CRANE RAMEN is undoubtedly the most anticipated new Gainesville restaurant in quite some time. This ramen shop has taken their time to perfect their product before opening. Starting with the pop-up they did months ago, to a chef change, and countless test runs with both food and staff, they have taken great care to come out swinging. On Monday, December 1st, the restaurant nestled between The Bull and Paramount Grill in downtown Gainesville will officially open its doors to the public. As I’ve mentioned before, for the uninitiated, this is not your 25 cent bag of salty sadness from Walmart. This is real Japanese ramen, painstakingly prepared and enjoyed by every working class person in Japan, and more recently made famous in the U.S. by guys like David Chang and Ivan Orkin.
The minute you walk into the beautiful dining room, you no longer feel like you’re in Gainesville. You’ve been taken away to a trendy Manhattan ramen shop. The owners spared no expense in building one of the nicest dining rooms in town. Everything from the beautiful wood bar that overlooks the busy open kitchen, to the banners displaying the Crane logo that hang throughout the room, they’ve done a great job of modernizing the feel of a traditional Japanese ramen house. While the space is relatively small, it’s clean, bright, and every bit the busy churn-‘em-out style you’d find in a big city ramen shop.
Anyone who knows me knows it’s no secret that I love ramen. Prior to Crane, I could get my fix at Dragonfly, but to get the real good stuff, I drove down to Orlando to eat at Sapporo Ramen. Suffice to say that’s no longer necessary. The menu at Crane is simple, and I like simple. There are a grand total of nine items on the menu, five types of ramen (all $12 except the Tonkotsu for $13), and four Otsumami dishes (appetizers meant to be eaten while drinking) that range from $6 to $7. That’s it, and it’s really all you need.
Shio (salt based broth), Shoyu (soy sauce based broth), Tonkotsu (pork based broth), and Miso (obvious) are all represented. The Shio, Shoyu, and Tonkotsu come with a soft boiled egg and pork belly or pork shoulder. The Miso comes with vegetables instead, and there is a chicken variation of the Shoyu. Each bowl is also garnished with a varying combo of Negi (green onions), Nori (dried seaweed), and Menma (bamboo shoots). I highly recommend the Tonkotsu (the broth is made by simmering pork bones for hours) or the Shoyu. You can’t really go wrong though, as every single bowl I tasted was phenomenal, and was absolutely perfect in the cold weather.
On the Otsumami side, I would highly recommend the Kimchee Brussels ($7), a gorgeous dish of sautéed Brussel sprouts with garlic mushrooms and lardons (pork fat) on a kimchee-based sauce and topped with micro-greens. This very David Chang-inspired dish is of the best appetizers I’ve had in town. The Roasted Mushroom Salad ($6), a bed of locally sourced greens tossed in a mushroom vinaigrette and roasted mushrooms is a good choice as well. There’s also poached greens ($6) that are root veggie greens topped with a sunomono sauce (cucumbers) and katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes) and of course, the classic pork gyoza ($6) served with a ponzu dipping sauce. To accompany these dishes, Crane will also feature a full service bar that includes sakes and Japanese whiskeys.
I mentioned earlier that Crane’s menu is small, and because of its size, they are able to take extra care in preparing each dish with high quality ingredients. All their broths are made from scratch, including the slow simmering Tonkotsu broth that takes hours upon hours to reach its flavorful, rich, almost gelatinous texture. Each gyoza is also handmade from scratch, and they are the only restaurant in town to do this. The noodles are supplied by Sun Noodle, the same company that supplies 9 of the New York Times’ Top 10 ramen bars in New York City, including the renowned Ivan Ramen. The attention to detail most definitely did not stop with the dining room, you can see it in the food, and in the amount of time put into training the staff.
To put it simply, Crane Ramen is a game changer. The team there is definitely bringing their A game, but be prepared to wait for a while to get seated for the first few weeks of opening. It’s long overdue that Gainesville gets its very own ramen house, so it’ll be a packed house for a while starting December 1st. If you do go, I would recommend sitting at the bar so you can watch the kitchen work its magic using traditional Japanese methods (you try doing all that cooking with chopsticks!). This is without a doubt, my pick for the best new restaurant of 2014. You’ll find me in there often with two bowls of ramen in front of me.
(Crane Ramen is located at 16 SW 1st Avenue, and will be opening its doors on December 1st. Tentative business hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 AM to 3 PM then 5 PM to 11 PM. Late night hours on Friday and Saturday only until 1 AM.)