Ramen pops up, sells out

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Chef Tim Grandinetti jokingly calls the Brooklyn-style ramen — with its chicken broth, chicken and crab cake — “hipster ramen.” After trying more than half the bowls on his pop-up menu, I’ll reluctantly concur with the title.

Grandinetti, the chef behind Spring House and Quanto Basta just blocks from each other on the west side of downtown Winston-Salem, organized a weekly event series with Gwen Roach of Caldero Bone Broth and Winstead Farms. Using Roach’s broths — and help in the kitchen — Spring House launched the pop-up ramen concept on Jan. 12, continuing indefinitely. And with reservations completely booked for the first four Thursday evenings, the ramen likely isn’t disappearing any time soon.

We’ve called for standalone a ramen restaurant in the Triad in these pages repeatedly. I made it part of my 2016 year-end food piece, very shortly before the ramen pop-up was announced. Doing such a thing might be enough reason to call a bearded white guy like me a hipster anyway, but appreciating a good bowl of ramen has nothing to do with being hip.

The hipster ramen.

Ramen isn’t new, even in the US. It’s been years since I first tried some — I admit, in Brooklyn — back before I did any kind of regular food writing. And that happened long after David Chang’s famed Momofuku opened in 2004.

And ramen is already available in the Triad. You can find it at sister restaurants Don Japanese and Sushi Republic — both on the collegiate Tate Street — and even the newer Crafted: The Art of Street Food and Tunazilla in Greensboro. It may show up on other menus too, but at the very least you can go to one of Ise Japanese’s two Winston-Salem locations to try one of eight hibachi ramen choices, including a vegetable-based option.

And while Spring House’s pop-up inside its luxurious, refinished home of a restaurant once a week still isn’t the standalone, dedicated ramen shop of my dreams — the likes of which have also thrilled me in Boston, Durham and Austin — it’s a nonetheless heartening development.

That’s not just because it’s more ramen. It’s also because Grandinetti and Roach can really cook.

Roach walked surreptitiously through the dining room about halfway through the first evening of the affair, a black baseball cap pulled low towards her brow. She hadn’t had a chance to try any of their finished products yet, and would return to the kitchen before she had a chance to do so. But the whole thing excited her; she normally doesn’t operate out of a restaurant, flying solo or alongside her husband instead.

I’ll tell you what I told her before her return — it tasted excellent, and I especially appreciated the broth. My girlfriend Kacie and I ordered the Brooklyn-style and the “umami house ramen,” the latter of which has two broths — one of them a lighter dashi — with crispy pork, pork meatball and kimchi. Grandinetti said beforehand these two were likely his favorites, and they appeared first on the menu, too.

Nothing against the house ramen, and you can feel free to blame my still relatively inexperienced ramen palate, but I favored the Brooklyn-style, preferring the taste of the chicken broth. Kacie agreed, though I expected nothing less considering the presence of the pork belly.

But we briefly lamented that each bowl didn’t feature more broth, with the soups looking more like the sort of ramen that’s dipped in broth rather than steeping in it. That’s certainly a style of ramen, but we still wanted more.

And so I ordered some.

The tonkotsu ramen.

I wondered how the tonkotsu ramen with its creamy pork broth, shiitake mushrooms and pork belly would stack up. To my delight, it arrived with a much more generous helping of broth, allowing the ingredients to soak in its warmth.

I’d already eaten a considerable amount — we ordered the fried chicken steamed buns appetizer with Japanese mayo to kick off the night, and I strongly urge you to do the same — and the heavier, creamy broth just about knocked me out. I finished it off the next day, but my verdict remained the same: Brooklyn-style for the win.

The fried chicken steamed buns.

If you’ve only ever had one bowl of ramen and it happened to be stateside, chances are good you tried tonkotsu. Before you call me a hipster, make it a point to try Grandinetti and Roach’s Brooklyn-style.

I admittedly haven’t had every bowl of ramen available in the Triad, but I’ve done a solid job making the rounds. The choices at Spring House — which also include turkey paitan and vegetable — are my favorite yet, thanks to fantastic broth, legit noodles, care for other ingredients including egg and overall taste.

I would still put it a notch below Dashi in Durham, and a few other memorable bowls I’ve had out of state. But though it may be weekly and booked up for a bit, Spring House’s pop-up is satisfying and much closer to home.

And if Grandinetti’s corner of downtown Winston-Salem isn’t accessible enough for you, fear not; there are whispers of a food truck with a seasonal menu, one which the chef says would likely feature ramen in the winter, given the pop-up’s immediate popularity.

 

Visit Spring House at 450 N. Spring St. (W-S) or at springhousenc.com, and reserve a spot for the Thursday ramen menus at 336.293.4797.