Open since last winter, Hunt and Alpine owners Briana and Andrew Volk’s specialty foods shop — aptly named “Little Giant” — has become one of the best places in the city to take home a special treat in celebration of a job well done (or just getting through the day in 2017). What first comes off as a modest selection of food staples and other sundries turns out to be a highly curated assortment of some of the world’s finest culinary offerings upon further inspection — think hard-to-find canned fish, artisanal salumi and a small but serious wine section.
Now, the Volks can count a third Portland venture as part of their portfolio with the opening of Little Giant’s full-service restaurant, connected to the shop (though walled-off) at 211 Danforth St. Helmed by Chef Rian Wyllie and Bar Manager Max Overstrom-Coleman, the restaurant claims to focus on “Continental European cuisine with an eye to New England ingredients and traditions” and serves a full menu from 3 to 11 pm every day. It’s a natural extension of Little Giant the shop, offering an ingredient-centric dining experience and a visual attention to detail evident in both plating and the design of the space itself.
I recently stopped in for an early evening weeknight solo dinner, which proved to be an excellent introduction to what the kitchen at Little Giant has been up to since opening in July. A fried calamari taco with cherry pepper relish, lemon aioli and house-made squid ink tortilla was at once playful and familiar, bursting with salinity and finishing clean — the kind of thing I never knew absolutely needed to exist until it was put in front of me.
Creative in its own simplicity was a dish of grilled asparagus, served with spring onions, fresno chile, chimichurri and “chorizo breadcrumbs,” the latter of which should be packaged and sold as a pantry item. Balance abound, this was a harmonious display of salt, acid and vegetable char if I’ve ever seen one.
The LG Burger & Jojos (read: burly, delicious steak fries) served as the evening’s entrée, a no-frills take on the diner staple topped with American cheese, pickled grilled red onion, iceberg lettuce and BBQ mayo. Though a bit on the small side, the burger’s sheer and undulating juiciness made up for any perceived size discrepancies demanding bite after blissful bite. I left full and happy.
Little Giant is shaping up to be one of the West End’s premier dining destinations, and I wholeheartedly look forward to eating my way through the rest of the menu.
Little Giant | 211 Danforth St., Portland | 3-11 pm | www.littlegiantmaine.com