Sunday, July 22, 2012
VN Pho and Deli
5906 Charlotte Pike
VN Pho and Deli is an unassuming little restaurant tucked away in a nondescript set of stores on Charlotte Pike. And that appears to be exactly what the Luu-Nguyn family is looking for. The big Vietnamese joints are just across the street. VN Pho is going for a homier approach.
You’ll feel that welcome the moment you step into the place. Tham Luu and his son Nam are quick to welcome you and explain some of their favorite items on the menu. You’re unlikely to see mom, Hoa Nguyn, out front. She’s in the kitchen carefully making every dish to order. It’s actually Nam rolling the Goi Cuon spring rolls to order on our visit and for the Veggie Eater that means leaving the pork out. Everyone’s English is excellent and they understand vegetarian needs. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have a lot on the menu for vegetarians, but they’re willing to do what they can. Those spring rolls are sticky, crunchy and fresh. The house made peanut dipping sauce is a real treat. Nam recommends the Vietnamese coffee. With this heat the coffee on ice hits the spot. It’s a strong brew with plenty of sugar syrup and spices of some sort.
The Banh Mi Thit features homemade Vietnamese butter on the soft bun. Pork spread, sausage, veggies and jalapenos round out this spicy, salty and excellent sandwich. Banh Xeo are super-crisp thanks to rice flour. The so-called Vietnamese pancakes are really more like a crispy omelet filled with shrimp and pork. The turmeric gives it a nice flavor. Wrap up pieces of the pancakes in fresh lettuce with a little mint and dipping sauce.
I go all the way on the Pho, which includes steak, meatballs, brisket, tendon and tripe. A conversation reveals that the family gets their meat from Atlanta to make sure they get the Vietnamese-style cuts they want. The steak and brisket are quite tender. The tripe and tendon have a good consistency, not chewy. The fine broth is made each day and they point out that at the end of the day they toss it out. It takes hours to cook a new batch so once they’re out, they’re out.
Veggie Eater: Meat Eater was kind enough to conduct reconnaissance prior to bringing me here to ensure that VN Pho could accommodate my veggieness. This is important because I find the Vietnamese joints in general are not very veggie friendly and frequent language barriers make menu deviations a dicey proposition at best. There is not a single veggie item on the menu, but Nam confirmed they could adjust the Mi Xoa to be a veggie dish. It’s a plate full of thin, lightly fried noodles topped with stir fried onions, greens, cilantro and served with a savory sauce (appeared to be fish sauce free) on the side. As always, the table is full of a variety of fun condiments (Meat Eater discovered he is not a fan of shrimp paste, but this is Nam’s favorite condiment)—I discovered a dried pepper powder which gave the dish a little pop. Nam and his father are literally beaming with pride at the product Ms. Nguyen is producing, as well as they should be. Meats are purchased from a wholesaler in Atlanta as they are not convinced of the quality and freshness of the products in Nashville. Whatever isn’t consumed in a day is tossed out; if they run out of Pho, it’s because they’ve had a good day and that’s ok. Dipping sauces are made on site, not out of a bottle. It’s already developing a loyal following, as evidenced by two guys at the table next to us, one of whom comes in regularly with his wife, but brought his friend on this day to turn him onto this hidden gem. I’ll happily venture back to see what Nam will recommend and what mom will conjure up for a veggie selection next.
Meat Eater: We enjoyed chatting with the Nam and his father. They’ve only been open a few months now, but it sounds like the place is catching on with the Vietnamese community. They’re not new to the restaurant business. The family had a restaurant in West Nashville about 10 years ago. They closed because mom was simply worn out from all of that cooking. Here’s hoping she can pace herself with VN Pho. It’s a nice addition to the Nashville restaurant scene.
I paid $12 with tax and tip on a solo visit and we paid $23 together for a lunch visit.