Though the farm-to-table movement may seem played out by now, at Little Hen in Holly Springs, it seems more emblematic of the locavore ethos, more authentic and a concept far less ephemeral at the local cozy eatery. As our server extolled at the night that I paid a visit from Raleigh, everything was made in-house, from the pastas to the desserts. Even the meat, he added, was butchered by the staff at Little Hen.
Now you might that this restaurant was located somewhere on a bucolic farm in Holly Springs, but you would be wrong. Instead, the restaurant is located at the end of a rather antiseptic strip mall, adorned inside with rustic bric-a-brac including a hanging plow and allusive signage to its hen namesake. It’s all rather cute, some might say quaint, except that the open dining room on a packed Saturday night, led to a noisy ambiance that may have impeded intimate conversation.
The menu at Little Hen is ambitious and focused, and, for the most part, well-executed. The starter, a mound of nicely-chopped, fresh steak tartare proved to an ethereal precursor to the chicken and dumplings gnocchi. The entrée, with its Italian twist to a Southern classic, was sprightly and herbacious—rounded bits of egg yolk and potato dumplings mixed in with tenderly pulled shards of poached chicken—submerged in pool of citrusy chicken broth.
Though comforting, the plain-janeness of the dumplings may have been overshadowed by the truly sublime and beautifully-presented grilled skirt steak (recommended medium rare) served with crisped fingerling potatoes and charred broccolini and a piquant chili relish. If you encounter a particularly fatty, tough part of the steak, like my dining partner did, you might find yourself engaging in a battle of man versus food with a sadly dull IKEA steak knife as your only weapon.
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Service on a busy Saturday night was exceedingly earnest and eager to please, although slightly spotty in some areas that could use a tad more polish. House cocktails and were very delayed and entrees and flatware were placed down in front of the wrong guest several times; for the price point of the restaurant, where nearly all main entrees are $20 and above, these minor quibbles should be understandable.
Despite its non-descript location cloaked in the town of Holly Springs, Little Hen is worth a visit if you’re driving from other cities nearby—it certainly is one of the best restaurants in town. It embodies the farm-to-table movement without adulteration and that’s a coveted table I aim to sit at soon again in the near future.
LITTLE HEN | 5160 Sunset Lake Road Apex NC 27539 | 919.363.000