It’s not hard to understand why a cadre of Goat Town alumni (owner Leif Huckman, chef Jessica Wilson and brothers-in-design Evan and Oliver Haslegrave) has migrated across the river from the East Village to a sun-bleached corner shop off Broadway, near the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. As the sun sets and everything that glitters turns golden, my Midwestern heart can almost hear the waves lapping at Donna’s doorstep, filling the whitewashed room with echoes of an ethos I’ve never known north of Oaxaca.
This is the place, restorative of body and mind in a way no yoga retreat ever will be. (Seriously. They don’t serve cocktails at those huts on the beach, and the outfits are terrifying.) Donna soothes a weary soul with food and drink evocative of months spent surfing the Pacific Coast of Central America, eating ceviche and drinking cold cans of Imperial by day, followed by nights soaked in rum with rich, savory tidbits from the grill. It’s the feeling of those nights that Donna replicates so well, with cast concrete bars curving this way and that, drawing you into red wooden enclaves filled with orchids and other tropical greenery. Worn penny-tiles sneak out from the kitchen onto the hardwood bar floors (reclaimed from an old Brooklyn textile factory), adding even more old-world charm to a kitchen where induction burners and an open window basically say it all.
Chef Wilson nails it with a simple, spectacular scallop ceviche, lightly cured to preserve the delicate sweetness of the mollusk. And then there are the Salt Cod Toasts—a puree so ethereal it floats atop the chewy char of the grilled bread. And then the avocados! Grilled until nutty brown and then topped with an oxtail jam, this is the butter of the gods. Wash it all down with a glass of Txakolina and assume sun salutation.
Bar manager Jeremy Oertal (Dram, Mayahual) helps to expedite the journey to enlightenment with cocktails so thoughtfully crafted they taste effortless, elevating the base spirit as a great cocktail should, rid of the pretensions found inside other neighborhood hot spots. One drink in particular, the Artichoke Hold, had me prostrate, praising the insightful combination of Cynar, Smith and Cross Rum, St. Germain, orgeat and lime juice. Follow that with the namesake Donna Daiquiri, in which Oertal uses four different types of rum to achieve depth and balance reminiscent of a fresh lime paleta after a day spent in the surf, so salty and bright… This is it. This is the place.