Where to: Donut Villa in Arlington Center.
Why: To see what all the fuss is about. Anticipation over this new restaurant — opening on a semi-vacant block that has made locals cringe — was incredibly high. Also, for doughnuts, all-day brunch, diner classics, and cocktails.
The backstory: Picture it: Arlington Center, 2018 or so, not far from the Cambridge border. There was a Common Ground pub in the center of town. Lots of outdoor seating. Strollers aplenty. A decent-enough bar scene. Down the street, Not Your Average Joe’s served acceptable family-friendly food; a few steps away, an Italian restaurant, Twyrl, offered a cozy if vowel-free respite from home cooking. But then, COVID arrived. Restaurants went dark. The town center grew sleepier.
Flash-forward to last weekend, when a line for the freshly opened Donut Villa stretched down Broadway. The dining public was back, baby, and eager for brunch.
“We weren’t expecting it to be this busy,” says Erin Bashllari, whose parents opened the smaller, simpler Malden original. (There are also Villas in Cambridge and Newton.)
There’s even some in-town squabbling: Doughnut shop Gail Ann’s is right across the street, and it’s been around for decades. Some worry that Donut Villa could threaten Gail Ann’s in a sugary showdown. Others say that there’s room enough for two doughnut purveyors on the block, especially because the Villa also serves cocktails and dinner.
“We’re trying to pay homage to the diner vibe, at any time of day, with a modern twist,” Bashllari says. It’s a concept he calls “doughnuts after dark.”
What to eat: Diner classics and doughnut-driven combos from Chris D’Eletto, a 40-year veteran of the New Jersey restaurant scene. He makes mozzarella sticks from scratch, rolled in panko and breadcrumbs (they’re enormous and look more like mozzarella feet), as well as crab cakes and crackly steak-and-cheese spring rolls with chipotle aioli.
Doughnuts are the main attraction, though, either cake-style or fluffy and yeast-raised, made on-site. Direct your attention to the “Donut Meets Griddle” section of the encyclopedic menu, where you will find: a cheeseburger, breakfast sandwich, French toast, Benedict, and bread pudding, all designed around doughnuts. There is even a doughnut pizza, topped with marinara sauce and cheese.
You might not associate a place that serves pizza doughnuts and steak-and-cheese spring rolls with vegan cuisine, and yet: Villa maintains an extensive vegan menu, with mac and cheese in sweet potato-based sauce, vegan waffles, and tofu scrambles. Most dishes are around $15, and there’s a kids’ menu — although basically anything here would appeal to a child’s palate.
What to drink: There’s a full bar, though on my visit, it was still being set up. My server recommended a spicy strawberry margarita, which was both spicy and fruity. There’s also a healthy assortment of coffees and lattes.
The takeaway: Donut Villa fills a hole in this town’s restaurant scene, and it’s nice to support a family-run place that isn’t a chain. Maybe give it a couple weeks to work out the kinks, but then? Don’t hold back. Do wear elastic-waisted pants.
319 Broadway, Arlington, www.donutvilladiner.com
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.