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Behind the Line: Tiny tastebuds
The Little Gourmet spotlights healthy, kid-friendly cuisine
By Lauren Kramer
April 01, 2009
Like many parents, Judy Blix was sick and tired of taking
her child to restaurants that offer an array of dull, unhealthy
choices for kids. The usual fare of chicken fingers or
spaghetti and red sauce wasn't meeting her needs, and she
determined there were many parents who shared her
"In my town of Napa, Calif., there are a lot of adult
restaurants but there are also a lot of families," she says.
"We have 40 schools and 12,000 school-aged kids. It got me
Blix and her husband Tom spent last summer developing the
menu and concept for their kid-friendly restaurant, The Little
Gourmet, which opened in Napa last November. Tom, a restaurant
industry veteran, has returned to his roots as head chef while
Judy works in the front of the house.
Their 3-year-old daughter was the taste tester for the kids'
menu, which features the culinary categories of France, Latin
America, Asia, Italy and America. There's also an adult menu
for lunch and dinner, and the restaurant carries a liquor
license, which can help take the edge off a rowdy family
But it's the kids' menu that takes the culinary spotlight.
The dishes are playful and presented in a whimsical fashion on
non-breakable plates, featuring a selection of healthy, local
ingredients, some of them organic.
There's the French Fishing Boat, a halibut fillet topped
with mashed potatoes adorned with a toothpick mast and French
flag and served with honey baby carrots. Salmon Funny Fingers
consists of salmon tenders coated with a lemon mustard sauce
and served with almond slivers, mashed potatoes and vegetables,
all presented in the shape of a hand. The Pepperoni Pizza Face
features organic whole-wheat crust topped with homemade organic
sauce and diced squash, while the Nest o' Bird's Eggs consists
of hoisin glazed organic meatballs in a nest of steamed celery
and carrots, served over a bed of steamed rice with diced
"Mothers are looking at me and saying 'I can't believe my
kids are eating this,'" Judy Blix says. "Certainly, we tone
down the spices and don't add anything funky that kids would
not enjoy. Instead, we add minimal spices to give flavor to the
dish, and try and present it in a fun, creative way that will
appeal to children's sensibilities."
Fun also applies to the décor.
"The restaurant is designed for kids, but not in a
sugar-coated candy way," says Judy Blix. She chose orange paint
for the walls and décor featuring fun prints of kids and
vegetable cartoons. Skateboards hung on the walls serve as
shelves and at both ends of the restaurant there are play areas
stacked with toys. Music plays softly in the background and
coloring place mats, high chairs and booster seats designed to
look like volumes of Yellow Pages add a warm, kid-friendly
But eating at The Little Gourmet is also about culinary
education, says Judy Blix.
"I want my own child to be educated on a culinary level and
that's why I set up the kids' menu into different categories,"
she says. To reinforce that, she hired an artist to paint a
globe on one wall. Inside it, five children of different
nationalities hold hands, all of them wearing chef's hats.
Hungry kids tend to fill up fast on bread, so instead The
Little Gourmet presents a dish of chopped vegetables with ranch
dressing. On the kids' lunch menu the entrées range in price
from $4.95 to $7.95 and go up to $9.95 on the dinner menu.
That's higher than the usual $5 price tag for kids' items in
other restaurants, and it's something the Blix team was very
conscious of when they created the menu.
"We're finding parents are relieved to have healthier
cuisine and more varied food options for their kids," she says.
"We are a higher price point, we realize that. But people are
willing to pay more for the perks and extras they're getting,
and the healthier food. From a business standpoint,
adult-oriented restaurants can afford to have $5 kids' items
but in our case, the majority of our customers are ordering an
average $6 entrée. We have to make a living."
The concept is working and even though The Little Gourmet is
tucked behind a building and not visible from the street,
diners large and small have flocked to the Napa restaurant.
"Parents are very excited that we're here, and we've even
had tables just with adults, coming in without their kids," she
says. Though they might be tempted, anyone over 12 years has to
order from the adult menu. But Blix is hopeful the healthy
kids' cuisine will inspire other restaurants to change their
fare and present children with some new, innovative options in
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British