I love ramen. Ramen is life. No, not the instant ramen packets that most Americans know. But real ramen, the noodle soup from Japan that has been elevated into culinary sainthood. I love ramen so much so that I eat it on a regular basis, and whenever I travel, it’s almost become a personal tradition for me to seek out the best ramen in whatever town I’m in. That said, when Electric Ramen announced they were opening, I was ecstatic to have another ramen option in town. The restaurant occupies the former “The Jones Eastside” location at 401 NE 23rd Avenue, and any time an awful space gets a makeover, I have to give props. That said, Electric Ramen has done a great job transforming the place into a small and clean dining room. However…
In the two days since I’ve visited, I’ve gone back and forth on how to approach this. On one hand, the owner has been very gracious and seems to have taken criticism well…but on the other hand, there’s no way around it; the food is awful. I had planned multiple visits, but the entire menu is comprised of three items, and it’s abundantly clear that even after getting out of the soft-opening phase, the restaurant is in dire need of a do-over. Electric Ramen advertises themselves as “craft ramen at uncrafty prices.” What that means is up for interpretation, but it’s clear that what it means to them are two $7.99 ramen options and a steamed bun with pork or tofu for $3.25. It also means counter service, shallow plastic containers instead of bowls, disposable plastic shallow spoons, and Sriracha as the only available additional topping/sauce.
We’ll start with Option #1, the “Ramen with Pork” which is a shoyu (soy sauce) based broth, pork, egg, and scallions. The pork was under seasoned and tough. I was told that the meat itself came from Ward’s Supermarket, but if it started life as good meat, it did not go out the way it deserved. The egg was soft and cooked properly, but looked like it was hastily cut in half with a plastic knife. The broth itself is not made in-house, but rather comes from a pre-mixed base, and let me tell you…its main ingredient is MSG. Option #2 on the menu was the “Vegetarian Ramen” which was a miso based broth, tofu, soft egg, and scallions. Again, the broth was made using a miso mix but with good flavor, though the tofu was very clearly the vacuum sealed stuff you find in Asian markets. It was dry, tasteless, and obviously did not require much effort to prepare.
The noodles themselves were very gummy and coagulated, likely due not loosening them up prior to cooking or the cooking water not being changed out. A problem further exasperated by the shallow plastic containers used to serve the ramen. The shallowness also means a mere ladle full of broth and a serving size equivalent to the kid’s bowl for $7.95 at Crane. Although given the MSG content in the pre-mix broth, it’s probably a good thing there wasn’t more broth.
But perhaps the worst part of the meal was the pork bun, which was inedible to the point of embarrassing. While I finished both bowls of ramen, I could only manage one bite of the bun before discarding it. A couple slices of the same tough pork, drowning in hoisin sauce, topped with a slice of pickled cucumber is wedged between an unsteamed mantou bun for $3.25. The hoisin is so overwhelming, it’s all you end up tasting along with a not-so-soft bun. Now in the owner’s defense, he told me that he would begin steaming the buns after I shared my thoughts with him. But any other changes remain to be seen. And yes, that’s the bun in the photo, and no, I did not make it look like that.
See, the beauty of ramen is in the creativity and the time put into building every layer of flavor. The cooking down of bones for over a day to make the broth, the slow cooking of the meat for hours, the tare that takes weeks to make, and the delicateness in the way that everything from the negi (green onions) are shredded to the way the perfectly cooked soft egg is carefully sliced in half with fishing wire. That’s “craft” ramen, and it’s why chefs who prepare ramen are revered in Japan while gaining traction in the US thanks to guys like David Chang and Ivan Orkin. Adding a soup base to water, throwing some noodles and some misguided pork on it is what college kids do with 50 cents instant ramen in their dorm room. At $7.99 a bowl, it’s entirely possible to make a good product. Sapporo Ramen in Orlando is a fabulous example. This? Not so much. The reason why their ramen is $7.99 is because none of the broth is made in house, the servings are smaller, and there is minimal preparation of ingredients. This is fast food ramen.
But if you do plan on visiting and finding out for yourself, please note they are only open for lunch from 11 AM to 3 PM every day except Sunday. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm still chugging water from all that MSG I consumed.