When thinking what to name Gufo — the modern Italian all-day restaurant and café that opens on Friday in East Cambridge — you could say that the Coda Restaurant Group let their imagination take flight. “Gufo” means “owl” in Italian. And partner and director of operations, Ted Hawkins, mentions how the Roman goddess of wisdom and warfare, Athena, was often depicted with an owl on her shoulder, with the feathered advisor helping to guide her decision-making.
“We wanted to embody this owl,” Hawkins tells Eater Boston, “and be a restaurant that’s more than meets the eye. That’s humble, but wise beyond its years.”
At Gufo, where (friendly) battles are reserved for the outdoor bocce court, and the most pressing decision is which of the snack-y starters to scarf down (hint: just get ‘em all), the bird analogy works in a different sense. It’s a neighborhood restaurant where you’ll want to grab the whole flock and nest for a while.
Friday sees the launch of dinner service, but come August the spot will be open all day with no pause in service — from morning pastries and coffee, to working lunches, to dinners and nightcaps. “We wanna be able to do every phase really well,” Hawkins continues. “Not just be repeatable twice a week, but hopefully twice a day.”
The meant-to-share offerings of modern spins on Italian cuisine — with finger-foods, salads, pastas, and pizzas — certainly call for repeat visits. The menu draws from wisdom gleaned from sister restaurants SRV and the Salty Pig. Andrew Hebert (former executive chef at Salty Pig) serves as executive chef, while longtime sous chef David Kris takes the lead at the Salty Pig.
The delights are served in an art-deco-by-way-of-the-70s color-blocked dining room that soars in shades of terracotta and dark blue, with abundant greenery. The restaurant seats 80 in the dining room and 16 at the bar, with an outdoor patio offering both covered and uncovered seating where diners can play bocce between bites, or relax with cocktails.
The six plates in the “snacks” section of the menu include marinated olives from the Sicilian town of Castelvetrano, soft La Tur cheese with honey, and eggplant and pine nut caponata with whipped ricotta. Hawkins describes the goodies as, “If you were to go to a barbecue or a dinner party, it would be a spread of items that would be on the table all night.” Diners can add focaccia and prosciutto to the mix, too.
A Caesar salad riff shines from the “table” section of dishes. “It has raw, thinly sliced snap peas with just a classic Caesar dressing, shaved radishes for a little texture and color, and is finished with bread crumbs,” chef Andrew Hebert says. “There’s some dill in there for freshness. It’s fairly simple but it’s a very refreshing summery salad.”
He also shouts out the whole-roasted black bass that’s marinated in chermoula (a North African salsa verde type of sauce) and served with preserved lemon. The six pastas include a squid ink bucatini with baby clams, n’duja butter, lemon and parsley; mortadella cappellettii with parmesan and corn brodo; and a rigatoni with pork and beef rigatoni, pancetta and chilies.
And what’s an Italian joint without pizzas? The six pies include a classic Margherita with tomato, mozzarella and basil; pepperoni with vodka sauce, mozzarella and Castelvetrano olives; and merguez sausage with charred eggplant, peperonata (a rich, tomato-based stew with peppers and garlic), feta, and mint. “One of our favorite pizzas is a white pizza, so it’s mozzarella-based, with zucchini, anchovy, a little arugula, a spicy Fresno [chili] vinaigrette, and lemon and Parmesan cheese to finish,” Hebert adds. “It’s very seasonal.”
Along with an olive oil cake on the opening dessert menu, one sweet treat amps up the nostalgia and whimsy. “We have a soft-serve machine, which is very fun and new to all of us,” Hebert says. “We plan on doing different flavors with creative toppings like a nut and spice mixture or a magic shell.”
Expect brunch, which will run concurrently with café service, sometime in August — Hebert hints at bread pudding French toast and shakshuka as possibilities — plus a bread program and more desserts and baked goods hatched by incoming pastry chef Christy Henry.
For, now, though, Hawkins imagines a flight plan for the coming weeks of bustling summer afternoons. “I’m picturing a beautiful Sunday, 3 p.m. People are playing bocce and having drinks, and they all wanna be home by seven so they can get started with the week on the right foot,” he says. “And we hope to be that place, not just for the Cambridge community but for greater Boston as well.”
Gufo opens Friday, July 28 for dinner seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last seating at 9:30 p.m.), with the bar open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (where diners can also order pizza and from the snacks section of the menu). Check Gufo’s Instagram over the coming weeks to find out when they announce coffee counter, lunch, and brunch service. It is located at 660 Cambridge St. in East Cambridge.