Most chefs agree it is best to let ingredients speak for themselves. When too many ingredients appear on a plate, it is difficult to taste and enjoy the chef’s creation.
This adage went through my mind during lunch at The Little Lion, a charming new restaurant located inside a former bank in Old City. After a ghastly bout of flu, I was finally able to go outside in the sunshine and fresh air.
The bartender mixed a fine Bloody Mary ($11), not too spicy and with the right touch of horseradish. I am still trying to figure out why a slice of candied bacon was placed in the drink.
The Little Lion’s focus is on Southern food. I have traveled extensively throughout the South and know Southern food is quite simple yet satisfying.
The menu is divided into four sections: small shares; Bennys & sweets; ruffage; and plates. It appears Rachael Ray had a hand in determining these headings.
We settled into a comfortable booth in the back room. There is a bar with outlets should one need to charge a phone. This is a nice service to offer.
From the small plates, we selected fried green tomatoes ($9) and stone-ground grits ($7). Both starters were well done. Several meaty slices of green tomatoes were coated in crumb and deep fried to a crisp golden brown. They were served with bacon jam, buttermilk ranch dressing and pimento cheese. I deemed the dressing unnecessary. A bit of jam and pimento cheese would suffice going forward.
The grits were piping hot because they were served in a generous individual cast-iron skillet. I usually prefer my grits straight with lots of butter, salt and pepper. The addition of cheddar cheese was just right. It did not overwhelm the creamy grits. I enjoyed the addition of mustard greens on top of the grits. They were neither mushy nor chewy. The addition of vinegar when cooking greens is a true Southern custom. These were delicious. A bit of bacon came with the greens.
Butter lettuce is one of my favorite salad greens. The butter lettuce salad ($11) was thoughtfully split for two in the kitchen. Unfortunately, we received ordinary mesclun blend. There was no butter lettuce in the salad. Endive, thinly-sliced apples and pears with crunchy toasted pecans, tiny crumbles of Stilton cheese, figs, and candied bacon were tossed in a maple cranberry vinaigrette. The salad needed salt and pepper. It was overly sweet and overdressed. There were too many ingredients used in the creation of this dish.
I have never heard of pit ham. It, too, was overly sweet. The ham club sandwich ($11) looked more like tea sandwiches rather than a hefty club. The ingredients listed on the menu are pit ham, smoked bacon, onion spread, butter lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and Swiss cheese served on multi-grain bread. The bread should have been toasted. It was rather cool to the taste.
Smoked ham and cheddar quiche ($11) may have been delicious had it not arrived ice cold. It was sitting on a pool of creamy onion sauce that only made the pastry soggy. The potatoes were cold as well. The manager apologized and asked if I wanted another dish. Gently scrambled eggs were a little overdone, but the homemade biscuit was the star of the plate. It was warm and slightly toasted on the outside. I spread on some butter and enjoyed. The pit ham is weird. It is shaved paper thin and way too sweet to my taste. I longed for a serving of good old-fashioned country ham. The manager told us I could order a dish and that it was his treat.
Good strong coffee ($2.50) served in oversized cups with a saucer completed our meal. Service was excellent. Our waitress answered our questions and took care of everyone in the room. Although the meal was uneven, I would return to the location. Two tips of the toque to The Little Lion. ■
The Little Lion
243 Chestnut St.
Photos by Tina Garceau