When owners Gray Brooks, Cara Stacy and Jay Owens opened their 36- seat bistro, Littler, in 2016, it instantly caught the attention of Garden & Gun, which called it a “little gem.” In early 2022, this little gem is reopening after the dining room closed temporarily in March 2020. “We’re so excited to finally be reopening, and are incredibly fortunate to be doing it with such exceptional chefs – Elizabeth Murray and Tanya Matta – who have returned to North Carolina after working in some of the best restaurants in the country,” explained Brooks. Murray will lead Littler’s kitchen, and collaborate with Brooks on its elegant bistro menu, while Matta is spearheading the pastry programs at Littler, Pizzeria Toro and Jack Tar & The Colonel’s Daughter.
At Littler, beloved favorites will return, like the Lamb Burger, raw oysters anointed with seasonal citrus gelee and the Shrimp and Spoon Bread. Bon Appetit said it best, “the most addictive dish on the menu is the spoon bread. Our waitress described it as a cross between soufflé and grits, and it’s exactly that: cloudlike, with just a bit of texture from the cornmeal, served with tender shrimp and spicy bits of crumbled nduja. Book ahead.”
Fans will also remember the Latkes Benedict. As the News & Observers’ Greg Cox explained in his glowing review, “And if you only get one starter, make it the Benedict, which features supple house-smoked trout alongside a crisp-crusted potato latke that’s topped with an olive oil-poached egg yolk. Served over a vivid green puddle of hollandaise flecked with fresh parsley, tarragon and chive, it’s my favorite of all the dishes.”
Gray Brooks tapped Chef Elizabeth Murray– a Blowing Rock-Boone native – to bring her extensive culinary experience from around the world to Littler. Most recently, Murray served as Executive Chef at Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn. Prior, Murray cooked at the two Michelin-star Coi in San Francisco under famed Chef Daniel Patterson, where she learned the nuances of flavor. Her earliest chef mentor was Trey Foshee at Georges at the Cove in La Jolla, California where she celebrated Chino Farms and all the sea had to offer. Murray credits international travel, culinary and cultural education as being invaluable to her cooking acumen. She has cooked in kitchens across the globe, including Pappacarbone in Cava de Tirreni, Italy, wd-50 in New York City, Hedone in Chiswick, London, and “The World’s Best Restaurant” – Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Murray has returned to North Carolina, eager to cook with its seasons and lend her skill and imagination for its agriculture bounty.
“I am delighted to be a part of reopening this beloved restaurant. The Little Jack Toro group is passionate about creating an exceptionally intimate and memorable dining experience. I’ve cooked in France, Italy, Denmark, and London and know nothing beats a tiny restaurant serving the best of what the area has to offer by a caring staff. I look forward to working with local farmers and artisans to bring back some culinary treasures, all behind the velvet curtains,” says Elizabeth Murray.
A Durham native, Tanya Matta joins the Little Jack Toro team with a star-studded career in the pastry arts. Her passion for pastry began twenty years ago at two of the South’s most celebrated fine dining restaurants – first at Seeger’s, followed by Bacchanalia – both in Atlanta, Georgia. In New York City, Matta worked alongside mentor and James Beard award-winning pastry chef, Claudia Fleming, at the famed Gramercy Tavern, then again at Todd English’s Olives. In 2008, Tanya co-launched DaisyCakes – one of the first mobile food business in Durham, which grew into one of the area’s most popular brick and mortar dessert destinations. After selling DaisyCakes, Matta served as Executive Pastry Chef at Carmel Valley Ranch in California, and then as Executive Pastry Chef at Savannah, Georgia’s award-winning restaurant, The Grey. Since returning to Durham and joining the Little Jack Toro group as pastry chef this summer, Matta has begun offering her seasonal pastries, desserts and breads — everything from Cinnamon Rolls and Apple Cider Donuts at Jack Tar to Dulcey Chocolate Panna Cotta with Poached Pears and Gingersnap Cookie Crumble at Pizzeria Toro. Soon, she’ll also be making her mark on Littler’s reopening menu!
“I am excited to be back in Durham and to be a part of the Little Jack Toro Group. Creating desserts for such varied dining experiences has been enjoyable and provides the opportunity for me to be creative with pastry on multiple levels. I’m looking forward to collaborating with Elizabeth on the much-anticipated re-opening menu for Littler,” says Tanya Matta.