You might think all farm-to-table chef shops are hyper-focused on the food. Not quite. While many still have a sourced-menu that often reads like an Ancestry.com pedigree — or is reminiscent of the TV show Portlandia's hilarious "Farm" episode that has a binder containing life documents and photos of "Colin," the chicken that would be dinner — other shops choose to simplify.
For some farm-to-fork restaurants, a sense of fun, opportunities for discovery (for both the kitchen and the diner), and paying attention to the smallest detail, from the menu and the website to the music and the sauces, are key. So you have to give the proprietors, Alesha Sin Vanata and Kyle Stegemeyer, credit for such style in the small farm-to-fork space that is LittleSpoon Eatery in Myers Park.
Heavy metal chairs and heavy utensils. Dark walls, brick, reclaimed wood, filament light bulbs. Large handleless cups for tea and coffee — I know, not a guy thing, but they do make you pay attention to what you sip. It's all trendy. Not surprisingly, managing partner Sin Vanata comes from a design background. Her past life — before handing this one over to the kitchen gods — was spent in food styling for television food shows in L.A. Thus, and not surprisingly, each dish arrives at the table ready for an Intragram close-up.
In the kitchen is executive chef Miles Payne, who is in tune with LittleSpoon's culinary ethos of sourcing high quality seasonal ingredients. Even in the dark days of January, Payne wrings exquisite flavor from local foods — especially pork. Since LittleSpoon is only open for breakfast and lunch, think house-cured bacon and a hoardably lush pork belly sandwich dripping with chimichurri and garlicy aioli. And if the role of a trendy local spot is to serve the dish of the minute, the kitchen acquits itself well with its turkey chorizo taco twosome. Also on the current list are Anson Mills grits with braised rabbit.
Yet, not all is as it should be. One sandwich is misnamed: The chicken banh mi is more a grinder (or sub) than banh mi, since a crusty baguette is essential to the latter. Another, the baked, smashed and fried blue potatoes, is discovery gone awry. Admittedly, dense and low moisture blues are tricky. However, the LittleSpoon menu changes both seasonably or based on availability. Thus, LittleSpoon Eatery is constantly evolving.
"It's like a child," Sin Vanata notes. "It changes every day."
In addition to breakfast and lunch — and there are cocktails, wine and beer for leisurely brunches or lunches — LittleSpoon hosts dinner events. The next one is a fish camp with Jamie Swofford of FEBA Farms on Friday, Jan. 16. This is a reservation-only event. Not familiar with fish camps? These are some of the original restaurants in the area dedicated to fried foods, primarily fish and seafood. Local legend has it that the concept started on the banks of the Catawba River near Charlotte during the Depression, when local fishermen fried their catch in old wash pots filled with lard and sold them to local mill workers. Eventually metal roofs were added, and fish camps quickly became popular not only as eateries, but as social gathering places.
And that's what I mean by the inherent fun at LittleSpoon Eatery. Chef Payne is giving a nod to the foods of Charlotte's past while spinning the fish camp into Charlotte's farm-to-fork present. Very cool.