Review: Prep Neighborhood Kitchen

EATinton logo: Fred Kalil
Frederick Kalil reviews

Located in a former pizzeria, Prep Neighborhood Kitchen has an interior that appears much the same as numerous pizza parlors populating Mass. Ave. Couple of dudes behind the counter in a modest kitchen, small handful of tables for those disinclined to have their pie consigned to the sweatbox of a cardboard takeout container. So much for appearances.

A look at the lengthy menu forced a quick huddle, hatching a strategy: one item from each section. Faced with the question of whether the result might be overordering, we zeroed in on highlights, which seemed a prudent recourse. In the order of easiest decisions, the dishes called Snacks are labeled as “great for sharing.” Broccoli rabe with chili crisp polled highly at the table, and it did not disappoint: The greens were perfectly cooked, not tough or bitter (if you’ve tried preparing these at home, you’ll understand). A bed of whipped feta offered contrasting texture, and drizzles of chili crisp added a complementary kick. Crowning the hill of green were vibrant yellow pickled shallots contributing a judicious accent of sweetness.

All hail kale Caesar

Preceding our veggie starter was a kale Caesar from the Soups & Salads menu category. Anchovies were incorporated into the dressing, and crushed garlicked sourdough crumbs stood in for traditional croutons (infinitely preferable for obvious reasons: never stale, avoiding carving one's mouth to ribbons; you fill in the rest). Well-dressed, not overdressed. The words “garden fresh” were pronounced, an early indicator that quality ingredients are allowed to shine here.

The daily entrée was next in order of appearance, pork shoulder braised with Pilsner and dried peppers. Sharing the plate were black beans, fried potato wedges and a welcome side of ajvar, a sweet red pepper condiment. That combination is a fair representation of the melting pot of influences informing the kitchen, and somehow it all works together. Thrown into the proposition was a slice of the sourdough house focaccia, an unyeasted amalgamation of rye, spelt, barley and whole wheat. 

Pasta is represented by housemade tagliatelle in a choice of three different treatments. We opted for the sausage arrabiata, as the appeal of boar sausage, Calabrian chilies and ricotta among its listed ingredients proved irresistible. Imported Italian tomatoes are used in the sauce, and again everyone noticed how every component registered a distinct and positive impression — a reminder that good ingredients well treated are a recipe for culinary success. Well-treated includes correctly cooked pasta.

Maitake mushroom's the one

For the food-obsessed, facing almost a dozen varieties of pizza could induce an episode of existential inertia, but without much ado, we landed on the maitake mushroom one. The inclusion of spinach leaves might have aided our decision, though seeing the word Taleggio is always an inducement for me. One hard-nosed pizza afficionado at the table hoisted a slice to display the suitably browned bottom crust for our approval. The 12-incher would have promised fine cold-pizza leftovers, if any had been left uneaten.

Given the plethora of items on the menu and the sight of a pair of seemingly calm individuals delivering food to multiple tables while setting out takeout orders, you may be pondering what witchery is getting it all done. One of the two chefs, Daniel Loperfido, describes the place as a “farm-to-table trattoria” and made a point of mentioning the inclusion every day of a family-centered dinner that feeds four. He explained that because the business model is small-scaled — just he and partner John Cassino at the helm — provisions can be planned strategically and switched out as seasons and availability allow. Here’s the kicker: All the produce is organic and locally sourced, and meats are obtained through specialty purveyor D’Artagnan (including the adult chicken fingers). The plan for adaptability and self-sufficiency has managed to succeed as an alternative to hospitality-group restaurants answerable to investors.

Loperfido and Cassino both have front-of-house experience at the Copley Plaza Oak Room and other luxury establishments. Working alongside illustrious chefs must have inspired them to find their true calling: They are largely self-taught. Carrying that ideal forward, they’ve established a program of involving kids from the town to gain kitchen experience. There lies another part of the answer to how everything gets done.

Prep Neighborhood Kitchen, 1367 Mass. Ave., Arlington

781- 483-2355
Tuesday, Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.;
Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.;
Saturday, noon to 9 p.m.

Website >> 

April 18, 2023: Review: Toraya: Snug space, artful plates

This restaurant review by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home where family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, he now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians