When Mike Stollenwerk and Felice Leibowitz decided to open a second restaurant in downtown Haddonfield, they wanted it to be different than their first, the seafood-focused Two Fish, and they wanted it to be manageable. The result is the 18-seat Little Hen, a rustic French bistro that opened last June, just down the block from Two Fish.
“We wanted to focus on meat,” says Ocean City native Stollenwerk, 43, who has earned a reputation for refined seafood cooking, but trained in classic French cooking at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing. “And we thought nowhere around here was offering simple French food.”
The couple spent nearly eight months gutting the former candy store and creating a space evoking a French farmhouse. A growing number of hen sculptures and figurines sit in the windowsills. Leibowitz, 37, manages the house with friendly efficiency. Kitchen activity can be seen above a half wall that partially separates it from the dining room. (In the small space, with the kitchen so close, the dining room can get hot.)
As at Two Fish, Stollenwerk has created a tight menu, with just five choices each for appetizers, entrées and sides, and three desserts. He has added a partager category, five dishes meant to be shared. While Stollenwerk designed the menu and helps fine-tune the dishes, the execution is by chef de cuisine Alan Lichtenstein, who cooked at the Rose Tattoo Café in Philadelphia for many years. Perhaps this delegation accounts for a few dishes falling short of Stollenwerk’s standard.
We were so crazy about the chicken-liver mousse (a partager item) that we ordered it on both visits, each time wiping clean the little glass jar of redolent, silky mousse under a thin layer of duck fat. The mousse comes with chewy French bread, pickled shallots, and an earthenware crock of Pommery whole-grain French mustard. Another shared dish was oeufs sur oeufs, a fun play on deviled eggs anointed with a generous dollop of smoked trout roe.
Frogs’ legs were succulent, sautéed in garlic, parsley and lemon butter. Escargots, another classic, came swimming in a soupy, herbaceous green sauce that was tasty, but so assertive it masked the snails. Butternut squash bisque, on the other hand, was bland.
Despite the stated focus on meat, one of the best entrées was the one fish dish, another French classic: skate wing meuniere. The brown butter and caper sauce winningly filled the striated ridges of this sweet, scallop-like fish. Stollenwerk admits his passion is for fish, which he says “changes every day” by what the boats bring in. By comparison, he says, “beef is beef.”
Au contraire! The tournedos of beef was superb. Tender filet mignon crusted with spicy black peppercorns, it came in a heady cream-and-brandy sauce Diane. Duck frites took another classic, steak frites, and subbed rosy seared duck breast for steak. The frites were hand cut, with nicely crisped edges.
The place is called Little Hen, so there’s a sous vide chicken breast—soft, but surprisingly dry. The dish was saved by a tarragon-infused cream sauce. Cassoulet combined interesting elements: garlic sausage, duck leg confit, pork cheeks and French tarbais beans. But the flavors were largely indistinguishable from one another.
As at Two Fish, Stollenwerk and his mother, Karen Adams, collaborate on desserts. Their mille feuille, more than 20 layered crêpes separated by a blend of pastry and whipped creams, is as compelling as it is simple. Adams is responsible for the hazelnut pear tart, which includes a pleasing crumble on top. Lichtenstein contributes a classic pot de crème—a rich chocolate pudding served in a small glass jar, topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. There were no leftovers.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:French
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $5–$15; entrées, $25–$29; sides, $6–$7; desserts, $9
- Ambience:Casual, rustic, intimate
- Service:Informed and personal
- Wine list:BYO