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Sunday, January 23, 2022 — Houston, TX °

Little Liberty Falls Flat

By Franklin Shen     12/1/16 10:58am

There is perhaps no better time to review Little Liberty, located in Rice Village than in the wake of the recent presidential election. A member of the family of Liberty Kitchen restaurants, Little Liberty bills itself as the odd sibling out with its lunch-focused menu. As opposed to its older Liberty Kitchen siblings, Little Liberty doesn’t have extremely rich and complex seafood dishes, but rather errs on the side of lighter salads and sandwiches. Still, lobster, oysters and other seafood are prominently featured among Little Liberty's offerings.

The dining environment is certainly worth experiencing. From the slightly distressed metal dining chairs to the Texas-themed wallpaper (and by Texas-themed, I mean cowboys and oil derricks), you are certainly immersed in what I can only describe as your Aunt Mabel's annual garage sale. However, all jokes aside, it is a very nice place to dine. As soon as you step in, you are swept away from the urbanized nature of Houston and find yourself in Small Town, USA, where everybody knows your name and the waiter will have heard about your latest farming equipment purchase before you've had a chance to tell anyone. Therefore, if you decide to come here, it is best to do so with a small group of close friends or family. It is a cozy place no doubt, and just writing about it makes me nostalgic and teary-eyed.

While the decor and atmosphere of Little Liberty can have such an emotional effect on even the hardest of hearts, there are other aspects of the restaurant that can make you equally weepy — namely, the food. Conceptually, it would seem as if Little Liberty would have hit one out of the park with its menu. The Coastal Mac and Cheese offers a medley of shrimp, fried oysters and bacon and is topped with scallions. Patrons can also order a customized poke bowl featuring a choice of tuna, snapper, salmon, rare beef or vegetables for the main component. I opted for one of their "Serious Sandwiches" and chose the Tuna Salad Melt a la BLTesque.

I know what you're thinking, What does that even mean? How can something be "BLTesque”? Well, this was the precise question that drew me to this dish. It consisted of tuna salad served with a few leaves of greens and sliced heirloom tomato on an English muffin. On the side was a salad and a serving of bacon jam. As I said in my Bernie's Burger Bus review, I consider not toasting the bun of any sandwich or burger one of the greatest sins a chef can make. After partaking in one bite of my Tuna Salad Melt, I concluded that the chef at Little Liberty needs to repent — ASAP. For starters, it doesn't take a genius to know that a tuna salad is wet. It's supposed to be like that. No problem with a wet tuna salad. However, once you put something wet on any form of bread, the bread acts like a sponge and will easily soak the moisture from the main protein. That is why you should always toast the bun. Toasting the bun buys you a bit of time before the bread gets soggy and offers you another unique texture to enjoy in a bite. An English muffin is especially susceptible to getting soggy, which was certainly the case with my Tuna Salad Melt.

Furthermore, the dish did not feel inspired at all. Each layer — the muffin, the tomato, the greens and the tuna salad — felt like they were just layered onto each other instead of making one cohesive dish. It was as if my sandwich was made on an assembly line rather than by an artisan.

And so, we come to price. A sandwich at Little Liberty will cost you somewhere in the range of $12.50 to $16.50, while the Coastal Mac and Cheese is priced starting at $16. Add lobster or pork carnitas however, and you'll be looking at a $20-$32 meal. It is not on the cheap side. The poke is well-priced at $12, however. Well, until you realize it’s an appetizer.

Service was disappointing as well. One member of my group ordered Fried Chicken Sliders but got one chicken tender instead. One. Not even a toy to go alongside it.

The one saving grace, and what a saving grace it was, was the bacon jam. Oh, I was in heaven! I started by spooning some onto bites of sandwich and by the end of my meal I found myself licking the little side container clean. The smoke! The sweetness! The inherent baconiness! I'm craving it even now. If Little Liberty sold that bacon jam by the jar, my Volkswagen would be packed from the trunk to the passenger side footwell. I would recommend going just for that bacon jam, even considering the faults with my dish and service.

If Little Liberty focused only on their menu of sandwiches and seafood (which is quite limited for a sit-down restaurant), then I would steer clear. Perhaps go once to experience the warm,cozy small-town ambiance and the amazing bacon jam, but only if someone else offers to pay. My conclusion? If this is what liberty tastes like, someone please give me death.

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