Hot Spot: Littler

Hot Spot: Littler

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With just 36 seats – 40 if you count the four-seat bar to the left of the kitchen, meant for those waiting on a table – the dining room at Littler is on the small side. That, among other features, makes it feel like you’ve been invited over to a friend’s house for a comfortable, cozy supper, which is exactly the owners’ intent.

Come to Littler with an open mind. The chicken fried duck tongues and hanger steak with bone marrow flan are big hits! Photo by Briana Brough.
Come to Littler with an open mind. The chicken fried duck tongues and hanger steak with bone marrow flan are big hits!

“My wife, Cara, and Jay [Owens], our third partner, we’ve always been big fans of hosting people at our homes,” says Durham native and owner Gray Brooks, who also owns Pizzeria Toro and the as-of-yet unnamed diner opening in the old Jack Tar hotel later this year. “Once you get into this business and you have your own restaurant, suddenly you don’t get to have dinner parties anymore because you’re always working. So we were like, ‘What if we turn part of our job into one?’ We wanted to make a place that felt pretty casual, but intimate and familiar and friendly.”

Gray, Cara and their 5-year-old son, Cole. Photo by Briana Brough.
Gray, Cara and their 5-year-old son, Cole.

At Littler, that idea manifests in several ways: the staff turning 33-rpm records – from Miles Davis to Eric Bachmann – to their B-sides and switching out reel-to-reel tapes (“The reel-to-reels are rad because most of those tapes are older than me, but they still sound amazing,” Gray says.); the “Mercy of the Bartender” – a cocktail of the bartender’s choosing, where they can showcase their talent and creativity on the fly; and the ability to quickly incorporate ingredients that show up in the market.

The Bourbon Blush cocktail – bourbon, Cocchi Americano, Campari, ginger and rosemary. Photo by Briana Brough.
The Bourbon Blush cocktail – bourbon, Cocchi Americano, Campari, ginger and rosemary.

“If a farmer calls up and says, ‘I have this [product], but I only have eight pounds of it,’” Gray explains, “if you’re in a larger place like Toro, you couldn’t actually put that on your menu because it would be gone halfway through the day. But here, that’s something we can get away with.”

That flexibility will come in handy, Gray says as a few menu items will start to change fairly often, possibly weekly. As cooler weather takes over, he’s excited to work Brussels sprouts, pumpkin and braised meats onto the menu. In the meantime, try the beef heart tartare, the chicken fried duck tongues or the side dish that Gray is smitten with, the green beans with benne seeds. “If I was going to snack on anything in here, all day every day, it probably would be that.”

Photography by Briana Brough

"Latkes Benedict" comes with smoked trout and a poached yolk.
“Latkes Benedict” comes with smoked trout and a poached yolk.

DRAW

An unpretentious, neighborly atmosphere reminiscent of both a dinner party and the “small, corner restaurants” that Gray would patronize when visiting pals in New York City. Plus a straightforward menu that highlights seasonal, local ingredients.

DRAWBACK

For those of you used to making dinner reservations over the phone, Littler takes online reservations only. “The system we have is super easy to use,” Gray says. “We’re so small that a phone ringing during dinner would just be [a lot of noise].”

PRICE

$8-$28

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Amanda MacLaren
Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Ariz., she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for five years now. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Chubby’s.