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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012

Vietnamese, soul pairing finds a home in West Toledo

BILL OF FARE
Pho dac biet has rice noodles, a sprig of Thai basil, and rare steak, well-done brisket, meatball and tendon, at Pho Vietnam and Wishbone Fried Chicken restaurant. Pho dac biet has rice noodles, a sprig of Thai basil, and rare steak, well-done brisket, meatball and tendon, at Pho Vietnam and Wishbone Fried Chicken restaurant.
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Huge bowls of steaming noodle soups come out of this mom-and-pop kitchen in West Toledo. So do plates of crispy fried chicken, tender collards, and home-made macaroni and cheese.

Asian meets soul a half-mile north of the Toledo Technology Academy (formerly Devilbiss High School) on Upton Ave. It's mighty humble inside (seven tables, each with four chairs, and a lonely TV flickering next to droopy curtains) and out (a wooden deck plastered on the front of a brick building). Nevertheless, it's worth a visit should you be inclined toward either denomination.

RELATED CONTENT: Pho Vietnam and Wishbone Fried Chicken menu

Look for a tall sign proclaiming Wishbone Fried Chicken and Sweet Tooth Cafe, and in the window, a simple lit sign: Pho Vietnam. The Sweet Tooth Cafe is no more, but an Asian family is trying its hand at Southern cooking as well as food from its homeland. The two genres are odd bedfellows: With fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and the minimal use of oil, Vietnamese cuisine is considered among the healthiest in the world. The soul food menu offers deep-fried food, starches, and lots of meat; tantalizing for the tongue but murder on the arteries. I was told the business is about half and half.

I posed questions about the food, but am not confident in the answers because translation into English was challenging for some of the staff ("May I have a knife?" resulted in a fork.)

Pho means soup with lots of long, thin noodles made of rice flour.

Three clear broths -- beef, chicken, and fish -- provide the foundation for the dozen soups ranging from $8.25 to $10. Each makes a statement for nose and palate, especially the seafood broth. None is spicy. And here's the fun part: Each bowl is accompanied by a companion plate piled with gorgeous purple-stemmed sprigs of Thai basil (a mild anise flavor), mung-bean sprouts, and sliced lime and jalapenos for accessorizing your zoop however you please. You're also given tiny bowls for dipping sauces; bottles of hot red chili and dark hoisin sauce are on the table, and some meals come with their own sauces.

For the adventurous beef lover, pho dac biet ($8.95) has thin slices of rare and of well-done brisket, dense meat balls, and chewy tendon. Less adventurous? Try a soup with rare and/or well-done beef. Other soups are chicken, pork, and shrimp.

Noodle soup with seafood ($10) smells like something out of a Maine fish shack. Usually made with stock from pork and dried squid, it bore several medium shrimp, tiny mussels, squid, and crab sticks .

The chicken soup, a favorite of mine, had light broth, white meat, and veggies.

What's not here? Vegetarian fare, surprising given that Vietnam is known for fine meatless dishes. The vegetarian soup ($8.50) had tofu chunks, snow-pea pods, carrots, and Asian radish, but its broth, I was told, was beef.

Note: Many customers will have, as did we, nearly a quart of leftover soup. Take it home and eat it ASAP, and if possible, remove the clump of noodles before heating, they tend to dissolve into starch.

Fried rice with chicken ($8.50) is a mound of yellow rice mixed with a bit of egg, carrots, and peas (frozen/bagged is my bet), and a modicum of dark chicken, a couple of pieces of which were gristle.

Recommended are egg rolls ($3.50 for three skinny, short, deep-fried, veggie-filled rolls with a swell orange sauce) and chilled spring rolls ($4.50 for three, tightly wrapped in rice paper and filled with tiny noodles, sprouts, basil, lettuce, a thin slice of pork, and topped with a half shrimp). Its thick brown dip, laced with chili sauce, was sprinkled with coarsely chopped peanuts.

Go out on a limb with the home-made beverages (alcohol is not served) and desserts. My favorite: jack fruit milk shake ($3.25), with the saboche (a tropical fruit) milk shake second, followed by iced coconut milk afloat with grass jelly (long, black jelled strips made from a mint-like plant). Another good bet and enough for two or three is green sticky rice (very sweet and jelly-like) with taro (small chunks of this starchy root) drizzled with coconut milk ($2.50). Make sure it's heated when eaten.

Cakes in the cold case were alluring and I tried two slices, but they were oddly petrified. My companion took a piece home, zapped it, and reported it was chewy-delicious a la coffee cake.

From the menu's Wishbone side, $7.50 brought two small chicken breasts, thickly coated and deeply fried. It was a lip-smacker when hot, but less so the next day. Upon a closer look, the breast was fatty and skimpy on meat. Mac and cheese ($2.50) and collards ($2.50) were very good, but resulted in this simple chicken dinner adding up to $12.50.

Other soul-food offerings include candied yams, corn-bread dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes, fried okra, coleslaw, dirty rice, meatloaf, pork chops, perch and other fish, burgers, and dark and light chicken.

 

PHO VIETNAM AND WISHBONE FRIED CHICKEN

* * *

Address: 3636 Upton Ave.

Phone: 419-720-2952.

Category: Casual.

Menu: Vietnamese and soul.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday.

Wheelchair access: Yes.

Average Price: $

Credit Cards: D, MC, V (Note: $1 added to bills paid by credit card).

Web site: phovietnam.us

 

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com.

 


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