If you’ve been reading my gustatory musings for any time, you know that I bring a strong locavore sensibility to this work. I like to eat local food, and I prefer to dine at local restaurants. When I do business with a bank, grocer, optician, investment adviser, newspaper and, most definitely, restaurant, I like to know that the owner herself is available for a conversation, will look me in the eye, shake my hand and offer me a fair deal.
The further removed ownership and management recede from my dinner table, the more layers of personnel that stand between the stockholders and my table, the more likely it is that the cold, heavy hand of the bean counters will have intervened to bring quality down to the most profitable denominator.
Long experience bears this out: Behind Door A, we have a lovingly hand-formed hamburger made of quality meat, grilled with care by an owner-chef with skills. I’m looking at you, Bill Smith at Shady Lane Cafe! Behind Door B, we have, well, Mickey D’s, bagging you up a flavorless burger made from industrial beef, all its joy drained into the profit bucket.
Which door would you pick, bubbeleh? Me, too!
But every now and then …
Okay, nobody’s perfect, all right? I’m a locavore, but I love all manner of good eats. Even bad good eats, as long as they’re good. I’ll swing in to an In-N-Out Burger in California without regret. Occasionally I’ll even crave a White Castle. And I’m not ashamed to confess that I often grab a brace of tacos for lunch at Chipotle on Westport Road.
I mention Chipotle for a reason. Chipotle builds a loyal customer base that appreciates its commitment to the environment and making a significant effort to limit 100 percent of its pork, beef and chicken and “a majority” of its dairy to humanely raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free animals.
This model is so alluring that corporations in other food sectors, like the recently arrived Blaze Pizza (LEO Weekly, July 9, 2014), jockey to be recognized as “The Chipotle of Pizza” or whatever their niche may be.
I’m nominating Noodles & Company as The Chipotle of Noodles. It’s quality, affordable fast food made to delight lefties and tree-huggers (hand raised here). They advertise naturally raised pork, organic tofu, free-range eggs‚ the whole megillah; and they serve your quick-service meal on real china and glassware, not paper or plastic, to prove that they’re “green.”
It’s a Chipotle-style setup, too. Walk through the line, choose a regular ($5.59) or small bowl ($4.59), then peruse the noodles menu. There are 16 noodle dishes, four each in Italian-style, Asian, American or soup noodles. Then you may add $2.49 to $2.69 to throw in some chicken, pork, steak, shrimp, meatballs or tofu. Hungry? Add a side, potato or bread, or flip the menu over to find a salad or sandwich meal from $6.49 to $8.08.
Like Chipotle, it’s clean and well-kept, with the feel of something fancier than its shopping-center quarters on the Hurstbourne Parkway side of Plainview Village.
Frankly, I didn’t bring high expectations to the table, but the other day with my visiting sister, Amy, joining Mary and me for lunch, we came, we saw, we ate, we went “nom nom nom.”
I often mourn that Louisville’s diverse culinary spectrum still lacks a cheap Indonesian place, but Noodles goes some distance to fill that vacancy with its Indonesian peanut saute, a quick, modestly fiery mixed-veggie stir-fry with broccoli florets, carrot sticks, rice noodles and crisp bean sprouts in a mouthwatering hot-sweet peanut sauce. It was as good an Indonesian dish I’ve had since my last visit to an Amsterdam rijsttafel.
The Bangkok curry offered a glimpse of Southeast Asia from another direction, with stir-fried broccoli florets, cabbage, mushrooms and more in a sweet-hot coconut curry sauce over rice noodles with sauteed tofu added.
Turning to the European section, whole-grain Tuscan fresca linguine with pork consisted of flat, pale-tan linguine pasta with a balsamic-olive oil and white-wine reduction, sauteed spinach, garlic and red onions, topped with a nest of shredded Parmesan and — diner’s choie — tender, juicy, “naturally raised” boneless pork. A side of tomato wedges and cucumber cubes ($1) was fine; tomato-basil bisque ($1) was thick — passable but unexciting.
Lunch for three, economizing with ice water in lieu of soft drinks, was a bargain $23.27 for three; tipping is discouraged.
You think that’s a noodle? This is a noodle.
Not to take away from a pleasant lunch in franchise-heavy suburbia, but for serious noodles, I’m holding my breath and jumping up and down impatiently as the city awaits the opening of Rumplings, a traditional ramen shop that will open at month’s end in the Highlands spot just vacated by Baby D’s Bagels at 2009 Highland Ave.
Chefs Dustin Staggers and Griffin Paulin, surely still worn out from their buzzworthy opening of Roux on Bardstown, are behind this new venture, which will build a variety of ramens and dumplings from 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, right through to 5 a.m. the following mornings.