After adding the Centre Street Cafe to his beloved Jamaica Plain restaurant mini-empire (which includes Tres Gatos and Casa Verde) four years ago, owner David Doyle and partners Mari Perez-Alers and Leila Asher recently reinvented the space as Little Dipper. Its 34 seats now host breakfast, lunch and dinner while preserving the old cafe’s immensely popular weekend brunch. It seems a rarity outside of fast food and fast-casual to find a restaurant doing three-meals-plus these days, but chef Robyn McGrath essays the concept with comfort-oriented good cheer and useful nods to vegetarian locals.
It’s easy to understand the weekend brunch’s hourlong waits (the restaurant industry-friendly Monday brunch is an easier table to land) once you behold big, spectacular plates like huevos rancheros ($12), oversized, crisp-fried corn tortillas cradling over-easy eggs, black beans, jack cheese, thick slices of avocado, cilantro-tinged crema and a bright-red salsa ranchero. The vegetarian egg-and-cheese sandwich that is the Ground Control ($6, with terrific, crisp home fries for an extra $3) on a thick, chewy English muffin feels light and wholesome with its layers of barely sauteed baby spinach, avocado and mild aioli. One can find similarly fresh-tasting renditions of breakfast standbys like egg plates ($6-$13), variants on eggs Benny ($13), stacks of buttermilk pancakes ($7-$9) and traditional breakfast meats ($4). Lighter options include a bowl of pristine fresh fruit ($4) and a yogurt/fruit/granola bowl ($5). Hangover nursers can find comfort in hefty burgers griddled on a flat-top: the Scully ($12) with one patty, American cheese, pickles and “Area 51” sauce (think scratch McD’s special sauce) on a substantial potato bun with some lovely hand-cut fries; the Mulder ($16) features two patties. The midday meal can be elevated into festivity with a serious bloody mary ($10) made with citrus vodka or a seasonal punch ($10), one weekend a pretty, fruity concoction of blueberry juice and elderflower liqueur.
Dinner mostly recalls the glories of midcentury grandma cooking with higher-quality ingredients and more refined technique, like deviled eggs ($5) levitated with chives and teeny, super-crisp bits of bacon. Coconut shrimp ($11) are five nice-sized, perfectly cooked specimens, their crunchy coating a bit bland, helpfully punched up by a zippily dressed shredded-zucchini salad. Mac ’n’ cheese ($8) of small-bore rigatoni, two cheeses and a dusting of crunchy panko crumbs is as creamy and homey as one could wish for—and probably big enough to serve as dinner for a child. The Phoenix ($15) sandwiches a delectably juicy-and-crunchy patty of fried chicken thigh with lettuce and dill-chive ranch dressing on a potato roll with a neat little salad and more great fries. The Chewie ($18) plates a stack of thick slices of excellent tomato-glazed pork/beef meatloaf with a mushroom gravy, roasted baby Brussels and fine, fluffy mashed potatoes. Three salads ($6-$7/small, $10-$11/large) and a seasonal rice bowl ($10) are vibrant, healthy and loaded with great greens, veggies and legumes. The few desserts include a perfectly simple, slightly creamy, generous bowl of housemade lime sorbet ($5). A 10-deep by-the-glass wine list ($9-$14) hits its modest marks with sprightly options like a bracing, fizzy 2017 Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina sparkling rosé ($14) and the fascinating, earthy minerality of a 2014 Lamoreaux Landing dry Riesling ($10) from the Finger Lakes. There’s a half-dozen packaged small-producer craft beers ($5-$9), including a pint can of Dorothy’s New World Lager ($7) from Iowa’s Toppling Goliath brewery, a refreshingly food-friendly, barely-hopped amber beer.
Breakfast and lunch feature most of the brunch staples, like the Big Bertha ($12) of three eggs, those great home fries, toast and a choice of ham, bacon or black beans, plus the dinner sandwich offerings. Amid a passel of meals with unfailingly sweet and attentive service and marvelous kitchen execution, we endured one rocky outing early on a slow weekday morning: lukewarm dark-roast filter coffee ($3), overcooked eggs and a side of black beans that desperately needed more seasoning. (Short-order cooking sometimes works better when the chef is cranking it out to a packed house.) But our disappointment was ameliorated by an outstanding housemade blueberry muffin ($3) and an uncommonly light Boston cream donut ($4) with a fabulous pastry cream filling.
In case you haven’t guessed from some of the menu names, Little Dipper takes its theme from America’s great age of space exploration and its sci-fi progeny. Its teal-and-white walls are decorated with fanciful travel posters beckoning to vacation destinations on nearby planets and further-flung stars, and its night-sky-black ceiling is hung with dozens of lovingly built and painted Estes model rockets, many of which Doyle and his son have actually launched into the lower reaches of the troposphere. Occasional inconsistency aside, there’s much to love in the warmth and simplicity of Little Dipper, with its family-friendly appeal to grown-up former-wannabe astronauts and their kids, and plenty for an in-between generation that appreciates the nostalgic virtues of the greasy spoon, mercifully minus the grit and the grease. For any Earther who stares more at his phone than the heavens, it’s enough to make one’s heart soar just a little. ◆
The Ground Control
Mac ’n’ cheese
The Big Bertha
Boston cream donut
Little Dipper, 669A Centre St., Boston (617-524-9217) littledipperjp.com; Hours: Breakfast and lunch, Tue.-Fri., 7:30 am-2:30 pm, Dinner, Tue.-Sat., 5-9:30 pm, Brunch, Sat.-Mon., 9:30 am-2:30 pm; Reservations: No; Liquor: Beer, wine and cordials; Parking: Metered street spaces and nearby free lots