Review: Bowl of Pho Restaurant
A new restaurant has been causing quite a buzz around Southside these days. Bowl of Pho Vietnamese restaurant opened recently at the corner of Old Baymeadows and Southside Blvd. I had heard good things, so this Saturday I dropped in to give it a try.
First, forget everything you may believe about pho places. The usual scruffy hole-in-the-wall is a bygone memory at Bowl of Pho. The place is clean and inviting with beautiful decor and a pleasing atmosphere. I excused myself to wash my hands before being seated and found an immaculate restroom space that was well-stocked and well cared for.
If you’re unfamiliar with pho (pronounced “fuh”), it is a beef broth soup commonly served with various beef cuts, rice noodles and vegetables. Pho originated in Northern Vietnam during the mid-1880s. The dish was heavily influenced by both Chinese and French cooking. Rice noodles and spices were imported from China and the French made the eating of red meat more popular. It is believed that the word “pho” is derived from “pot au feu,” a French soup. Vietnamese cooks merged the Chinese, French and native influences to make a dish that is uniquely Vietnamese.
I opted to sit outside to avoid the usual grainy cell phone photos. There are two small tables in front of the restaurant that gave me ample opportunity to use my camera without disturbing others. My waitress was waiting at the door for me, showed me to my seat and suggested I try the limeade ($2.50). I happily accepted and perused the menu while I waited.
The limeade was excellent. It was fresh and sweet with a great real lime flavor – not RealLime© flavor.
The limeade is not on the paper take-away menu I picked up. So, if it isn’t on your menu, ask your server about it, as it may be seasonal.
I had heard very good things about the shrimp rolls ($5.95), so I chose those as my appetizer.
These may not be what you would normally expect. They are not a spring or egg roll, but rather a single whole shrimp wrapped in a spring roll wrapper with no other filling. They are crunchy and delicious. I’ve never had anything quite like them and I highly recommend them! Also, don’t skip the little vegetables on the plate. They are sweet-pickled or marinated and are very tasty!
I ordered the “P1″ – Bowl of Pho Special. This is a bowl of pho with all of the possible meats – rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon, tripe and meatball.
I chose the small size ($6.25), but Large ($7.25) and Extra Large ($8.25) are also available – To-Go orders add a fifty cent charge.
My server brought out the condiments I would need for my pho. (These are already on the inside tables.) Hoisin, Sriracha, ground chilis, salt and pepper are included.
Next came the greenery that is served along with pho.
The plate of garnishes includes lime wedges, sliced jalapeno, saw-leaf herb, sweet Thai basil and bean sprouts. Add these herbs and vegetables to the pho according to your taste. Some of these, especially the basil and saw-leaf, are strong flavors, so take a little nip of them before adding them.
Very quickly, my pho was presented. The service was not only helpful and friendly, but also surprisingly speedy! I was stunned by the size of the bowl of pho. This is the “small” size - more than enough for one person!
The heart of all pho is the slow-simmered broth. Bowl of Pho has fulfilled this requirement beautifully. The broth is strongly spiced and contains just enough fat to make it tasty. The aromas of five-spice and beef are powerful and pleasing. The meat was cooked perfectly, the noodles were delicious and the vegetables were crisp and fresh.
I do realize that not everyone is going to be willing to try tripe on their first trip to Bowl of Pho. For the less adventurous, the restaurant offers various combinations of pho meats as well as many other soup and noodle offerings. It’s not necessary to go all out the first time you try pho. There are numerous salad, rice, noodle and dessert dishes as well as one of the most extensive soft drink menus I’ve seen in this area.
This little slice of Vietnam will be a welcome change to the lunch offerings in the Southside/Baymeadows area. Bowl of Pho is yet another example of the worldly cuisine quickly making its way into Jacksonville’s orbit. As our world expands, we owe it to ourselves to step out of our comfort zones and try the delicious menus showing up in every corner of our city. I highly recommend Bowl of Pho for their extensive menu, friendliness, speed of service, price and quality of food.
Bowl of Pho is located at 9902 Old Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, Florida. (The corner of Southside and Baymeadows in the Publix/Lemongrass complex.) You can reach them by phone or order take-out by calling (904) 646-4455.
all photos copyright © 2009 by jodi a. kasten • all rights reserved