The backstory: Gilson’s family runs Groton’s Herb Lyceum, and he’s been a player on the Boston dining scene since his days as a chef at the late, lamented Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge, which combined fine dining with pub coziness. He opened Puritan in 2012, with a New England-y menu — grilled oysters, butterscotch pudding.
Now he has three restaurants at Cambridge Crossing: Café Beatrice, an all-day cafe; The Lexington, a cocktail bar and restaurant with a rooftop terrace; and the newly opened Geppetto.
The development is in its infancy, evidenced by the abundant construction and difficulty locating it using Google maps (note: It’s at North First Street, not First Street nearby). You’ll definitely get Early Seaport vibes as you cruise through. Geppetto is open solely for takeout and delivery within a 5-mile radius for now, but hopefully that will evolve as the pandemic, and the neighborhood, does.
It’s a throwback for Gilson, whose first big-time restaurant job was at Marcuccio’s in the North End under chef Charles Draghi, later of Erbaluce, where he focused on Northern Italian dishes. For now, Gilson’s brand of Italian focuses on comfort food that’s easy to transport, such as Sicilian-style pies made by pastry chef Brian Mercury (Harvest) and lasagna.
The area is hushed at the moment, but Gilson is optimistic that the development will attract foot traffic soon enough.
“We’re lucky that here at Cambridge Crossing, the development will be lab space, life sciences, and residential buildings. I worry that in other parts of the city the work-from-home mantra will remain strong, and businesses that rely on lots of commuters and office workers may struggle to see that business come back right away,” he says.
What to eat: Sturdy squares of Sicilian-style pizza, burnt at the edges, dotted with oily little pepperoni cups, are a huge hit with my kids. (In case you’re wondering, the pepperoni is Hormel, at least for now.) Kitchen sink lasagna, a compact log of ricotta and mozzarella, is enhanced with whatever meat scraps are on hand. Currently, that means short and prime rib. It’s splashed in a tomato bechamel that’s thinly creamy — not too heavy or muddled with unnecessary cheese. Braised pork sugo with cavatelli tastes of rich, fatty pork, but also gets a zesty pinch from chili breadcrumbs and fried rosemary. Other dishes will be better enjoyed in person; creamy burrata on a bed of roasted beets, pistachio, and arugula grows soggy in transit. The menu is straightforward and concise, and also offers options for lighter eaters, such as a braised pork sandwich with provolone and chicken parm on ciabatta. Dishes are $21 and under.
What to drink? Order local beers like Lamplighter and Narragansett, as well as a small assortment of rosé, red and white wine, and bubbly.
The takeaway: This might not be the restaurant that Gilson quite intended, but you could do a lot worse than Sicilian pizza and a comforting hunk of lasagna during a pandemic winter. “The public might have to wait until spring or summer to try the food as we dreamt it,” Gilson says — but it’s still quite good.
100 N. First Street, Cambridge Crossing, Cambridge, www.thelexingtoncx.com/geppetto