A Jamaica Plain restaurant known for its weekend brunch, Italian food, and wine selection will soon morph into a futuristic diner with a space theme and all-day food service. Centre Street Cafe founders David Doyle and Mari Perez-Alers have joined forces with chef Robyn McGrath and her wife Leila Asher, and the new team will bring Little Dipper to life later this spring, as Boston Magazine reports.
“I’ve always had a love for diners, and the word is tricky because the spectrum of diners is huge,” Doyle told Eater. “What we’re trying to create is that really casual place that is very recognizably a diner, but with really good food.”
McGrath brings to the team years of experience at Sel de la Terre in Natick and Ten Tables Cambridge. She and her wife have been planning a restaurant of their own for years. Now, together with Doyle and Perez-Alers, McGrath will take on the task of building a menu that showcases the broad range and reach of American cuisine.
Doyle described it as a dream project, allowing for freedom to explore a variety of dishes while leaning into the space theme, taking the restaurant in “a more playful direction.” Doyle likened the menu for Little Dipper to the cookbook America the Great.
“I love the idea behind that book because what it really does is celebrate the spectrum of American cuisine, which is really huge,” he said. “Our goal is to celebrate all those different strains of cuisine that are proper to call American, but a lot of inspiration for these dishes came from other countries, in some cases many, many years ago.”
Although the transition to Little Dipper has not yet taken place, McGrath has already joined the team at Centre Street Cafe.
“She’s gotten to know the space, she’s gotten to know the team, and she’s already starting to roll out some of the dishes that will show up on the menu,” Doyle said.
That includes items like a fried chicken sandwich with dill-chive ranch dressing, blackened redfish with braised collard greens, and potentially a fried shrimp po’ boy. Little Dipper will also retain Centre Street Cafe’s house-made pasta (in part to keep Doyle’s five-year-old son happy — he’s a big fan of the spaghetti), and the brunch dishes won’t change substantially.
“I think the lunch menu that we’ve had will start to look really different,” Doyle said. “The initial challenge of Centre Street Cafe was a big one in the sense in that we did more or less keep the brunch that had been in place, but it was a real jump from a very casual sort of American diner brunch to that pretty highly executed Italian menu.” (Doyle, Perez-Alers, and Keith Harmon, a former partner who is no longer with the group, took ownership of the shuttered original Centre Street Cafe in late 2014, making it their own but promising longtime fans that they’d continue the popular weekend brunch without changing it up too much.)
One of the main goals in the transition to Little Dipper is to make the weekend brunch and weekday lunch and dinner menus more consistent and cohesive, Doyle said. They’ll also leave the door open for evolution and innovation, with plans to host pop-ups to rotate through different cuisine traditions and partner with other chefs.
“The one thing I love about a sci-fi direction — there are a million ways to go,” he said.
That includes the decor. Changes to the existing restaurant will be largely cosmetic, with an overhaul of decorations (think artistic space posters) and flyable model rockets dangling from the ceiling, Doyle said, plus plenty of color.
Oddly enough, this isn’t the first “space diner” to grace the area: During select hours, Roslindale’s now-shuttered Seven Star Street Bistro used to become the Astro Diner.
Centre Street Cafe will close down in May for remodeling, after which Little Dipper will emerge. Doyle said there will be a chance for regulars to say goodbye to Centre Street, and once Little Dipper debuts, they’ll host an opening event.
Additionally, Doyle noted that previous plans to open Brass Cat Cafe at 3399 Washington St. have been scrapped, and the team will not move forward with a different concept in the space. In addition to Centre Street Cafe/Little Dipper, they’re also behind Tres Gatos and Casa Verde.