavor.
At lunch and in the café, there’s an excellent sandwich menu. Connoisseurs will compare the muffaletta with the version at All-Star Sandwich Bar in Inman Square, as well as to the New Orleans original. I had a prosciutto, mozzarella, and artichoke panini ($7.95), and it came perfectly grill-marked from a real panini iron, hot and delicious with a curried potato salad (good, but you’ll have a hard time resisting the superior French fries, another Daddy-O’s hallmark).
Some sandwiches are on the dinner menu, but so is Sussman’s country fried chicken ($16.95), the Wursthaus special ($16.95), and a fantastic marinated skirt steak ($16.95). This was one of the tastiest pieces of beef I’ve had in recent memory, all sliced and rare as ordered, with pretty solid Cal-Mex black beans, rice, and a hunk of avocado. The steak came coldto the table, but that was a minor flaw.