Back in 2011, Brian Armour and Eman Loubier of Dante's Kitchen started Noodle & Pie as a popup serving ramen bowls and slices of pie in Coulis, a breakfast and lunch cafe by Touro Hospital on Prytania Street. The phenomenal response to the concept and execution to the popup led the two to open a permanent space Uptown on Magazine and State in early August 2013, serving creative takes on ramen bowls, Asian-inspired small plates, and all-American slices of pie.
Noodle & Pie co-owner and head chef Brian Armour reflects on the first year in business for a restaurant that was really only started up for fun in the first place, but became a much more important part of the emerging world cuisine landscape of the city.
So, how has the last year gone?
It's been really good. There's definitely a learning curve, needing to make adjustments in the first year, pricewise, you know, and adjusting to what our customers are expecting of us.
How did the transition from popup to brick and mortar restaurant happen for you?
Well, the idea for the popup came from when it was a really slow time at Dante's and we decided that we wanted to play around with the idea of ramen bowls, which was just starting to grow roots in the rest of the country as a food trend. We had a notion of what we wanted to do, and we were able to make it happen at Coulis for a little while, till things started getting busy again at Dante's. But over time, we started talking about the possibility of doing this as a permanent thing, and here we are today.
It was crazy, though. [The popup] was a lot of fun, till it wasn't.
What's been the biggest change/adjustment you've needed to make since opening?
I think the biggest thing is feeling out your audience and customer base and figuring out what they want and need. At the start, we were pretty hardcore with crazy ingredients and techniques, offering stuff you wouldn't find anywhere else, but over time we realized that we needed to expand from that. We are still staying true to ourselves and our food, but we are also working hard to make sure that people are enjoying their experience here.
Being open for lunch is another thing. There's been a great response, and we're still working out what the people in our neighborhood need from a local lunch place so we can provide that. Word's getting out about it, it's making us some money, so that's good.
What's your favorite ramen bowl?
We had a daily special a whole back that I loved - we called it a double soup because it had both fish stock and this really rich pork broth in it, along with pulled pork, raw red onions, and a raw egg yolk. It was really tasty. Right now we have our crab and pork broth bowl on, along with our house bowl which is chicken broth with a little bit of fish broth added. We're also offering a summer bowl, which is like a tart, cabbage based noodle bowl. It was cool how when the cabbage was cooked down for this, it sort of lost its usual identity and imparted this beautiful sweet vegetable flavor.
What's your favorite pie on the menu?
I really like the shoofly pie. It's really good - it has the body of a pecan pie without the nuts with this rich, chewy filling. The crust is great too, it's got pork fat to make a tender crunchy crust, and on top is a cayenne spiced, sweet and spicy crumble.
Your beverage program is also very unique. How did that come about?
Well, for our beer, we tried to fit the selections in with the story of what we're doing as well as complementing the food - having PBR as a nod to being a little kitchy, and Japanese beers like Asahi and Hitachino to pair with the flavors. Our sake is great too - we do a lot of sake cocktails, but I think it should be drunk as is. But people like that kind of thing, so we offer that creative take.
For our shrubs [a vinegar based flavored syrup added to soda water], we just wanted to find something tart and refreshing, but unique, which fits into our big picture. We're able to use seasonal fruit, and give that element of a cocktail while pleasing all age groups. Kids love the shrubs, actually. We've got a fig and apple shrub on now that's just killer.