Monday, August 13, 2012

Little Hen

When friends told me about Greg Cox's gushing review for this new restaurant in Apex, I knew I had to go. So, the other night a group of us ventured to a part of the area I rarely visit for a dinner at Little Hen.

The menu changes daily,  as you'd expect from a place that emphasizes using whatever its farm partners make available that day.  Our table opted for the farmstead feast, both meat-eater and vegetarian versions, which are basically its versions of a tasting menu.

Our first course was a charcuterie and cheese platter, with all but one of the goodies on it coming from local sources.   We sampled a "parma ham" from nearby Johnston County, a local salami, and a wonderful soppresata.  The six cheeses ranged from a brie to a goat to a gruyere.

After that, we moved to a tomato salad that, for the non-vegetarians, mixed heirloom tomatoes with marinated, grilled shrimp, small watermelon balls, and a fennel olive oil.  It was delicious and summery.

For our main courses, each pair of us split one of the restaurant's signature "Big Boards." This dish is exactly what it sounds like: a large cutting board covered with food.

The vegetarians faced this mountain of goodies.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

Grilled squash, fresh green peas, shelled peas, fried green tomatoes, fried squash, a tomato salad, and something that they called gnocchi but that tasted more like polenta were just some of the things on this platter.  I am not a squash fan, but everything I tasted was yummy.

As good as the vegetarian dishes were, however, the  Tuscan Heritage Pork board, which two of us split, was way better.  (Of course, as a meat eater, I would say that.) 

They cut the meat from the giant pork chop into slices that they put next to the bone. They left on the fat, so some trimming was necessary, but every piece was tender and succulent and lovely.  The ham tasted as rich as top-notch barbecue, and the cheese grits were a delight.  The two vegetable salads and the squash were also tasty, but the two of us barely made a dent in them and didn't even finish all the meat; I was determined not to stuff myself and to save room for dessert.

That was a good choice.  We sampled four of the desserts, and all were tasty, particularly the blueberry pie.  The tiny baked Alaska with sorbet interior was a surprisingly successful riff on this classic dish.

My understanding is that Greg Cox gave four and a half stars (out of five) to Little Hen, and I can't go that far.  The dishes, though lovely, lacked the complexity that such a rating requires.  Put differently, the food here wasn't as wonderful as the meals I've had at Panciuto, which to me is now the best of the local restaurants.

That said, the dinner was excellent, and Little Hen will definitely get more of my business.  Do bring a big appetite, because the portions are large, but definitely check it out. 

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