Big fun to be had at Little Man’s Diner

Few of us ever stick with Plan A.

Indeed, if I were still on my Plan A, I'd be teaching Tai Chi to retirees in Naples right now instead of writing this review. Of course, the irony of an improvised Plan B is it often becomes the more rewarding path. In the end, the backup feels meant to be.

I had such an experience - call it a culinary Plan B - during a visit to Westerly earlier this month. My intent was to enjoy Chinese dumplings and sweet and sour soup, but I neglected to check if the restaurant I had in mind was actually open. As it turned out, it wasn't.

By a simple twist of fate and the use of my phone's GPS, I wound up at Little Man's Diner, hungry and penniless (I had no pennies but several 20s). As it turned out, a late breakfast was more than fortuitous. It was an experience worth sharing.

A quick walk from the Westerly Amtrak station, Little Man's has the feel of a hidden gem that's not so hidden anymore. The atmosphere is warm and eclectic: mugs, retro advertisements and the occasional celebrity photo hangs from the walls. Men at the counter lean over cups of coffee and plates of scrambled eggs, and the voices of chatting diners hang in the air with the smell of pancake batter on high heat and butter.

There's an inexplicable wonder to breakfast with a friend. Fried eggs and sausage links seem to pair naturally with an existential tête-à-tête, and Little Man's certainly provides the relaxed and unassuming environment most conducive to these conversations.

If you're not one for deep discussion, you'll still enjoy the deep list of options at Little Man's. The double-sided menu - they also serve lunch and dinner - has standard fair (Belgian waffles, western omelets and corned beef hash), but the most impressive items are the ones you don't see as often.

My friend Chris and I chose to push the boundaries of the breakfast genre as well as our abdominal capacities. We went with the deep fried French toast ($4.95), soupy with eggs over easy ($6.95), chorico with eggs over hard ($4.95) and the chunky monkey pancake - banana, chocolate chips and walnuts ($3 per pancake). The garbage omelet also looked enticing (bacon, sausage, ham, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, cheese, hash, home fries and baked beans), but the staff did not have the necessary stretchers on hand to wheel us out.

I began with the meats. The soupy, in all its dry-cured spiciness, married with the runny egg yolk in what I consider the best combination since Nicks and Henley in "Leather and Lace."

As my quintessentially Iberian last name may imply, I'm more than acquainted with chorico. Despite my familiarity, I was surprised by Little Man's take on the Portuguese classic. The sausage was brownish rather than the standard deep red. I picked up less paprika and what I sensed to be a hint of cumin. Regardless of the seasoning, this chorico impressed.

If I'd been wearing a hat, it would have been off at the first bite of the deep fried French toast. I should preface my insights by saying I'm one who thinks the current frequent use of the deep fryer has become gratuitous. I was jarred to hear recently that some misguided chefs even dunk battered gummy worms and marshmallow Peeps into bubbling oil. With that said, Little Man's takes a mindful approach to deep-frying. The warm embrace of 350-degree oil is a logical and tasty extension of the French toast process.

As sweet and crispy as this item is on its own, I do have a suggestion for the adventurous eater: try a forkful of deep fried French toast with a slice of soupy dipped in egg yolk. The mix of salty and sweet is heart stopping (your doctor will agree).

As of this writing, the chunky monkey pancake is not yet on the printed menu, but it's inspired. The melting chocolate combines with the flavor of banana and the crunch of walnut in a mouthful of luxurious self-indulgence. Follow my lead, and try the chunky monkey with a small bite of spicy chorico.

To walk out of Little Man's with buyer's remorse is as statistically unlikely as being bit by a Thresher shark in South Dakota. Most items range from $3 to $8.

No doubt it was serendipity and some circuitous wandering - maybe even a little providence - that brought me to Little Man's. However, I suggest you save yourself the time. Some weekend soon, make this breakfast spot your Plan A.


Little Man's Diner

55 Canal St., Westerly
(401) 315-0039

Cuisine: Breakfast and diner fare

Prices: Inexpensive; menu items $3 to $8

Service: Friendly and attentive

Hours: Monday-Saturday 6 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 p.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

Credit cards: Visa, Master Card and Discover

Handicapped access: No ramp; staff will assist patrons


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