Published May 31. 2012 4:00AM
The iconic blue cottage along Route 27 known as Kitchen Little is now gone. Locals and tourists alike will likely drive by the spot on their way to Mystic, reminiscing about the tiny place where they dined elbow-to-elbow and looked out at the Mystic River.
But wait! Though it seemed to disappear from the local landscape, Kitchen Little, in fact, still lives!
Though owner Flo Klewin decided to leave her longtime home after an increase in rent on the property, they made sure to preserve the most important part of the operation - the food.
Just as much as I remember Kitchen Little's former home, I also remember eating, for the first time, melted, gooey cream cheese in my eggs and wondering: how have I lived without this?
And so lovers of Kitchen Little can take comfort in knowing they can still find such tasty dishes if they're willing to adapt to a little change.
First, they have to drive a bit farther, down to the end of Mason's Island. The new location will probably mean less drive-by tourist traffic, but it will capitalize on a new breed of customers: boaters. The restaurant is now in the Mystic River Marina, which, just before the Memorial Day weekend, was bustling with activity. From the upper level of a red wood marina building, where "Kitchen Little" is emblazoned in gold letters, we watched gigantic boats with names like Miss Chief being readied for the season. There are plenty of windows to enjoy the new view, and it's undoubtedly a good one, but there is a swath of parking lot between diners and the water.
Kitchen Little lovers also have to get used to a little more space. Here, you can stretch out a bit, and walk freely between tables, which are also in greater supply. The room is definitely a plus for comfort, but the place loses some of its former cozy character. Details like blue-and-white checked tablecloths and coffee mugs from the previous spot help counter that loss. The outdoor deck tables are also a nice option.
Another big change is that Klewin, the owner for more than 30 years, is expanding to offer dinner bistro service, including seafood specialties and Portuguese-influenced dishes. Along with a BYOB offering, this will be a new draw to attract customers to the beautiful but a bit hidden spot.
However, Kitchen Little, to me, is a breakfast spot, and we were there to see if the main menu delivered the same delicious fare that has in the past attracted attention from the Food Network, Gourmet Magazine and numerous Best of Connecticut awards. We're happy to report it did.
The Portuguese Fisherman ($9.95) is a big egg scramble with a nice amount of heat, replete with the flavors of spicy chourico and linguica from Fall River. Along with peppers, onions and jalapeño cheese, it looks like a mishmash but manages to stay moist in each mouthful. The slightly sweet buttered Portuguese English muffin is a perfect balance to the dish.
We also still love anything with Kitchen Little's fresh lump crab, which adds a certain depth and richness to any of their dishes. The California Benedict ($13.95) is one of these, with nicely poached eggs on an English muffin, topped with the crab and fresh asparagus for added crispness. The Hollandaise sauce is creamy without being too heavy or overwhelming.
We also sampled the cinnamon raisin French toast ($4.95 for four slices), which is more like actual toast than the thick slices of bread I normally prefer for French toast. But the cinnamon raisin flavors give it a nice natural sweetness that only requires a bit of syrup to complete the equation.
Kitchen Little also has awesome corned beef hash ($3.25 for a side) if you like it crispy (and I do). In a world of undercooked home fries and hash browns, the grilled mixture of tiny bits of corned beef and potatoes into a browned pancake is a welcome sight, with perfect salty flavors to match.
The restaurant still has changing specials and, of course, "Flo's famous" Rhode Island clam chowder (clear broth). Lunch offerings include seafood, burgers and other sandwiches.
The verdict: it's not the same Kitchen Little, but it's the same spirit: fresh ingredients and tasty fare drawing from a waterside spot. We're happy the restaurant doesn't have to be only a memory and are excited to see how they're new dinner service evolves. Good luck, Big Kitchen Little!