Little Donkey Opens with Very Boston Bao, an Epic Raw Bar, Chips on a Burger & More
Say hello—and hola, ciao, konnichiwa, etc.—to your new go-to spot in Cambridge. Little Donkey opened last night as quietly as the latest project from acclaimed Boston chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette (Toro, Coppa) possibly could have. The Central Square restaurant is now open for dinner, and reservations begin on Monday, July 18.
“Friends and family went really well, and you know us—we’re not the most patient guys in the world, so we said, let’s open the doors and see what happens,” Oringer says.
What’s happening is an exciting smorgasbord of flavors at the culinary duo’s first Cambridge venture, named for the quintessential beast of burden. Little Donkey will eventually be open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the diverse landscape of Central Square inspired the wide-ranging fare.
“We could have written this menu two years ago, but just sitting outside during construction and watching the neighborhood, it would have changed. Going to the markets in the neighborhood inspired us to put a few more dishes on with Indian flavors, say. It’s just a really great place to cook,” Bissonnette says.
That influence includes Boston’s own food history. Take the Chinese sausage-stuffed Parker House Rolls. “We’re kind of geeky historians at heart when it comes to food,” Oringer says. “We though it would be fun to do an homage to what’s invented here, but to do something different with it with a hidden flavor of a dim sum bao.”
There are also charred avocados with pepitas, yogurt, and pomegranate molasses, clam garlic bread with the Middle Eastern spice blend baharat, and a dry-aged beef burger topped with jalapeño potato chips, Buffalo pickles, foie gras, and onion soup mayo. Check out the menu below.
“It’s nice to have a restaurant that doesn’t have boundaries,” Oringer says.
The duo is especially excited about the raw bar, which has ever-changing options ranging from razor clam ceviche, to Canadian snow crab with drawn butter, to live uni, tuna poke, and more. “It’s really fun to be able to give a little nod to classic raw bars from France, but having globally inspired stuff all over that as well,” Oringer says.
Breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch will begin next month. In addition to options like a hearty Jerusalem bowl, miso banana bread toad-in-the-hole, a pastrami and egg sandwich, a spicy chickpea and tomato stew, and other wordly breakfasts, there will be pastry options and a Fazenda Coffee espresso program.
Little Donkey has 13-seat, stone bar, stocked with about 50 wine bottles, and a dozen options by the glass, curated by Jodie Battles, beverage director at Toro, Coppa, and now, Little Donkey.
“Jodie’s been running lists for us with lots of Spain, lots of Italy [wines], for the last few years, so you can see she’s getting to do some cool stuff with this,” Bissonnette says, like Morphos, a pet-nat from Oyster River Winegrowers in Maine, and Wimmer Czerny St. Laurent, a light-tasting Austrian red.
There are four beers on draft, including Sloop Brewing Co. (NY) Confliction Sour, and a couple local offerings from Night Shift and Notch. Battles is collaborating with lead bartender and Boston cocktail legend Vikram Hegde (Island Creek Oyster Bar, Sarma) on the beverage program. There are eight cocktails with bright flavors to complement the wide-ranging menu, including the Donkey Punch, “an absolute patio pounder,” Bissonnette says, with reposada, cassis, lime, and agave.
Little Donkey seats about 90 at tables, slat-backed banquettes, and communal high-tops near floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto Massachusetts Avenue. The team is in the process of permitting an outdoor patio, too.
It has an open kitchen, and overall, an airy aesthetic, Oringer says. “We have such high ceilings, and we inherited this great brick wall that looks like something you’d see down an alley in Hong Kong,” he says, on which local artist Mark Grundig hand-painted the Little Donkey logo. “It’s a communal type of space, friendly and light.”
“Every part feels welcoming,” Bissonnette adds, “whether you’re cooking in the kitchen, sitting at the bar, or in the dining room.”
Little Donkey welcomes you nightly at 5 p.m. Once breakfast starts, the kitchen will be open from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, with late-night options until last call.
Little Donkey, 505 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-945-1008, littledonkeybos.com.