“Hack-hack! Ker-CHOO! Cough! Snort!” Aw, kee-rap! Mary’s got a cold, and it sounds like a monster. This can’t be good. Not only do I wish no ill on my dear bride, but also let’s face it: When Momma’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.
What to do? What to do? I know! Chicken noodle soup!
Now, Louisville is sadly limited in the kosher-style deli department, and it’s a good 110 miles up I-65 to the nearest reasonable facsimile, Shapiro’s Delicatessen in Indianapolis. There’ll be no “Jewish penicillin” for her today.
What to do? What to do? Wait, I really do know! Vietnamese penicillin will do the trick, in the form of an oversize bowl of phò gà. Er, I mean Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, natch. Yep, phò gà will get the job done, with its steaming aromatics to get the nose running, aromatic light star-anise-scented broth and tender noodles to console the aching spirit, and some onions, bean sprouts, jalapeños and a shot of fiery red “Rooster sauce” to snap you to attention.
A big bowl of chicken-noodle phò will set you back $8.50 at the inviting little NamNam Café in St. Matthews. Yeah, you can get a whole quart of Jewish chicken noodle at Shapiro’s for $9. But figure the time and fuel spent for that four-hour round trip to Indy, and you’ve made the case for NamNam.
What’s more, as long as you’re at NamNam anyway, you might as well settle in for a great Vietnamese meal. You’re sure as heck not going to get that at Shapiro’s! NamNam’s bill of fare won’t set you back anything like that tank of gas you saved, with most entrees ranging in price from $7 to $11.50, plus Shaking Beef, an iconic Vietnamese specialty made with grass-fed Kentucky Proud beef from Stone Cross Farm, marking the end of the bell curve at $15.50.
Owner David Truong, who worked at August Moon before opening NamNam three years ago, crafts a simpler, shorter bill of fare than you’ll find at some of the South End Vietnamese destinations, but there’s still plenty to choose from. What’s more, it’s billed as focused on local and organic produce and naturally raised Kentucky Proud local meats “when available.” Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are clearly marked, as are “S for Spicy.” The kitchen will gladly adjust the fire level to your liking.
During its three-year tenure, NamNam seems to have settled nicely into the small space that previously housed the first incarnation of Simply Thai, and before that a string of short-lived predecessors.
The proprietors have made some cosmetic changes: The main room is vibrant with bold white and red walls now, decorated with colorful art and framed copies of its many glowing dining reviews. Attractive table settings and a collection of chopsticks in Crayola-bold colors boost the color quotient. Happily, they’ve added an exterior entrance foyer to protect the dining room from icy winter blasts, and enclosed what had been an outdoor dining area to provide extra dining space. (It’s off limits during the most frigid weather, though, when the original dining room stays pleasantly cozy with the help of a substantial space heater or two.)
In addition to the take-home container of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (phò gà), we filled up on two sets of “paper”-wrapped rolls served with hoisin peanut sauce and hot-fishy nuoc mam; the house specialty NamNam roll (nem nuong cuon, $7.50), which is loaded with rice noodles, finely julienned carrots and cucumber, romaine, crunchy bits of fried chive roll, and a protein-heavy ration of pork pate (which tastes an awful lot like fried bologna) and grilled ham; and Buddha roll (goi cuon chai, $4.50), which finds enlightenment in the same noodle and veggie mix plus crispy fried tofu and a colorful batch of mixed lettuces.
Saigon noodles ($10 with Stone Cross Farm beef tenderloin) was a lightly spicy Southeast Asian pasta dish, a generous portion of tender rice noodles topped with julienned carrots and onions plus chopped celery and cabbage, chewy grass-fed beef bites and a glistening, slightly sweet sauce.
Whoever heard of Mexican-Vietnamese “fusion”? Well, you have now. Vietnamese tacos ($7 with chicken, pork or tofu, $8 with local beef) take a delicious Asian spin on the traditional Latin treat, although to be honest, the effect speaks more clearly of Mexico than Vietnam to me. Two soft corn tortillas are loosely wrapped around grilled meat topped with fresh-pickled carrots and cucumber strips and sliced jalapeño, decoratively and spicily striped with fiery orange Sriracha aioli.
Dinner for two, with glass pots of Jade Cloud green tea and Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea ($3.50 each), a big tub of soup to take home, and lots of boxed leftovers, mounted to $47.17, plus a $10 tip for prompt, cordial and thoughtful service.
318 Wallace Ave.
Robin Garr’s rating: 88 points