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FOOD & DRINK

Reignite the Flame

The Little Dipper
Date Night Tuesdays
138 S. Front St. • (910) 251-0433
www.littledipperfondue.com

DIPPING INTO DECADENCE: The Little Dipper offers numerous options in enjoying fondue without breaking the bank, including Date Night Tuesdays, three courses with wine pairings for two for only $65. Courtesy photo.

DIPPING INTO DECADENCE: The Little Dipper offers numerous options in enjoying fondue without breaking the bank, including Date Night Tuesdays, three courses with wine pairings for two for only $65. Courtesy photo.

In the 1930s, fondue was nationalized as the official dish of Switzerland by the Swiss Cheese Union (yes!—a union for cheese). However, its origins can be traced to Italy and France, too, specifically in the Italian Piedmont and Aosta valleys, as well as in the French Rhone Alps. A communal pot of melted cheese mixed with wine, over a portable stove, acts as a bath for dipping a variety of accoutrements, from breads to vegetables to proteins, from a long skewer.

At local fondue restaurant The Little Dipper, they’ve taken this traditional pasttime of eating and made it quite fanciful to enjoy even more. As part of their fondue etiquette rules listed on their menu, the last one reminds folks:

“A Little Dipper rule to remember: If the food falls off your fondue fork while cooking in the pot, you must kiss the person beside you or buy them a drink!”

Such won’t be hard to do when heading to Front Street’s whimsical, historical dining space, covered in colorful art. Tuesday nights are officially Date Night at the eatery—quite appropriate for the restaurant’s 2013 win for “Best Place for a First Date,” according to the encore reader’s poll. For only $65 two people can enjoy three courses each, all paired with a variety of wines, from white to red to port.
“People have the opportunity to try various items verses just one protein,” Little Dipper co-owner Kristen Gruodis says. “We designed our Date Night menu for two in order to offer that ‘shared assortment’ that everyone seems to enjoy. It’s something that you don’t usually find on a Tuesday night out, and at a reasonable price.”

Originally deemed costly in its early days—and not for peasants to indulge—the Swiss offered a variety of fondue flavors, often starting with costly cheese like Gruyére. They would make spicy concoctions, with red and green peppers, and chili, or tomato and mushroom blends. The French would often blend cheeses like Comté savoyard, Beaufort and Emmental, while Italians added eggs in their “fonduta,” consisting of fontina, milk, eggs and truffles. Today, the idea of variety still exists in the restaurants which continue to serve fondue (meaning “to melt”). However, the stigma of cost has been alleviated.

“The Date Night menu is set up as three courses, each paired with a different wine,” Gruodis says. “For instance, each cheese option in the first course has a different style of wine that was really picked to balance out the flavors of the herbs, as well as the oils and textures of the cheese.”

Havarti-Dill offers a smooth and creamy texture, melted with crisp white wine and garlic and dill. The Fontina comes with Italian white cheese in a white-wine base with fresh basil and garlic.

Served as a tasting, the paired wines balance flavors. For instance, The Little Dipper serves a sweet South African Reisling to go with their heated Asian Firepot broth, a vegetable base of Sake, ginger root and crushed red pepper.

“It’s a neat complement of something somewhat sweet and floral to offset a spicy kick,” Gruodis explains. “You don’t have to be a wine expert, but if you like wine, it’s really fun to try the different varietals and especially with unique foods.”

The broth—which comes in multiple flavors, like white merlot and vegetable or port and beef—is used to cook second-course proteins, which can consist of filet mignon, pork, chicken, shrimp and mushrooms, all-seafood or even vegetarian offerings, like ravioli, zucchini, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes.

Fondue restaurants as we know them today can be traced to 1950s New York. Swiss restaurateur Konrad Egli brought this style of eating to his own Chalet Suisse in 1956. It wasn’t until the ‘60s he invented what so many have come to adore of the experience: chocolate. It all arose from a campaign he did with Toblerone chocolate.

At The Little Dipper the final course can be the defining moment of the fondue meal—the memory which will continue calling diners back for more. As part of Date Night, folks can choose the Dipper’s decadent “Half and Half,” which mixes dark chocolate and peanut butter. Marshmallows, bananas, strawberries, and graham-cracker crumbs beckon to be dipped and indulged.

If Date Night needs to be for three, say, as in a family date with the little one, Gruodis promises they can accomodate. “We are pretty ‘excited to please,’ so we can be creative if we ever need to!” she says.

And what kid doesn’t like to play with his food? Fondue is perfect to indulge those desires, in that it’s become a form of social interaction, forcing folks to mix and mingle, with food at the crux of the experience.

Multi-faceted in its appeal nowadays, restaurants like The Little Dipper continue shunning the idea that only big budgets can enjoy the experience. “We offer an à la carte menu that has individual courses for people who don’t really want to spend a lot or for those who just want a taste,” Gruodis says.

Likewise, on Thursday the Dipper presents the full fondue experience with four courses for $27. Fridays come with 25 percent off the à la carte menu from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays are half-price wines. Their extremely popular Ladies Night comes with cheese and chocolate for only $9. The latter has gained immense popularity, so often reservations are needed.

“We can take walk-ins or reservations [for Date Night],” Gruodis says. “Tuesdays are usually a little more flexible, but if someone wants a specific time, a reservation is encouraged.”

The restaurant showcases live music Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 7:30 p.m. Starting Memorial Day, they’ll have music on Mondays at 7 p.m., and they’ll be open seven days a week.

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