Stegemayer quietly reopened littleSpoon and Comida on Friday for friends-and-family previews with a limited menu and we went along for a taste of both. The restaurants both will open full time this week, starting with Comida tonight (hours are 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday) and littleSpoon on Tuesday (hours are 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday).
What Stegemayer is attempting is daring and different for this market: After struggling for her higher-end Mexican restaurant Comida to find an audience in Plaza-Midwood while her brunch spot littleSpoon was thriving on Selwyn Avenue in Myers Park’s small business district, she decided to move them both into the same building, with littleSpoon operating in the morning with one chef and Comida operating at night with a second chef.
To do that, she closed both for a two-month overhaul, making a few changes in the dining room and kitchen. She added a full bar for coffee and light cocktails (the Orangina Mimosa is a standout) for the morning-to-lunch crowd, and a bigger wine presence along with things like mezcal cocktails at night.
A few Comida touches made the trip across town: The grass panel on the back wall and in the bathrooms, for instance, and the shaved-ice machine for mezcal slushies like the El Machete. Note the lack of draft taps: There are a few bottles and cans of beers, but expect a much heavier emphasis on wine.
So, how’s the food? The littleSpoon menu has more new dishes: Muffins have been replaced by Dubs, little funnel cakes with espresso ganache. There’s an avocado toast now, with charred avocado, radishes, grapefruit and jalapeno. Chilaquiles, a nod to the Mexican theme at night, are bright red crispy chips flavored with the Korean hot paste gochujang, sesame seeds and an egg salsa.
Two standouts from what we tasted: Small biscuits with cheddar and jalapeno are served with a fluffy bacon fat butter made from bacon fat and heavy cream (yes, bacon fat, not butter). And Crispy Rice is a rich bowl of complex textures and fatty acidity: Crunchy rice chunks are topped with a little bitter mizuna and hot kimchi, a poached egg and bright pickled straw mushrooms.
Coming back that night, the Comida menu has a lot of familiar players. The roasted octopus is gone (aw, too bad), and the cochinita pibil will be back soon. But the guacamole and smoky salsas are still served with those addictive and eccentric chewy tortilla chips. Seating is very tight – 10 spots at the bar, and about 35 at tables, with more tables outside under an awning. (Reservations will be available.)
One new thing is the Rancherito, a tortilla stack they’re still playing with: For now, it’s a deep red pool of salsa roja, several layers of crispy tortillas filled with a cream made from poblano peppers and onions, soft refried lentils and a fried quail egg on top, with squirt of crema on the side. It could use more heat and smoke, and will probably get it, but for now it’s a complex combination of very simple things.
The familiarity is deliberate, Stegemayer says: “I didn’t want to change it up too much because (this style of Mexican) is still so new to so many people.”
Stegemayer has been openly frustrated with her trouble finding a following in Plaza-Midwood, blaming an expectation that Mexican food should be cheap. Others argued with that point, saying that her small plates were simply more expensive than other things in the neighborhood. The old location, in the renovated building that used to be the Penguin, also struggled with parking problems that plague the whole area on busy weekends.
The new location – or new/old – has more parking in the deck behind the building, and it has a walkable and loyal neighborhood that has embraced other high-ticket food businesses like Reid’s Fine Foods and the fish market Clean Catch. That may turn out to be the setting Comida needed all along.