Mr. Donahue’s is a love letter to old school diner counters. The respect that chef/owners Matt Danzer and Ann Redding (the team behind Michelin-starred Thai favorite Uncle Boons) have for the period that they’re emulating here permeates the tiny room at this nine-seat NoLita wonder. Retro wood paneling, dainty vases cupping fresh flowers, lace curtains and 20s-30s jazz transport you to a simpler time and place, perhaps a family home in a Boardwalk Empire-era suburb.
Like the digs, the menu is pure Americana on the surface, but the veneer of simplicity erodes the moment you take your first bites. Danzer and Redding once graced the kitchen at Per Se, and you’ll find traces of that refined technique in every dish here. On offer are mains like roast beef, fried pork cheek and dry aged meatloaf, each of which allows a choice of two sides from options like pickled beets, english peas and asparagus amaldine.
Take the roast beef, for example. The raw loin is brushed in egg white before receiving a healthy pat-down of seasoning mixture (cracked pepper, rosemary, thyme and sel gris). The resulting crust and expertly cooked deep pink center are the stuff of fever dreams. Slather each bite in the proprietary ‘cowboy butter’ if you want to do it right, and pair it with sides of the dutchess potatoes–twice baked, laced with butter and creamy as can be–and deviled duck eggs–whipped with mayo and gussied up with bottarga and chives.
On a recent trip my dining companion and I, both jaded food industry snobs, stopped halfway through our banana rum pudding finisher and exchanged looks of speechless satisfaction. Mr. Donahue’s is the real deal.
203 Mott Street (bet. Spring & Kenmare)
Words and photos by Jason Greenspan