At her Little Food Studio in Petworth, chef Danielle Harris has made it her mission to introduce much of the Northwest neighborhood to the sausage roll, a meat-stuffed pastry more commonly found in Great Britain than at D.C. bakeries. In the first few months of business, regular sell-outs justify Harris’s decision to serve the traditional Boxing Day dish out of the takeout window at her little cafe with a green facade at 849 Upshur Street NW.
No one taught Harris how to make sausage rolls. She just thinks they offer the perfect breakfast bite, so she workshopped them herself. Packed with pork, chicken, fennel, and sage, her sausage roll bakes in flaky puff pastry dough. The fat renders out, keeping the pastry moist and eliminating the need to spread on butter or cream.
“We’ve had people who have lived in the United Kingdom say to us, ‘This is the best sausage roll I’ve ever eaten,’” Harris says proudly.
Pillowy scones full of dried tart cherries soaked in balsamic vinegar are another customer favorite. Blood orange juice and specks of grated blood orange zest add an acidic punch.
Chinnell Watson, the pastry chef at Little Food Studio, says she wants to elicit nostalgia with snickerdoodle and brown butter chocolate chip cookies, so her recipes don’t deviate from traditional methods. Flaky palmiers sprinkled with brown sugar, French madeleine sponge cakes, and bread pudding muffins are all fitting accompaniments to drip coffee, espresso drinks, tea, and other non-caffeinated options.
Harris named Little Food Studio’s sandwiches after her biggest cheerleaders: her mother, grandmothers, and aunts. Named after her aunt Monica Lynne, the Lynne pairs hot capicola with soppressata, gorgonzola cheese, arugula and hot honey mixed on-site. In an effort to allow the dressing to stand out, she limits ingredients to five or less. The Bianca (hot ham, mozzarella, pecorino cream, tomato, black pepper) and Burnetta (mortadella, burrata, pistachio spread, olive cream) are named after her mother and maternal grandmother, respectively. The rest of sandwiches come from relatives’ middle names.
“The women in my family were my biggest culinary influences,” Harris says. “My auntie Lynne is also a chef. My auntie Arie loves to try new restaurants. My mom cooks a lot, she let me explore the kitchen at a very young age. My grandma Sally took me vegetable picking as a kid. I hated it then, but I look back on it as something super special to be able to do. My grandmother was essentially my first client. I used to meal prep for her!”
Little Food Studio is Harris’s first standalone restaurant, but the chef has already cemented herself as a force in D.C.’s culinary community. Known affectionately as “Chef DMH,” she also owns District Graze, a catering company offering boxes and overflowing boards loaded with charcuterie, cheese, fruit, nuts, chocolates, crudités, and other one-bite appetizers.
Growing up in Cleveland, Harris’s introduction to cooking came when her mother accidentally signed her up for a Boy Scouts session. After a brief diversion to study art design, Harris began building a career in professional kitchens. She never received a formal culinary education, instead working her way up in restaurants alongside the likes of Iron Chef Stephanie Izard, at Little Goat Diner in Chicago, and at the now-closed Emilie’s with chef Kevin Tien in D.C.
“High-volume cooking prepared me for this opportunity,” Harris says, “and I’d like to think every experience I had in the kitchen, from the dishwasher to sous chef, was vital in getting the skills needed to open my own shop.”
While there are no indoor dining plans for Little Food Studio, Harris has other community-based initiatives in the works. In addition to opening a patio, Harris would also like to host cooking classes when capacity restrictions are fully lifted. If current demand is any indication, they’ll likely be packed.
Little Food Studio is open for takeout Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (or until sold out) and Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. (or until sold out). Closed Mondays.