Who leaves a successful, established restaurant to rescue a historic, dilapidated house and start a new business from scratch -- in a city no one identifies with any sort of dining or nightlife scene?
Chrissy Benoit, former chef-owner of Havana Hideout in Lake Worth, who has already tasted success serving hungry customers in South Florida. And she's ready for more: Since selling the Hideout to former employees, Benoit's moved south to open the Little House in Boynton Beach.
Benoit, who has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, just finished working with the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency after taking over the renovation of its historic 1930s Ruth James Cottage, restoring 800 square feet of Dade County pine from floor to ceiling, then moving the whole darned house a few miles away to 480 E. Ocean Ave. When she heard news that the house was being given away to whoever pitched the best business concept, it was a project she couldn't refuse. She won the contest, and a year later the final product is a tiny home transformed into a bright, cozy eatery with an approachable menu meant to celebrate Old South Florida.
Benoit knows real pleasure can be found in some old-fashioned, hometown cooking. As a result, the debut menu is full of wallet-friendly dishes that include salads, snacks, main plates, and dessert, all touching on childhood favorite recipes -- some comfort food, a few Southern gems. Each is given offbeat touches, and there are dishes to please vegans and the gluten-free crowd too.
"It's just a bunch of yummy food," said Benoit. "I want this menu to always be creative. You're not going to find these dishes, this way, anywhere else."
Her favorite dish at the moment: a vibrant pickled beet salad ($6) made with local summer beets so tender that they melt on your tongue. She pairs it with fresh cilantro and toasted walnuts and dresses it all in a brown sugar-infused vinaigrette on a bed of baby arugula.
A "snack" dish of the Mac N Cheese of the Day ($7) is made homestyle with the basics: butter, cream, and a blend of five cheeses. Today, it's kicked up a notch with a dash of hot red pepper, scallion, and a drizzle of truffle oil. A popular main plate is Old School Chicken and Dumplings ($9), a Southern recipe known for creating a certain hysteria when served just right.
Desserts ($4 to $8) are simple selections, made exciting with unique twists, like the Pop Rock citrus cream pie that has the tiny, fizzy candy embedded into a dense, tart, Key lime-like custard. Others include mini, bite-sized tea cakes, cookies and milk, and pineapple upside-down cake. All are baked fresh on the premises, served warm and gooey.
There are large Adirondack chairs on the covered patio, their shiny varnished arms promising to swallow diners for hours as they savor addictive, infused, house-made sangrias. New flavors include seasonal white peach and vanilla (it's like cobbler in a glass) and watermelon-lychee. Equally appealing: an elevated selection of rotating draft craft beers with unique finds, from a seasonal saison and summer shandy to rare double IPAs and powerful brandywine.
Benoit hopes she'll inspire new businesses to rebuild and rebrand Boynton Beach. Already there are high hopes for the new outdoor amphitheater and green market down the road, a promise of more to come, she said.
"I'm not worried [about the location]," said Benoit. "We had a similar dynamic at Havana, and people said I was crazy. If you like what I did before, you'll drive five miles down the road to come here."
Such confidence comes from doing big things with very little, something Benoit proved with Havana, where its on-site food truck continues to pump out dishes daily with no real kitchen in sight. Similarly, the Little House uses her West Palm Beach Production Kitchen to do what she terms the "heavy lifting," or preparation of the restaurant's more complex menu items.
The Little House
480 E Ocean Ave., Boynton Beach
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