The word ramen can immediately bring flashbacks of the glory days in a college dorm room. Whether it was for a late night cram session or for recovery from a wild party, ramen was, and still is, a limited budget student staple.
But lately this noodle soup dish has slowly worked its way out of the quad, starting what I’ll cleverly call the Ramen Renaissance. Miso Izakaya, a former computer programmer, has even invented a Ramen Burger and introduced it to the world at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg this past August. Since then, hundreds of people have been lining up for his newest culinary creation.
It’s really no surprise that now, in the midst of this Ramen Renaissance (admit it, it’s catchy), restaurants would come along that advocated and even celebrated the slurp. And one of those places was a stop on the 2013 Food Dudes Philadelphia Pheast, Cheu Noodle Bar.
Cheu Noodle Bar is not a traditional noodle joint. In fact, conceptualizers Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh openly embrace their inauthenticity online. But that’s what makes it so good. The menu constantly changes to push the envelope with innovative dishes. This could make for a tough review, but I’m willing to take on the challenge.
Nice buns. Well, that’s what we started our meal off with anyway. Pork belly buns to be exact. Many people are turned off by pork belly but are perfectly fine with eating bacon. This has mystified chefs who put pork belly on the menu, as bacon is most often made from pork bellies.
I’ll admit that this was my first experience with a pork belly bun. Momofuku in New York City often gets the most praise for their buns. The buns at Cheu held their own. The bun bread was toasty and the pork belly was juicy. It even came topped with pickles for that nice crispy/crunchy combo.
After we were done destroying the buns, we moved on to the main course, Miso Ramen. This specific ramen was made with: pork shoulder, egg, sea beans, and black garlic. The broth was flavorful, especially if you let the egg infuse into it. I even added a bit of “kick” to it with some Sriracha, which further intensified the flavor. The pork was tender and there were plenty of noodles to dive into. In fact, we developed an eating style where we almost had our faces entirely in the bowl and were scooping the noodles with our chopsticks. This seemed to be the most appropriate method, and didn’t even attract attention from other customers as we devoured the contents of our bowls.
And Cheu isn’t just about ramen. There is also a Pho on the menu made with Vietnamese meatballs. There are quite a few differences between ramen and pho. Ramen is usually made from wheat noodles, pho is made from rice noodles. The broth is also different. Ramen stock is dark and cloudy from being boiled, whereas pho broth is clear from being kept at a simmer.
When the cold weather hits, Cheu Noodle Bar is the place to warm your bones. But even in the warmer months, Cheu proves to be a popular destination. And with so many choices that won’t break the bank (noodle dishes range from $10 to $14), there’s no reason not to head there and slurp down some chow. Just try not to make too much noise, ok?