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.
“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.”
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.
“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
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.
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].”