It's not just tea at Little Leaf Tea anymore. The quiet, neighborhood tea house at Palm and Bullard avenues has launched a sister business, Little Leaf Bar. Actually a bar and restaurant, it serves an eclectic collection of tea cocktails, craft beer and gourmet food — including ramen burgers.
Owner George Widjaja has been mixing teas for his customers for the last six years. About six months ago, he took over some neighboring spaces (The Holy Child Book and Gift Store moved across the parking lot) and added a bar and tables.
It's not a sports bar or place to party, he says.
"I'm not trying to be a hip kind of place," says Widjaja, who despite his youthful appearance describes himself as an "old-school guy."
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Instead, the little bar and restaurant caters to people who live in the neighborhood and his existing tea customers.
Little Leaf Bar specializes in tea cocktails that mix tea with alcohol. For example, Little Leaf's version of a Long Island Iced Tea is made with English breakfast tea (most bars use a splash of Coke, not tea). Instead of sweet and sour mix, he adds honey, sugar, lemon juice and a squeeze of lemon — and the alcohol, of course.
Some cocktails include cherry-rose-green tea, or cranberry-apple tea mixed with a vodka. Or if you're looking for something a little less fruity, there's the Moscow Mule, which can be made with any beer on tap, including the Brew Free Or Die IPA. It's mixed with ginger tea, vodka and lime juice and served in a copper cup that keeps it cold.
"If you drink tea (cocktails), it not only tastes good, it's also healthy and you can have fun," he says, that last part referring to the alcohol.
And since you can't have drinks without something to nibble on, Widjaja added appetizers and entrees, too. He doesn't have a professional cooking background, but Widjaja and his wife really like good food. They've been known to travel for hours just to try something new and they're picky, he says.
The product of those tastes is a modern menu with some uncommon items.
Take the kimchee fries, which are french fries topped with the Korean pickled cabbage, grilled onions and a sriracha-mayo sauce. In fact, you'll find several Korean-influenced dishes on the menu. Widjaja is not Korean (his background is Indonesian). He just likes the food.
Most of the menu is meatless because Widjaja is trying to eat healthier. That includes a seaweed salad, a tofu Parmigiana and a not-so-healthy deep fried avocado and cream cheese egg roll.
But meat eaters, fear not. The marinated herb steak and the butter grilled shrimp are among the most popular items on the menu.
And then there's the ramen burger. It's a dish that's popular in other cities — the bun is made from ramen noodles.
"I'm very picky about my ramen," Widjaja says. "We don't use Top Ramen."
He uses real Japanese ramen noodles, mixed with egg and seasoning and cooked until crispy on a griddle.
The burger between those buns is a half beef, half bacon patty served with cheese and a sunny-side-up egg. The ramen burgers take a little longer than normal, so give yourself some time if you want one.
Little Leaf Bar is open for dinner only, from 5-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday.
One more thing to know about this restaurant: It doesn't have a sign. Widjaja has been ramping things up slowly, wanting to introduce his loyal neighborhood tea customers to the food first.
To find it, look for Little Leaf Tea and the "now open" banner at 6011 N. Palm Ave.
More information is available at Little Leaf Bar's Facebook page, or by calling (559) 261-2699.