What are the key ingredients to a classic neighborhood joint? The kind you want to return to again and again, without tiring of the menu or breaking the bank? What is the perfect balance between creativity and familiarity? It's this formula that Little Saint seems intent to crack. Tucked into a corner in the Museum District, surrounded by some of Richmond's most walkable and vibrant neighborhoods, Little Saint beckons to its neighbors to become a regular.
The entire Little Saint experience is engineered to appeal to multiple tastes, starting with seating. Warm night? Choose the patio, strung with festive lights, inside or out of the plastic covering. Inside, you can choose the communal table, the dining room or the bar. The local decor, heavy on wood, softens the building's boxy feel and lends coziness to the interior.
Perusing the menu also demonstrates the commitment to options. Vegetarians and vegans are well-cared-for, with Twin Oaks chorizo tofu, vegan chili, a vegan burger and a seasonal vegan main dish gracing the menu. The gluten-sensitive also have options beyond salads, with four of five entrees gluten-free on a recent visit. Though not labeled on the menu, the website promises keto-friendly options, so for those of you who need that, Little Saint has you covered.
Little Saint's focus is local food, and it goes well beyond lip service to the trendy farm-to-table theme. A chalkboard features the current list of local suppliers, with more than a dozen food and booze purveyors mentioned. You can have a cocktail made with Belle Isle Moonshine, a beer from one of many local breweries, or if you're abstaining from alcohol, try the house-made shrubs — an infusion of fruit or vegetable into vinegar — mixed to serve with sparkling water. One night the house feature was a beet shrub, with the earthy sweet flavor set off by acidic vinegar that makes you not miss the alcohol.
For starters, options include crispy and addictive fried cauliflower ($12), flavored with aminos and nutritional yeast. A Gorgonzola pimento cheese plate ($8) is less pungent than I hoped, with house-made pickles to cleanse the palate from the richness of the spread. Crispy fish-skin chicharonnes ($11), the most intriguing starter showcasing the kitchen's creativity, are sadly sold out on multiple visits.
Back to the theme of options, Little Saint shines in its ability to be a casual night out for snacks, burgers and drinks, or a fancier evening on the town, with bison hanger steak ($24), tenderly cooked to order, or a catch of the day ($22) served with creamed leeks, rosti potatoes and the ash from charred leeks. The token vegan dish strikes back ($17) features hearty fried oyster mushrooms on a bed of pureed sweet potatoes that are lightly flavored with cinnamon and curry spices. It's hearty and creative, but by the end, the sweet notes from the potatoes dominated too much, and other competing flavors would have elevated the dish..
More casual options don't sacrifice on food quality and maintain the commitment to local farms as well. The bison burger ($15) features two small patties, guaranteeing that the lower fat buffalo meat doesn't dry out too much, and is topped with Little Saint's pimento cheese. The grits bowl ($12) serves up an enormous serving of grits, with your choice of Twin Oaks chorizo tofu or Autumn Farms pulled pork, topped with crispy kale, which adds needed texture and a runny egg for added richness. Topped with homemade hot sauce, this is comfort food, but with more complex flavors than mom used to make. Desserts are sourced, locally of course, from WPA and Gelati Celesti, and therefore guaranteed to be delicious.
Chef Alex Enggist, previously at Carytown's the Daily, maintains his focus on local foods catering to a wide variety of diets, but at Little Saint there's more refinement and focus. He is the perfect match for the owner, RVA Hospitality food group, whose other restaurants are also neighborhood joints that offer a little bit of everything on their menu: Tarrant's Cafe, Max's on Broad and Tarrant's West.
Little Saint manages to walk the tightrope of accessibility — both with food and price — and fine dining, without falling too far on either side. The menu, physical space and friendly staff all make for the kind of place you want to return to. S
Sundays through Thursdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.