Noodle & Pie
741 State St., New Orleans
THREE STARS (out of four)
The name accurately describes the basic premise of this unusual restaurant. Noodles are of the Japanese ramen variety, though the iteration here goes way, way beyond the basic cup-o-noodles idea many still associate with ramen. And pie? That’s good old-fashioned, hand-made sweet pies, though these are rendered in more creative ways too.
As befits the format, Noodle & Pie feels cool, casual and a little funky, with large doors that open to the sidewalk (in appropriate weather), a lacquered blue floor against a blood orange interior and a horseshoe-shaped bar for dining or just a drink.
The staff knows the menu well and can make good recommendations, which is important considering how unfamiliar a lot of this can be. Ordering here isn’t as simple as just getting your old favorite dish. The kitchen turns these out reasonably fast.
While ramen noodle soups are the primary entrée, Noodle & Pie has a long list of pan-Asian dishes, some traditional, some creative hybrids. It’s fun to start with a few of these, and you can easily build your entire meal by sharing a few of them. Some of this is pretty straightforward – like shrimp croquettes (called korokke) or fried Brussels sprouts. But little twists and interesting Japanese flavors await at every turn, like the fish broiled with miso and nori (seaweed) and the okonomiyaki fries, which are ultra-crisp fries topped with garlic mayo, green onions and thin-shaved flakes of bonito, a salty, pungent, umami-inducing garnish. Finely-sliced disks of octopus under cucumber and sweet pepper salad, spicy, Thai-style papaya salad, Chinese-style spare ribs, even bone marrow to slather on green onion pancakes…the interesting options go on and on.
Ramen is the main act, but (as mentioned above) forget whatever you might have learned in college about those cheap noodle packs bearing the same name. Ramen is a major obsession in Japan and the renditions cooked up here are deeply and robustly flavored. Pork shoulder and chicken broth are the basis for the “house bowl,” with a mix of bitter greens and mushrooms. Perhaps the most complex starts with a crab broth and fatty hunks of pork belly, with the spice of chile peppers and the sweetness of char-grilled corn. While the ingredients sound different, the end result is a lot like comfort food, a noodle soup by another name. They are hearty and filling but sit light on the stomach. You won’t feel weighed down afterward.
Hopefully, you’ve saved room for dessert, because while they make up just a small part of the menu the pies are indispensible finales. They are not Asian themed like the rest of the program here, but they aren’t always conventional either. There’s a creamy, old fashioned peanut butter pie, and a lemon chess pie, but then sometimes also oatmeal and raisin or salted caramel and chocolate.
The drinks list revolves around beer and wine, including sake, but any limits that might put on the selection disappears with the drink specials. Juices mixed with sake or sangrias are creative and refreshing options.
Noodle & Pie gives a good bang for the buck. Most of the small plates are $7 or $8 (or $13 and $15 for double portions). Soups are $10 to $15. A good meal should be about $25-$30 per person.
Offbeat and unusual, Noodle & Pie is still an easy place to love. The flavors are interesting, the prices are low, the setting is cool and at the end of it all you can get a slice of pie.