Inside the magic at beloved chef Will Gilson’s thriving Cambridge restaurants

Floral motifs and rich wooden accents make up the interiors at Geppetto. | Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

When chef Will Gilson preps for a dinner service at his Italian restaurant Geppetto or its sibling spot in the same building, the Lexington, the view out into Cambridge Crossing is of one hustle, bustle, and greenery. Just eight years ago, this intersection of Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, where this lively new neighborhood sits, was a vast gravel pit. 

Geppetto’s plates reflect the vibrancy of the location with fresh herbs and vegetables. Rich colors and textures fill both spaces, while the plants adorning the Lexington’s roof deck echo the foliage in the park.

Gilson infuses distinct, local flavors into all his ventures, including hotspot Puritan & Company, which opened in 2012. But there are notable differences between Puritan and his latest restaurants. “One of the reasons we wanted to create the Lexington and Geppetto was so…[we could] create a space that was unique and different but also had enough nuances from the first flagship location,” he says of the sibling concepts, which opened in 2021. 

Local flavors, Italian accents

Fried mozzarella with kataifi, charred tomato, stracciatella, basil at Geppetto. | Credit: Geppetto

At Geppetto, Gilson’s menu draws heavily on his local expertise while also swerving into Northern Italian territory. Both Geppetto and the Lexington are influenced by Puritan, Gilson says.

“At Puritan, we were selling so many pastas, almost every table would order one. We thought ‘Maybe this is the opportunity to bring the people in this part of Cambridge what they want,’” he says. “Geppetto was really a labor of love creating something that wasn’t formulaic or ostentatious.” 

At Geppetto, Gilson makes a conscious effort to keep his housemade pastas, such as mafaldine, agnolotti, and fazzoletti, in the $23 to $27 range, he says. Some of the most popular options include zesty guanciale, hearty bolognese, and braised lamb—just the right ingredients for a city that depends on cold-weather comfort food. It’s worth saving room for the braided garlic bread, topped with fresh ricotta, basil, and parmesan. Or, toast a special occasion with a drink from the amaro cart; cocktails featuring the herbal Italian liqueur can be made tableside.

The Lexington’s modern American menu is set up with snacks, small plates, and main dishes. Favorites include steak frites, salmon with saffron butter, and a classic hamburger. Desserts come courtesy of longtime Puritan & Company pastry chef Brian Mercury. Guests at the Lexington can indulge in flaky blueberry or turtle pie, filled with chocolate, caramel, and pecan. 

Versatile venues

The bar at the Lexington. | Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

At the Lexington, floor-to-ceiling windows channel a greenhouse and pay homage to Gilson’s family farm outside Boston. Those panes also offer panoramic views of one of Boston’s most exciting innovation hubs: 43 acres of retail, residential, technology and life sciences space, plus a sprawling lawn and park. Gilson got in on the ground floor of what he calls the “crown jewel” of Cambridge Crossing. His restaurants in the area also include Cafe Beatrice, an informal breakfast and lunch spot.

“We wanted to create multiple concepts that could grow and change as [needed], offering different experiences,” Gilson says.

Whether that means an after-work gathering, a romantic night out, or a private event on the aforementioned roof deck, Geppetto and the Lexington include space suited for various gatherings.

“Having a say in the design of the spaces was incredible,” Gilson says. “There was no, ‘here’s a vanilla box and you can figure out how to put your concept in it.’” 

A partnership with the South End-based design firm RODE brought Gilson’s vision to life, complete with warm lighting, rich wooden accents, and floral motifs at Geppetto. At the Lexington, floor-to-ceiling windows can open depending on the season, and bring in tons of natural light. 

Getting here is a whole lot easier these days, thanks to Cambridge Crossing’s strategic location between two separate subway lines: Lechmere on the MBTA Green Line and Community College on the Orange Line. The latter reopened after summertime construction, while the Green Line extension is set to wrap up later this fall. That project will add additional stops north of Boston. Which means smooth and easy access to Gilson’s newest restaurant doors.

Geppetto

The Lexington

Carley Thornell-Wade is a Boston-based food, travel, and technology writer who’s been to more than 70 countries and delighted in tasting the regional delicacies of each.