Big flavors come from the Little Lamb

Tucked away, in a little shopping center near the bedroom community of Safety Harbor, is an unassuming place called the Little Lamb Gastropub. By the name of the place, you might think it’s a bar that serves the kind of food you’d find in most bars. The space is unassuming, with wood tables and an open kitchen.  It’s relaxed, the kind of place you’d spend a casual evening laughing with friends. But don’t be fooled, owner and chef, James Renew, is a man whose hospitality career spans the globe. At the Little Lamb, he’s a culinary wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Inventive touches transform ordinary dishes into special events. A perfectly fine Caesar salad uses house-made anchovy crumble instead of croutons. Panko, anchovies, butter, garlic and shallots bake together on a sheet pan. Chunks of this crumble get tossed into the salad and provide a burst of flavor and additional texture to every bite. For the Butter Poached Shrimp, watermelon is combined with cardamom syrup and mint, then vacuumed sealed and compressed. This process creates an almost meaty texture, with a brilliant punch of watermelon flavor. For the summer salad, Chef Renew dehydrates olives and then shaves them, like one would shave truffles, over the salad of heirloom tomatoes, frisee and burrata with a sherry vinaigrette. The flavor of the dehydrated olive is intense but doesn’t overpower the other flavors. Constituted olives would overpower this delicate salad.  Only a dehydrated olive can provide an intense flavor and get out clean.

“Modern, eclectic, American” is the way Chef Renew describes the menu and it’s influenced by the Asian, and Australian, places he has experienced. The Char Siu ribs showcase flavors from the far east.

Marinated, braised, flashed fried and finished off on the grill, the succulent meat falls away from the bone with the gentle touch of a fork. The sweetness from hoisin combines with the smokiness of the meat and cut by a salad of mint, scallions and pickled red onion. The crunch of crushed peanuts is the finishing touch.

A vegan option tosses fried cauliflower in coconut caramel. Wet caramel is boiled to the right color but instead of using heavy cream, they finish it with coconut milk. Golden raisins, cilantro, ginger and zaatar are added, then the whole dish is finished with ribbons of Fresno chile. Fresno is the perfect choice of chile because it adds a bright red color and a very mild spice to balance the caramel flavor. It’s thoughtful, deliberate and delicious.

The short-rib ravioli is served open-faced with sheets of house-made pasta and boneless short ribs that are braised in a red wine reduction. Fleecy white ricotta cheese and enoki mushrooms provide silkiness that is offset by spinach and chives flavored with a sherry vinaigrette. The entire dish rests in a pool of beef and veal demi-glace that takes three days to make. This is quintessential comfort food skillfully created for one purpose, to fill your tummy and nourish your soul. Each layer of this dish is executed to perfection. The pasta falls to the cut of a fork but still stands to the bite. Textures complement each other and flavors dance together under a dusting of parmesan cheese. Among the many bright spots on the Little Lamb menu, this dish shines among the brightest.

Elvis Pressley smiles down on a dessert at the Little Lamb. Not only is it named for the King but it features all of his favorite flavors on one plate. Peanut butter mousse, bananas, banana chips, a brownie and chocolate ice cream. The mousse is lighter than air and the swirl of peanut butter in the chocolate sauce at the center of the plate is a lovely detailed finish.

It’s hard for me to resist a fresh donut, so when they placed a plate of warm donut holes in a pool of chocolate sauce in front of me, my eyes grew as wide. Who doesn’t love a warm donut, tender and soft, rolled in cinnamon sugar with chocolate sauce dripping off the edge? It’s a nostalgic treat most of us enjoy throughout our lives with friends and coffee, from bags of zeppoli at local fairs and as comfort through tough times. If you want a delicious reminder of everything good in life, order the donuts. They don’t disappoint.

Every neighborhood should be lucky to have the Little Lamb Gastropub nearby. A cozy spot right around the corner with delicious and inventive food and warm hospitality.

Every neighborhood should be lucky to have the Little Lamb Gastropub nearby. A cozy spot right around the corner with delicious and inventive food and warm hospitality.[image_slider_no_space on_click=”prettyphoto” height=”300″ images=”9277,9276,9275,9274,9273″]

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