March was a busy month for restaurant openings and re-openings in Durham. After two long years of COVID-induced closure, Littler is back with a new menu and chef, while the brand-new Remedy Room and BB’s Crispy Chicken add to the city's buzzy food scene. Here’s my thoughts on these exciting new options:
I checked the Littler website at least once a month for the past year, hoping to see any news of a reopening date or even just the scantest details about their future plans. Finally, 2022 brought the good news that Littler would reopen March 4 with a new chef, Elizabeth Murray, who had worked previously in one, two, and three Michelin-starred kitchens, including Noma which is considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world. Murray, an NC native, would be joined by Tanya Matta, a Durham native who has worked at some of the top restaurants in the South. Matta will be the pastry chef for all of Gray Brooks’ Durham restaurants (Littler, Pizzeria Toro and Jack-Tar and The Colonel’s Daughter).
With all of this star power in the kitchen, expectations and demand were exceedingly high for the re-opening. Having visited the restaurant two weeks into their new run, I can say they are meeting those expectations and are well on their way to re-establishing themselves as one of the best upscale dining options in Durham.
The atmosphere was never in doubt, as Littler’s homey decor, small size, and closely packed tables encourage conversations among strangers and create a dinner party vibe. An easy recipe for success, Murray brought back Littler favorites from pre-COVID including the oysters, lamb burger, and latke benedict. The benedict continues to wow with a more thoughtfully composed presentation and added cured trout. Additional standouts were the side of roasted onions and the carrot cavatelli, which I actually had without the pasta and instead more roasted carrots. Layering multiple preparations of the same item was a common theme on the new Littler menu, and the pickled and roasted carrots worked wonders with the creamy harissa yogurt and rich hazelnuts. The chocolate coupe dessert took a similar approach, throwing four or five different preparations of chocolate into a large coupe glass each with different textures and preparations for a well-rounded chocolate lover’s dream.
There are still a few things for Littler to work out, as would be expected for anyone hosting a dinner party after two years off. The beetroot in the tuna appetizer drowns out much of the tuna flavor, to the point that certain bites almost had no discernable taste of tuna. The aforementioned lamb burger was overcooked, according to my dining companion and our new friends at the table one over, but it was still tasty according to both parties (and Durham’s resident burger expert, Alex Leo-Guerra, aka Burger Child, has told me that the burger, when properly cooked, is among the best in Durham). Scoring a table at Littler is a little easier almost a month from their opening date, but it remains Durham’s hottest and most exciting dinner party.
A new spot in downtown’s Five Points District, Remedy Room comes from the people behind Luna Rotisserie and Rubies at Five Points: a bar, event space, and music venue that is directly upstairs from Remedy Room (separate entrance). Their website describes Remedy Room as a classic “neighborhood bar” and the decor fits that perfectly, with a cool and relaxed setting for a drink or sandwich.
And while I would love to sit and relax in the stunning space for hours, the fare at the Remedy Room is still a bit of a work in progress. The larb with cabbage cups would be better off with a lettuce wrap, and the chicken in the banh mi was a bit dry and oversalted, but the refreshing, bright, and flavorful combination of cucumber, carrot, daikon, cilantro, and mint made both the larb and banh mi a lot better and provided a base of flavors that could help these dishes excel with a few tweaks.
Remedy Room features an exciting cocktail menu, along with about a dozen beers on tap. The bartender recommended “Office Doors” was a bit too heavy on elderflower liqueur, but I could drink that straight, so it was still tasty. My dining companion also felt like the “Feisty Paloma” could have used a bit more spice, but also enjoyed the drink. With an exciting Jungle Bird and Old Fashioned riff on the menu, I am looking forward to sampling a few other cocktails paired with the delicious looking eggplant rolls.
Overall, the Remedy Room has some work cut out for it if it is going to compete with downtown’s high-quality restaurants and bars.
BB’s Crispy Chicken
Another buzzed about Durham opening, BB’s Crispy Chicken is the second location of the burgeoning chicken sandwich chain from famed Raleigh restaurateur Ashley Christensen. Located next to the University Hill apartments off of 15-501, BB’s opened March 25 with live music and a line that wrapped around the inside of the restaurant.
Despite being open less than a week, the Durham location is firing on all cylinders. The tenders were crispy and juicy and could be paired with any of their dozen or so sauces, which add a new, exciting flavor to each bite. The sweet potato waffle fries are great, and I have been told I need to go back for the cheese curds. This fast-casual option is a welcome addition to the Durham food scene and a great option for chicken sandwiches, tenders, milkshakes and fries (without a side of homophobia, a la Chick-Fil-A).
Each of these restaurants brings a new angle to the Durham restaurant scene, at different price points and featuring different cuisines. Hopefully, summer will bring an equally exciting slate of new restaurants to the Triangle.
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