Mass Ave Diner By Day, m.A.d City By Night

Mad City

Cambridge brunch staple Mass Ave Diner is adopting an alter ego this week: a funky, “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wine bar with pun-tastic fine dining.

Mass Ave Diner will close at 3 p.m. starting Wednesday, and then a new restaurant deemed m.A.d City will take over. The concept: What if the Mad Hatter cooked your dinner?

The result will be what Harvard Aninye, the chef behind m.A.d City, calls an “upscale dive bar.” LED lights will accentuate the room’s new “Alice in Wonderland” mural that features a tea set, gigantic mushrooms, and the Cheshire Cat’s signature grin. Wine glasses and a host stand will dress up the cozy diner’s furniture.

The menu will be completely different from what’s served during the day, but Aninye says he’s often inspired by his surroundings, so there might be undertones of diner food. You can order steak and eggs, but the eggs won’t be sunny-side-up—maybe they’ll be shaved, or maybe they’ll be caviar.

Aninye likes to make plays on words with his food. A “spaghetti-o” will be a giant, round pasta piece stuffed and topped with fried basil. Popcorn chicken will include a popcorn puree and butter-roasted leeks.

“You think of little nuggets of fried popcorn chicken, and that’s completely not what you’re going to get. That shows the theme of where we’re going with this. Very much about wordplay and food puns and making the ingredients work with that,” he says. 

While Aninye promises high-quality food worthy of an upscale restaurant, he’s taking the prices down a notch. Entrees are typically between $18 and $20, with most appetizers clocking in at or under $8.

The restaurant has a license for wine and beer, and Aninye is also hoping to keep drink prices lower than at a typical fine dining restaurant.

m.A.d City will be open until 11 p.m. to start, but Aninye is working to get permission from the city to stay open later and offer a late-night menu.

Aninye has been itching to create an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed restaurant for years.

“I love the idea of transporting people, and I think ‘Alice in Wonderland’ does that really well,” he says. “One of the concepts that I like is when she says, ‘If it were my world, everything would be nonsense. Everything would be what it isn’t.’ I think food is a really good format to make things what they aren’t, to make something cold spicy or to make something that’s really fatty taste light. The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, their personalities are very much having fun with what they do, and we love having fun with food. That concept brings levity to the pretentiousness of fine dining.”