I went because they invited me, and because their new restaurant is only about a mile from my front door, in a derelict strip mall that rarely, if ever, gets new tenants.
It’s one of the more neglected Kotis properties — no bright murals and hipster businesses, but there’s a discount grocery, a taqueria, a furniture-rental place, flickering sodium lamps and enough craters and asphalt chunks in the parking lot to make it resemble, on some nights, the surface of the moon.
The Little Light Bread & Soup Co. has a great plan: scratch-made soups and bread for lunch on a pay-what-you-can model, and a dinner slate of classic Italian provincial. They’ve got a large kitchen left over from the Chinese restaurant that used to live here, and a sparse dining room decorated with cookbooks and vintage appliances from home.
Chef Caitlin Ryan’s food is incredible, the sort that only comes from patience and technique. The osso bucco is outstanding, and the secret to the delicious polenta upon which it rests, she tells me, is “time.” And also that she can’t source polentas so it’s yellow grits.
She’s making her own gnocchi, which takes all day, but the mushroom ragout she serves it with is another showstopper. And instead of Romaine, the Caesar salad is based on kale, each individual leaf of which must be massaged by hand before it can properly be served. And the panna cotta…. General Manager Lexie Deane, who is also the chef’s wife, says it was the panna cotta that sealed the deal on their romance.
But then… this is not really a panna cotta kind of strip mall, buttressed by affordable housing on two sides and the remains of an abandoned Harris Teeter on the other. I wonder out loud how they plan to make it work when there hasn’t been a new restaurant around here in ages.
They’ve got that look about them, though: the zeal of the entrepreneur, the pride of the artist, the surety that comes with a clear sense of purpose. One went to culinary school; the other has a decade in the service industry. But Little Light is their first restaurant; you can tell.
It started during the pandemic, this plan of theirs, when they began making soup and bread for friends who were unable to feed themselves when all the restaurants closed last year. That bit of service, they say, is still at the heart of their business.
I’m skeptical; I’ve seen too much. I know precisely what a new restaurant demands of its owners and staff.
But that osso bucco, though.
If the quality of the food means anything — anything at all — in the Triad’s restaurant scene, they just might make it.