After setting foot on the Vineyard foodie stage in 2010, Little House has become a heavy hitter on the Island scene. Aptly, the restaurant has just over 10 tables and looks like a cottage. Their scones are legendary. Taco night has Islanders in the off-season scrambling for a seat. Gift cards are like gold. Over email, business partners Jenik Munafo and Merrick Carriero answered some questions about their new dishes, how food makes the cut, and how to become an Island hot spot.
What are some of the new dishes you’ve added to the menu?
We added a Power House Salad, which is our take on the popular salad bowl. Ours was inspired by these delicious marinated gigantic beans we tried at a food show, which are featured along with red quinoa, a variety of vegetables, and a lemony cashew cream. We love adding vegetarian options to our menu. Also, we changed a few entrée offerings on our dinner menu, like Unagi Glazed Salmon Skewers with carrot purée with toasted sesame, snap peas, tangy miso mayo, and scallion ginger relish, and Pan Seared Sea Scallops with sweet potato purée, orange saffron shallot sauce, balsamic grilled asparagus, and Morning Glory Farm microgreens. We added an appetizer as well: House Made Hummus with grilled pita, harissa, and organic olive oil. We make our own harissa, and it really makes the dish.
How does a dish go from an idea to a reality?
It takes time to develop new ideas and recipes. It usually starts by going through pages and pages of clipped recipes we have saved, which reminds us where we left off the last time we were brainstorming. From there we look at food magazines and new (or old) cookbooks, especially if we want to feature a particular ingredient. The Internet is also a great visual resource, because presentation and plating is such an important part of food’s appeal. If it looks good, most of the time it tastes good too. Once we have found a recipe or idea we like, it must go through the testing process where it becomes our own. We adapt the flavors and cooking methods to fit into our existing menu — and little kitchen — and then the final test is seeing if our customers are happy.
How did you two meet, and why did you decide to go into business together?
We met at Café Moxie, a restaurant on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, owned by Tina Miller. Merrick was the chef and I was a waitress, and so a friendship began.
Merrick went to culinary school in Canada, and I had just come back from South America, where my husband Hocine had owned and operated a café/restaurant. From the start we both had an interest in and love of food. Then several years later, when Café Moxie was closed and kids had been born, Hocine had the idea to open a restaurant on the Island. So Merrick and her husband Steven and Hocine and I all partnered up and opened Little House.
Why did you decide on “Little House Café” as your name?
The name came after a long list of ideas, none of which we ultimately chose. Little House Café seemed to encompass being both straightforward and descriptive at the same time. It really fit with what we were going for both in our menu and atmosphere. It sounded right when you said it out loud, and the restaurant was at one time a little house.
What was the intention behind the homey decoration and vibe of the restaurant?
We are going for feeling like “you are our guest” and “make yourself at home.” We want our customers to feel welcome and comfortable. We chose to make the main room of the old house, with the fireplace, into the dining room. However, this was a last-minute decision in the planning process, and we are so happy we changed our original plans!
Why do you think Little House has become so successful?
Perseverance and hard work. Also, never compromising on quality. We have been committed to providing a consistently good product to our customers, who have rewarded us with their loyal support, some since the beginning.