Sometimes we like something without being able to say exactly what it is. That pretty much explains love, irony, and the smell of a fresh can of tennis balls, which could be either the byproduct of the industrial rubber cleaning process, or the perfume of the tennis fairies who wove the balls together using the neon hair of a unicorn.
That’s how we feel about Pammy’s, a hard-to-classify restaurant between Central and Harvard Squares. It’s Italian, but the key ingredient in our favorite dish is a Korean red chili sauce. It’s a perfect winter restaurant thanks to a wood-burning fireplace, but it also works in the summer with giant windows and a dining room that looks like a Restoration Hardware exploded inside a Mediterranean villa. And it’s a good spot to take a date, but, without a single flickering candle in the whole place, it isn’t really a traditional date night spot. So what is Pammy’s? It’s a place that just works. Pick almost any adjective you want, stick an -ish on the end and that will begin to describe it.
Generally, you should be wary of something that’s “ish.” If your doctor tells you surgery was “successful-ish,” get a new doctor. If your friend tells you they’re “close-ish” to the theater, be prepared to whisper-recap the first third of the movie. But Pammy’s is the exception to ish-wariness. Here, the ish is the good stuff. It’s what makes the food way more interesting than what you see in a Barilla Pasta commercial, and it’s what makes it a restaurant that’s appropriate for almost any situation and almost any kind of person. When you don’t know exactly what you want or expect out of a night, head to Pammy’s and let the ish provide.
Look around you on any given night here and close to half of the dining room will be eating the bolognese with the Korean gochujang sauce. They’re not wrong to do so - it’s a really good and interesting take on a dish that you’ve been eating since the days when you thought that Olive Garden breadsticks were the food of the gods. But the whole menu is filled with things that you’ll only kind of recognize but come to love. Take the bucatini, a dish you may initially try to send back thinking the server mistakenly brought you a salad, only to find that an entire farmer’s market’s worth of fresh greens really does work with pasta, pistachios, and shrimp that’s sweet enough to be sold out of an ice cream truck. Pammy’s has taken what might be the most ubiquitous cuisine in America and given it little tweaks that you rarely see anywhere else. It’s not so much that they’re reinventing the wheel, it’s just that they’re saying “Hey, wouldn’t wheels be a little bit better if they came with in-season strawberries instead of axle grease?”
The word is already out on this place, so expect it to be packed just about every night. But again, that’s just a testament to the restaurant’s flexibility. There will be dates, there will be neighborhood regulars, and there will be Harvard undergrads proud of themselves for making it so far out of the square. That’s what you get with a restaurant that’s just plain good all-around. It may be hard to say exactly what Pammy’s is, but it’s not hard to like it.
They’re made with a Middle Eastern garlic sauce, and they’re way better than those marinated artichokes you get in tiny glass jars in the grocery store (though let’s be real: standing at the fridge and eating those right out of the jar is great).
It’s a little hockey puck of tuna, asparagus, and potato chips. The chips initially seem a little out of place with those fancy ingredients, but they pull their weight.
It’s got a ton of anchovy flavor, so if that’s not your thing, stay away. But if you like them, dive into this salty, cheesy pasta dish and swim around a while.
The shrimp in this dish are sweet enough you’ll think they’re candy, but they’re also served with a salad’s worth of uncooked greens, so you don’t need to feel guilty about eating candy for dinner.
It’s a Korean-Italian hybrid bolognese, and it makes us want to see the Italians and Koreans team up more often (thing of how stylish and practical a Kia-Ferrari would be).
It’s very rich, very galicky, and very good. There’s no shame in not finishing, just please try to do better next time.