Archive for Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Noodle wars! The starchy staple is the ingredient of choice for several newer Lawrence restaurants

Freshly produced spaghetti noodles at 715.

Freshly produced spaghetti noodles at 715.

February 17, 2010


Executive chef Michael Beard lowers dough into a slicer as he and staff members prepare various kinds of homemade noodles at 715.

Executive chef Michael Beard lowers dough into a slicer as he and staff members prepare various kinds of homemade noodles at 715.

Some of the featured dished at Don Don restaurant.  Chicken and egg, also called parent and child, is cooked on an open flame.

Some of the featured dished at Don Don restaurant. Chicken and egg, also called parent and child, is cooked on an open flame.

Some of the featured dished at Don Don restaurant.  Chef and owner Ikuko Fox stir fries beef for yakiniki-don or sliced beef with vegetables.

Some of the featured dished at Don Don restaurant. Chef and owner Ikuko Fox stir fries beef for yakiniki-don or sliced beef with vegetables.

There's a surprising weapon in the fight for your Lawrence restaurant dollars, though we wouldn't advise using it in any battles but the non-physical kind. It spans many cultures, dinner budgets and chef-approved flavor profiles.

The noodle.

Restaurants from Asian to Mediterranean to American and at least one that combines all of the above - Noodles & Co., we're looking at you - are hoping to get you in their doors with yummy noodle-based creations. In fact, the noodle has stolen prominent spots on the menus of at least three recently opened Lawrence restaurants with very different business plans and price points.

Among the newest to go the noodle route are two locally owned restaurants: DonDon: Japanese Rice and Noodle Bowl Shop, and 715, a restaurant specializing in central Italian cuisine at 715 Mass. And then, of course, there's Lawrence's newest chain noodle shop, the aforementioned Noodles & Co., which serves three basic noodle types: Asian, American and Mediterranean under the same roof.

The noodle is in, and during this unrelenting winter and tough economic climate, it's easy to see why.

"Food is especially one of the smallest pleasures that people can afford during the bad economy," says Angela Liu, manager and daughter of the owners of DonDon. "Every once and a while you want to get together with your friends or family and (have) something simple, something warm. And comforting food is what we kind of think Lawrence needs."


And what DonDon thinks Lawrence's restaurant scene was missing was Japanese fast food. The shop, which opened in mid-September, is modeled after the lightning-fast noodle and rice bowl stalls in Japan, birthplace of Liu's mother and owner/head chef Ikuko Fox.

The result is a menu made for high-speed eating: four noodle bowls, eight rice bowls and a few other options, all lined up on a ballot-style order form - the complete opposite of sitting at a sushi restaurant waiting for an elaborately prepared specialty roll.

"Normal Japanese food in the area, they serve more expensive things like sushi or teppanyaki, where they cook in front of you," Liu says. "And so, we decided to try to go for a different kind of home-cooking flavor."

The noodle of choice at DonDon is the udon noodle, a thick, wheat-based noodle served in broth as a sort of soup. Liu says the family took stock in what other restaurants were doing and noticed a decidedly scarce Japanese noodle market.

"Japanese noodles weren't very emphasized, even in Japanese restaurants, they were kind of put there as a 'well, we have to have some noodles,' kind of thing," Liu says. "So we decided to focus more on the rice bowls and the noodles."

Biology of a noodle

Indeed, of the assortment of noodles in town, most tend to be of the Mediterranean distinction, though because noodles are cross-cultural they can be made with a number of ingredients from wheat, rice, potatoes, mung beans, buckwheat and even acorns.

At some restaurants, like the upper-scale 715, the noodles are hand-made daily in-house - a point of great pride for Matt Lawson, sous chef at the restaurant, which opened in mid-October.

"We make all of our pastas from scratch every morning," says Lawson, who says no day-old pasta sees diners' plates. "I think that's what sets our noodles apart from places that are probably Cryovac-ed in a bag and dunked in a pot of water."

Indeed, Lawson and his crew make all sorts of shapes and types of pasta from a simple recipe: flour, water, local eggs. From that basic dough they can make everything from a cylindrical penne noodle to a fancy filled ravioli.

"There's a 'spaghetti & oil' on the menu that's literally five ingredients ... and three of them are in the pasta," Lawson says. "You can't get any more simple than that."

And Lawson says diners are noticing.

"The pasta sales, they're always up there, especially on the weekend nights," Lawson says. "On a Friday night or a Saturday night when there's a basketball game, we sell a lot of pastas and that's because I think people equate it with being quick and good and homey."

Noodle Goliath?

From that description, it's easy to see why Noodles & Co. decided to expand its Colorado-based franchise to Massachusetts Street, opening its first Lawrence restaurant just a month after 715 opened its doors on the same block.

"It just made sense for our brand," says Jill Preston, corporate communications director for Noodles & Co. and herself a Kansas University graduate. "We'd actually been looking at Mass. for a long time, and when the real estate opportunity came up, we just knew that the Lawrence community and the students would like the concept."

The concept is noodles of all stripes under one roof - from "Wisconsin mac & cheese" to the penne rosa to Japanese pan noodles.

"We try to eliminate the veto vote," Preston says. "We have Asian, Mediterranean and American dishes, and they're all very reasonably priced."

Liu knows that those should be fighting words in this particular culinary scrum, but she says may the best noodle win.

"I really believe that our food is really good," Liu says. "So, I hope that even though our options aren't as great ... there's something in there for everyone."


Maddy Griffin 7 years, 8 months ago

We've been looking for a new place to eat on St. Paddy's day before the parade. I think we will check out Noodles & Co. this year.

sourpuss 7 years, 8 months ago

I rarely eat at "noodle joints" whether they be Italian, Japanese, or anything in between. I really balk at paying so much for something so inexpensive. I can buy a huge amount of spaghetti for $1, make pretty much any sauce I want for a couple of dollars more and have enough food to feed a family, so why pay $7 for a fraction of the same thing, plus gratuity and tax? I have also found that I prefer my own noodle cooking to that in restaurants as well. To each their own though.

feeble 7 years, 8 months ago

not a fan of Noodles & Co. Too vanilla, too JoCo.

Sourpuss, are your noodles handmade? There's a pretty massive difference between handmade noodles and store brand $0.99 spaghetti.

Aimee Polson 7 years, 8 months ago

DonDon's sounds great! I'm excited to try it

feeble 7 years, 8 months ago

Dude, it's the Panera of noodles. I could care less where the franchise was founded.

traveller83 7 years, 8 months ago

I did try Don Don. There was only one vegetarian option on the menu and it was with rice, no noodles. It was white rice with a few veggies thrown in. A good idea but I was not impressed.

Isaias Shannon 7 years, 8 months ago

I have been to DonDon twice...not super impressed. The food is OK, but the atmosphere is TERRIBLE (think eating in a stark white room w/ florescent lighting...kind of like a giant bathroom feeling) and you leave the place reeking of the food scent. Yuk.

ScottyMac 7 years, 8 months ago

I love pasta and can't wait to try all three of these places. But I need to ask: Why do so many people name their businesses after a number? I don't get it. Numbers are so nondescript that they tell the consumer absolutely nothing about the place. Perhaps that's the point, but at one time in recent memory, Lawrence had three troubled nightclubs all named for their street address.

For a time, I thought a business with a number as its name was sign to bring your gun. Either that, or an attempt to remind people of your glorious football years in hopes that they might forget the historic building you've gutted.

cleifer 7 years, 8 months ago

Thai Siam, imho, is the place to get some good noodles in town.

cleifer 7 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 8 months ago

Could be a religious experience for PastaFarians. May his noodly appendage touch and bless you while dining.

jonas_opines 7 years, 8 months ago

How do you get a comment pulled on an article about noodles?

Richard Heckler 7 years, 8 months ago

The freshest noodle make more sense. Packaged noodles could be months old if not more.

So go for the freshest noodle always..... just like tofu. Less than a day old sounds good to me just like local breads and pastries.

beawolf 7 years, 8 months ago

He may have referenced his personal noodle.

sourpuss 7 years, 8 months ago

@feeble - To be perfectly honest, I don't notice the difference between dried and fresh/handmade noodles. Of course, I'm no noodle connoisseur, thus, I'm not paying that much for the "good stuff." If someone likes fresh noodles that much, then they should go out, I guess.

lilyanne 7 years, 8 months ago

I'm suprised The Basil Leaf Cafe wasn't compared since it is a new "noodle" place too! Too bad.... great food!!!

kugrad 7 years, 8 months ago

The Encore Cafe (which I think is currently closed for remodeling/expansion) has really great Lo Mein noodles which they make on the premises. Noodle lovers will love the Encore. I don't work there or know anyone who does, but I sure love to eat there.

feeble 7 years, 8 months ago

@sourpuss, to each their own. I grew up on the 50 cent boxes of spaghetti and still dread those fat, doughy spaghetti strands to this day. Also, I agree that Zen Zero does it right.

Ceallach 7 years, 8 months ago

Hmmm, law enforcement officials, including federal agents are swarming a property just east of Lawrence and yet the headline is about noodles.

jumpin_catfish 7 years, 8 months ago

Really like Noodles & Co., the Thai and Japanese with sauteed beef. Yummmmy!

JRS 7 years, 8 months ago

I'm not really into noodles. We need a place dedicated to really good meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. I am not vegetarian, but would like to see more light meals and less carb/meat heavy ones.

Evan Ridenour 7 years, 8 months ago

What is this bs about carbs? Carbs are good for you. In fact they are essential to bodily function.

Eat less, eat better, and/or try exercising once and awhile. Eliminating carbs from your diet is not healthy.

JRS 7 years, 8 months ago

How did you get that I don't eat carbs? I do, usually whole grain. I just don't like carbs to make up most of my meals. THAT is unhealthy.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.