New Diner Is Bringing ‘East Asian Soul Food’ To Newton Centre

David Punch and Shane Smyth met many years ago working at an Irish bar in Cambridge, and decided to take their culinary talents to Newton Centre. The duo co-founded Sycamore, a restaurant offering patrons an upscale, locally-grown menu full of the freshest ingredients possible.

Now, Punch and Smyth are departing from their seasonal, farm-to-table restaurant Sycamore to open their new, small creation just two blocks down from Centre Street.

This fall, Little Big Diner will feature a casual dining environment serving “East Asian soul food” in the heart of Newton Centre, and will offer a small takeout menu for those craving a meal a tier above an ordinary takeout joint.

“I guess I’ve just been doing this sort of thing for so many years and I wanted to try something new,” Punch said. “It’s my favorite food—it’s what I like to eat when I go out.”

Seeking to market itself as a traditional diner with Asian comfort food, Chef Punch’s new restaurant will take on classic diner hours, including serving lunch and staying open past midnight. The restaurant will be small—with just 20 seats—and feature a tiny micro kitchen in the middle of the joint.

Little Big Diner offers a substantial change from the food and hours at Sycamore, and gives the diner a glimpse into the cuisine that Punch himself loves to eat. In his new restaurant, Punch hopes he can share his favorite tastes with the people of Boston. The inspiration for the “East Asian soul food” served at Little Big Diner came from the co-owners’ interest in the broad spectrum of cuisine in East Asia, an area that requires a broad term to include all its delicious food.

“It’s a giant place,” Punch said. “We’re trying to do street food through Japan, through Korea, through China, and down into Southeast Asia.”

The restaurant is inspired by the area near the eastern seaboard of Asia, and Punch expects that his fresh seafood will be a popular option at Little Big Diner.

In the American sense, soul food is comforting, feel-good food that can be eaten at countless places across the country—like barbecue, fried chicken, and burgers.

“Soul food just simply means something that’s eaten very commonly in a certain area,” Punch said.

At Little Big Diner, Punch explained that his staff will interpret the soul food of East Asia in a creative way for Bostonians. Little Big Diner will feature its own version of an Asian hamburger—served on a “flat patty”—inspired by a burger joint in Japan known as Whoopi Gold Burger.

Hawaiian flavors will also be present on the menu of Little Big Diner. “Hawaii is the original fusion food,” Punch said. “They have such a large Japanese population there, and it’s very Americanized Japanese food. They do a lot of burgers over there as well, and we’re going to serve ours on a King’s Hawaiian sweet bun.”

This downsized Hawaiian-Japanese burger will be a flat patty about quarter-pound sized, with pineapple sambal, sriracha aioli, and crispy onions.

Chef Punch hopes that his new restaurant will distance itself from the upscale menu at Sycamore and present itself as a more welcoming option to the college crowd.

In the future, Little Big Diner plans to take advantage of delivery services such as Foodler or GrubHub, and believes it will generate more appeal to college students who do not necessarily have the means or time to travel to a restaurant. As the building continues, Punch hopes his interpretation of East Asian soul food combined with the feel of a classic diner will bring more customers to Newton Centre.

Featured Image Courtesy of David Punch