Pho delights at Vietnamese spot
It’s winter in South Florida, which means it is not quite cold enough to break out the mittens and scarves, but certainly the right time to slurp down a steaming bowl of soup.
You’ll hear plenty of slurping at Brandon Asian Cuisine in Davie as patrons lap up all manner of soul-sustaining goodness. However, this offshoot of the popular Pho Brandon in Sunrise is not just about pho (pronounced “fuh”), the Vietnamese beef noodle soup that’s a breakfast staple in Saigon.
Brandon Asian Cuisine, which took over a corner spot in the Foodtown strip mall on Stirling Road last year, aims to be more than a soup joint. The room is more refined and comfortable than the no-frills original, with a dozen wood-trimmed booths along the windows and larger tables, along with a private karaoke room, in the back. The place is often filled with multigenerational Asian families, always a good sign. Hong Nguyen runs the kitchen here. Husband and co-owner David Nguyen still oversees the Sunrise location.
The Foodtown plaza already boasts the solid Pho 79 and the Banh Mi Cafe. Brandon Asian has higher aspirations. There are traditional rice plates and vermicelli bowls, but no banh mi sandwiches. (The lease stipulates they could only serve one title item already featured in the plaza. Wisely they stuck with the soup.) The menu here casts a wide net, boasting frog legs, goat, quail and whole fish. There are hot pots for those who like DIY cooking, and Chinese and Thai-influenced dishes.
You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t inhale at least a small batch of Brandon’s pho ($7.95 small, $9.95 large) — no matter the time of day or year. 6417 Stirling Road, Davie 954-908-5153 Cuisine: Asian/Vietnamese Cost: Inexpensive/moderate Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday Reservations: Accepted Credit cards: All major Bar: Limited beer selection Sound level: Conversational Outside smoking: No outdoor seating For kids: Highchairs, kids’ menu Wheelchair accessible: Yes Parking: Free This is a wondrous beef broth, reduced from a compost of bones, meat, marrow, fat and aromatics, 19 ingredients simmered for 20 hours. Before squirting in Sriracha sauce or chili paste, allow yourself the simple pleasure of this complex liquid. Then, go to town on a bowl teeming with rice noodles, meats, onions and the accompa- nying garnishments, a towering plate of bean sprouts, basil, culantro, jalapeno and lime.
I’ve been a soup nut all my life, ever since my Grandma Mary ladled her fluffy matzo balls and golden chicken soup into my childhood in Brooklyn. (And for those of you wondering why your metro news columnist is writing a restaurant review, I’m happy to report I’m not giving up my day job, but I’ll be doing this as a side dish. What can I say? I like to eat.) My grandmother made Jewish penicillin. Pho is Vietnamese penicillin, good for curing everything from hangovers to heartache. Besides an assortment of meats that includes thinly sliced eye round, fatty brisket, tendon and tripe, Brandon also serves versions with grilled beef or pork. Our table had the grilled beef. The tender, charred meat suffused the broth with a sweeter, teriyaki-like edge.
We also tried hu tieu ga ($8.95), a white-meat chicken noodle soup with a base made from chicken and pork. It’s more delicate and subtle than the beef broth.
Portions are generous. Most dishes can easily be shared by two or three people. Spring rolls ($4.25) are plump, soft, rice-paper wraps stuffed with bean sprouts, vermicelli noodles, mint leaves and thin, cross-cut slices of shrimp and pork loin. The peanut dipping sauce was a bit thin, but flavorful.
Those shrimp and pork slices made appearances in several appetizers, including crepes ($8.50) and a lotus root salad ($10.95). The puffy fried crepe was crisp, but marred by a mound of sprouts and herbs that were too much. Lotus root, a crunchy stem with a sweet bite, made for a refreshing change of pace. Both were served with “special house sauce,” a tart, redpepper-flecked concoction with a fish sauce base.
Pasta rolls ($6.95) were an odd, deconstructed plate: chewy hunks of steamed rice flour, cucumbers, sprouts, mint and Asian ham — flavorless, fatty, processed slices that were a cross between pate and bologna, and reminiscent of something I last ate in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Served with that special sauce, the dish was weirdly satisfying.
Some familiar items spanned the Asian landscape. Salt-andpepper shrimp ($11.95), prepared with or without shells (we got without), were crisp, lightly battered and piled over lettuce and an unrestrained amount of scallions. The combination fried rice ($10.95) was better than the stuff you’ll get from your local Chinese takeout, thanks to sticky rice that gave the dish richness and heft.
Fried frog legs in butter ($11.95), a nod to Vietnam’s French colonial era, were a bit greasy at plate’s bottom, but the sweet meat near the spindly bones compensated. And yes, it tasted like chicken.
The Thai-style hot pot ($34.95), a spicy cauldron placed atop a portable stove, rocked. When the red-tinted liquid starts bubbling, you use little mesh baskets to cook the accompanying plate of raw seafood, meat and vegetables. The frozen scallops were off-putting. The rest (shrimp, squid, tilapia and eye round) was fine, along with heaping mounds of greens and vermicelli noodles. Getting everything cooked and assembled into bowls felt like work.
But the result was pure pleasure: a piquant, peppery, sour broth filled with goodies and spiked with lemongrass that hit all the right umami notes.
Service was friendly, although stretched when there was a crowd. Only two servers were working on a recent busy weekend night. The restaurant opens early (11 a.m.) and closes late, midnight weekdays and 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The beer selection is hit-or-miss. One time, they were out of imports. The next visit, they didn’t have domestics.
There wasn’t much in the way of dessert, a fried banana with ice cream ($5.95) and some fruit smoothies. When I tried to order the banana on a lunch visit, the waiter looked baffled, checked with the kitchen and said, “Sorry, we only do that for large groups.”
That’s OK. Brandon hit the sweet spot with that pho.
In a nod to Vietnam’s French colonial era, Brandon Asian Cuisine serves fried frog legs in butter.
You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try the pho at Brandon Asian Cuisine.