An ever-intensifying buzz has reached fever pitch over Little Hen, an upscale farm-to-table restaurant in Holly Springs that has been in the works since last summer. At the time this article went to press, husband-and-wife duo Regan and Dawn Stachler were just a few days away from debuting their eatery to eager locavores.
“We’ve been working hard for months to open the restaurant, which has been a dream of ours for years,” said Regan, a trained chef who hails from Fort Myers Beach, Fla. Regan met Dawn, a Singapore native and practicing attorney, at the French Culinary Institute in New York. He honed his chops at the renowned Gramercy Tavern, among other fine-dining establishments, while she spent time staging (similar to interning) at iconic eatery Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. The couple relocated to North Carolina in 2008, when they began planning to make their reverie a reality.
To say that Little Hen is an ambitious venture would be to understate the situation. After all, it’s certainly not every day — if ever — that bucolic gastronomy hits southern Wake County. But the Stachlers believe the time has come for the area to embrace a sustainable concept with the objective of offering seasonal cuisine prepared from locally grown ingredients.
Already, the couple has aligned themselves with Bobby Tucker of Siler City’s Okfuskee Farm, who will purvey the meat, vegetables and grain to Little Hen. “It’s almost like we have our own personal farmer,” Regan said with a laugh. “We think it’s vitally important to support the local farmers. It’s a core principle of how we plan to run the restaurant.”
A versatile chef who churned out a tableful of appetizers, side dishes, entrees and more for our photo shoot, Regan does not shy away from delivering an eclectic array of modern American cuisine. Ponder this diverse lineup: roasted fennel with heritage pork salami and poached duck egg; local carrots with a honey sherry gastrique and toasted almonds; house-made sausage served with arugula chimichurri and watermelon radish; a whole young local chicken with a scallion béchamel, Christmas lima beans and grits; and scratch-made ricotta with blueberry and apple compote, an after-dinner cheese course.
“I have a bit of ADD (attention deficit disorder), so the menu will remain fluid, and there are no limitations to what we will serve,” Regan explained. “I envision the menu evolving often, since it will largely depend on what is sourced to us.” Then came this elucidation from Dawn: “We will butcher as much as possible in-house and serve nose to tail.”
Dawn, who plans to oversee the front-of-house operations at Little Hen, was also excited to introduce Scott Frye, the restaurant’s talented pastry chef. Originally from Winston-Salem, Frye graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and then went on to pastry school in Paris. “In this economy, a lot of kitchens forego pastry chefs, but Scott can create breads, chocolate, plated desserts, you name it,” Dawn said.
The afternoon we were there, Frye presented an exquisite assortment of desserts, including a pine-nut tart with rosemary cream, a lemon cream tart with fresh fruit and a life-changing good goat cheesecake encrusted in hazelnut brittle with blood orange sauce. “The key to working with goat cheese in dessert is hand-whipping it,” Frye revealed.
Lest you think it’s all about the food at Little Hen, the 70-seat dining room makes a tremendous first impression all by itself. Industrial-style exposed ductwork and a high ceiling coalesce with modern farmhouse décor to create a contrast that beckons patrons to come and enjoy an inimitable dining experience. Where else around here will you find white linen tablecloths and rustic agricultural implements under the same roof? Consider it farmhouse chic.
Added touches like fresh flowers in vintage glass milk containers and framed chalkboards on the walls do not go unnoticed. Then there are the funky Edison lights, distressed wood benches and floor-to-ceiling windows that only enrich the overall ambiance.
“Regan built the benches along with the help of a neighbor,” Dawn said. Even the restaurant’s landlord, Raleigh-based commercial real estate developer Bill Shankle, helped construct the handsome wood bar near the entrance.
Speaking of the bar, Little Hen will focus on select wine, local craft beers and specialty cocktails that pair nicely with the food. “We will strive to offer a wine or beer dinner once a month and host a variety of wine makers to give our guests the chance to try different things,” Dawn said. “We’re also going to have French-pressed local coffee available.”
When it comes to near-future plans, the restaurant will serve Sunday brunch and feature outdoor patio dining.
Closed on Mondays, Little Hen will be open for dinner service Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are accepted.
5160 Holly Springs Road (Shoppes at Woodcreek), Holly Springs