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Monday, April 27, 2009

Ula Cafe

I’m a fan of cafes. I love hunting through the various neighborhoods of Boston looking for those spots that only locals know about. It’s great because each café is representative of the neighborhood it is in. Last week, Boston’s Cool Spots blog came up in a conversation with a friend. She asked me if I had heard of Ula Café, a small café tucked away in Jamaica Plain. I had not.
“It’s on Amory Street, near the Stony Brook T stop,” my friend explained.
We drove down Amory and she pointed out an old brewery that had been converted into store fronts and space for rent. I went back to investigate further the next day.

Opened in June of 2007, Ula Café strives to create a space where individuals can interact with the Jamaica Plain community and eat good food. The café serves standards like coffee and tea, as well as sandwiches and soups. The highlight, however, is the daily fresh-baked pastries and breads.

The café takes advantage of its space with exposed brick walls and rubbed steel countertops covered with fresh baked goods. Polished wooden benches and tables line walls and recycled metal chairs are placed at each table. The place has an airy feel to it due to strategically hung track lighting and sconces. There are also large windows that let in plenty of natural light. Ceiling fans, in the same style as the metal chairs keep a cool breeze moving through the café.

The walls are decorated with artwork, currently by Joelle Voogt. On one wall, opposite the cash register, placards display the various types of food Ula offers from specialty sandwiches like the Sweet Potato Vegetarian to their season Quickbreads and baking powder biscuits.

Amanda Smith, a student at the Museum School and resident of JP, recently discovered Ula by accident. “I got off at Stony Brook thinking it was Green Street and happened to wonder in,” she explained. “I’ve been coming back because it’s a great place to study, though sometimes it can get crowded.”

Smith is right, while I sat in the café, taking using their free wifi, enjoying fresh-squeezed orange juice and a biscuit with raspberry jam, several cyclists came in to order Loose Leaf iced tea. The commotion, however, is welcomed because it means Ula is succeeding in its conviction to bring the community together.

Compared to Flamepoeira, Ula is less intimate. I like that the café has fresh-baked goods and real utensils. I’m also a fan of the artwork and funky design of the place, but I never felt a desire to hang out longer than it took me to finish my food. There is a feeling that, even though Ula offers nice amenities like free wifi, it’s more of a place to pick up a coffee and a sandwich and keep moving.

To get to Ula Café, take the Orange Line to Stony Brook, cross the street and walk south for half a block. The Brewery Complex will be on your right, and Ula is tucked in the corner


Tucked between Commercial Street and Fulton Street, Flamepoeira is a small gallery café owned and operated by Langelo, a transplant from Malaysia. The space has finished wooden floors and exposed brick walls. It is furnished with three tables, each surrounded by four chairs, and couches draped with maroon and teal colored fabric.


Flamepoeira is the realization of his desire to showcase his artwork and infuse a less stressful way of life. “I want people who come to Flamepoeira to relax and enjoy the environment. It should be an escape from the daily hustle and bustle,” Langelo explained. The name, Flamepoeira, is a mix that describes Langelo’s personality. The name comes from Flamenco and Capoeira, two disciplines in which Langelo is trained. “I love the passion of flamenco and the celebration of life that is capoeira,” Langelo said. “For me, Flamepoeira is a celebration of passion in life. I want my customers to feel that.”

Catherine Toppin, a resident of South Boston, is fan of the space. “I love the intimate setting. It feels cozy and hidden even though it’s just down the street from Surface Road,” Toppin said. Toppin recently threw a private function at Flamepoeira. Her guests were waited on by Langelo himself and were treated to a buffet as well as the café’s signature dish, the Vincent Van Gogh. The Vincent Van Gogh consists of toasted Japanese bread, herbal mayo, topped with fried potato, scrambled eggs, fresh mozzarella and a side mesculin salad.

All the menu items are original recipes that Langelo creates. “I do a lot of traveling through Europe and will recreate dishes I find,” Langelo explained. To get to Flamepoeira take the blue line to the “Aquarium” stop. Walk five blocks north and cross Surface Road. Turn right onto Atlantic Avenue and then take a left onto Richmond Street. Make a right turn onto Fulton Street and then a right turn onto Lewis Street. Bring your sweetheart, order two Love Potions and one Vincent Van Gogh to split.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Arnold Arboretum

Jamaica Plain is one of those neighborhoods of Boston that I seem to spend more time driving through instead of hanging out in. I need to change that. JP has tons to offer, like the Arnold Arboretum. A part of the Emerald Necklace, the Arboretum is a 265-acre landscape with 15,000 different types of trees, shrubs and vines collected from around the world.

Opened in 1872, the Arboretum is managed through a partnership between the City of Boston and Harvard University. There are more stats about how many people visit the Arboretum and when it is in peak season, but you find that info on their website in the links section. On a day like today, 70 degrees and sunny, it's all about getting outside.

Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden

I spent the bulk of my time at the Arboretum in the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden. From the front gate, the Linden Path is the first on the right. A meandering five minute walk to the Leventritt Garden, the gravel path wonders past blooming trees and shrubs, almost preparing you for the garden.
The garden itself, is an expanse of plush grass and vibrant colors, pinks, yellows, and whites. Visitors enjoy blends of exotic sharp, sweet, and bitter scents.

Hunnewell Visitor Center

On my way back, I stopped at the Hunnewell Visitor Center. According to Maggie Redfern, a worker at the visitor center, this weekend isn't even one of their best. "On May 10th, we'er having 'Lilac Sunday,'" she said. "Lilac Sunday is our big open. We'll have 500 guests in the visitor center, which is a small portion of visitors to the park."

Redfern suggests taking one of the free tours that is offered on Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m., Fridays at 6 p.m., Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. "It's cool to take the tour a few times through the summer because things bloom during different seasons," said Redfern. "What blooms in the spring isn't the same as what blooms in the late summer or fall." The Arboretum is free of charge, but always welcomes donations. It is open year-round, but tend to be the most packed from their May 10th "Lilac Sunday" event through Memorial Day weekend.

On a nice day, pack a picnic lunch and a blanket. Take the time and make a day of the Arboretum because it has much to offer as a haven of nature in the middle of the city.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park

On a gorgeous day like today, a picnic is in order. Boston offers some great spots, like Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park. Located on the east side of Surface Road in the North End, the park has wooden trelliswork covered in wisteria and blue Christmas lights. Under the trellis, stone benches are setup at intervals so that couples can sit quietly and not disturb each other.

“I liked the fact that it [the trellis] has blue and white lights sprinkled throughout a wooden facade. The lights soften the structure,” said Amelia Aubourg. A resident of the Fenway, she was at the park in the early evening with her boyfriend. “You think of real love and how it softens and open you up to something special. The atmosphere and ambiance do just that,” she finished.

The walking paths run past the Boston Harbor, allowing visitors to stop and take in the view as they make their way through the rose garden.
The park also has spray fountains that can be played in on those hot summer days. Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park is a block north of the blue line “Aquarium” stop. Like Aubourg, go to the park in the evening when the trellis is lit up.

(Slide show photos courtesy of Boston Harborwalk)

Kendall Square - Rooftop Garden

The rooftop garden at the Marriott Hotel in Kendall Square is quaint. Gerber daisies and tulips sprout as well as lush grass, perfect for walking in, barefoot. A red-brick path winds its way around and through the garden, and metal lattice-work park benches are strategically placed to facilitate sitting and even the occasional lunch break.

The rooftop garden is one of many places in greater Boston that is not well known, but full of romantic charm. “It’s one of our best kept secrets,” said Susan Glazer, deputy director of the Cambridge community department. “Many people work in Kendall Square and don’t even know about it.”

To find the rooftop garden, take the red line to Kendall Square. Once, above ground find the public parking garage attached to the Marriott Hotel. The elevators in the garage go to the roof. The garden is open from sunrise to sunset, but be aware that it often closes during inclement weather. The garden offers views of Boston’s skyline from the other side of the Charles River as well as a quiet place to have a picnic when the weather is pleasant. Because it is a public garden, it is free of charge.