If you’re not innovating, you’re dying. God bless all the grocery stores that keep trying to push those margins a little bit by expanding into new products, services, and hot food offerings—it’s that kind of thinking that brought us the surprisingly good sushi at Hy-Vee, among other things. (It’s also brought us surprisingly bad sushi at a number of other grocery stores, but that’s the opposite side of the innovation coin.)
Kowalski’s has decided to cash in on the current interest in all things Asian soup-y, opening a Pho and Ramen Bar at its Hennepin Avenue location. For $8 a pound, customers can load up on a choice of noodles, broths, veggies, and meaty souperstars such as thinly sliced beef, braised pork, or meatballs. This could easily have gone wrong, with characterless broth or poorly prepared meat, but Kowalski’s has pulled it off.
The power of the noodle bar is not the noodles, which are properly cooked and totally serviceable, but nothing special unto themselves. It’s the well-executed toppings, from the big, tender, properly seasoned chunks of pork that work beautifully with any of the various broths, to the happily not overcooked shrimp, to the bar’s springy, flavorful meatballs. It’s the broths, too—the ramen broth has some real depth to it, and while the creamy, full-flavored pho broth might be overpowering for some northern-style purists, we greatly enjoyed it and the way it cradled and flavored the meaty toppings we sprinkled amid our noodles.
A big, fully laden bowl of soup will run you about $16. Taking into account the quality of ingredients and the size of that bowl (it can feed two people as a light meal), it’s not a bad value at all.
THE DISH: The noodle bar at Kowalski’s, $8 a pound
THE PLACE: Kowalski’s, 2440 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
THE REASON: It offers a wide array of choices and both the broths and the proteins are done with surprising finesse.