Stylish new (little) eatery serves locally sourced and distinct vegetarian fare with “Cal-Ital” flair
Little Eater isn't so little anymore.
A second branch of the local-sourcing vegetarian restaurant has opened, and it's vastly bigger than the original Little Eater, which is a food stall in the North Market. In this case, bigger is better.
Serving in Clintonville since October, the new Little Eater offers a roomy, stylish and comfortable space with an invitingly crisp, mostly white interior offset by black accents. Potted plants, dangling half-globe lamps, sparking tiles, blond wooden tables and a tiny boutique add to the establishment's visual appeal.
The restaurant's cuisine is also appealing: seasonal and creative, California-informed dishes grounded in classical techniques. The heart of the menu is a rotating selection of distinct vegetable salads served cafeteria-style in healthy-sized scoops ($3.75 each) by a knowledgeable staff.
Keeping with Little Eater's fashionable branding, the salads are described in trendy, all-noun “menu speak.” So expect to read about elaborately dressed vegetable fare such as “Potato & Leek: Caraway and mustard seeds. Dill & chive. Sherry vinaigrette” and “Cauliflower: Tomato couscous. Castelvetrano olive. Pine nut. Pecorino cheese.”
All of these salads are interesting and made with high-quality ingredients, and many are surprisingly hearty. The two just mentioned are highly recommended.
The only potential downside with the salads is that some occasionally exhibit symptoms of too-long-in-the-bin syndrome. This happened to me with a flavorful but rather limp Greek-style Signature Salad, and a Mediterranean-leaning delicata squash and lentil salad that was a tad dry.
Little Eater's served-hot, made-to-order and bakery items have been consistently strong. Soups are a solid bet, especially if the tangy, bright and spice-hinting Black Bean Chili($6.25) — which offerslayers of flavor — is available.
The two long-and-pretty crostini composing an order of Avocado Toast ($7.50) taste as good as they look. Crackly crusted bread spread with fresh and creamy avocado is uplifted by textured salt, wide ribbons of carefully shaved lime-pickled carrot, cilantro and sharp, black-pepper feta cheese.
Another snack-sized home run is the Swiss Chard Crostata ($7.25). Evoking a “Cal-Ital” spin on spanakopita, it's a savory round pastry with a crinkly, golden-brown, fennel seed-scented shell and a filling of minced greens and ricotta cheese.
The bagel-influenced Everything Spice Pretzel Braid ($2.25) is one of the best fresh-baked pretzels in town. I could say something analogous about the buttery, craggy and terrific Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuit ($2) — with or without the whipped honey-butter served on the side.
Seeking a full meal? Pair a salad scoop with the indulgent and impressive Mushroom Quiche ($8.25 for the quiche), which teams a buttery, flaky crust with a custardy filling that seamlessly integrates gruyere cheese, shiitake mushrooms and shallots.
Another satisfying meal could feature the Butternut Squash and Kale sandwich ($9.25). If this sounds like an odd sandwich — it does to me — it's hardly stranger than the bread-bound, semi-classic kiddie combo it recalls: cream cheese and jelly.
That's because, in addition to slabs of sweetly roasted squash and sherry vinaigrette-dressed minced kale, the wonderful “sun-flax multigrain bread” from Dan the Baker also contains soft and tangy Cloverton cheese, plus a jam made with apples and caramelized onions.
Little Eater recently won a ballot approval to serve alcohol, so expect that to happen relatively soon. In the meanwhile, high-grade coffee made with locally roasted Mission Coffee beans will do just fine, thank you very much.
Especially when it's enjoyed with standout sweets such as the Christmas-spiced, moist and hefty Parsnip-Ginger Cupcake ($3.75, and don't sweat the barely detectable parsnip); the Little Eater cookie ($2, think “kitchen sink chocolate chip”); and “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie” ($1.75), a dense and chewy treat that rightfully isn't afraid to sing its own praises.