I don’t even know where to begin for this post on Prairie Noodle Shop. If you had a chance to attend any of their four pop-up events over the past two years or follow my recaps, Prairie Noodle Shop (or PNooSh as I’ve come to know it as) is no stranger to you. For those of you coming to the newly opened local shop with a fresh set of eyes though, here’s what you need to know: Prairie Noodle Shop is making ramen, the Alberta way. Using high quality ingredients and locally sourced proteins, their noodle bowls present flavours unique to the prairies. Ramen is home, indeed.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Ramen is more than just a “glorified bowl of instant noodles”. First, there’s the broth: open to being an assari (or light) soup or kotteri (or rich) style, the tonkotsu (or pork bone broth) being the most recognized. Then there’s the taré (think seasoning packet in your Ichiban): shoyu- (or soy sauce), shio- (or salt), or miso- (fermented soy bean paste) based. To think, these are just the most popular styles of ramen in the Western half of the world. Like all other culinary cultures, each region in its homeland of Japan has their own style of broth. Then come the noodles! Wheat-based, alkaline noodles, that should have the perfect bite, can be done in a variety of thicknesses (usually dependent on how thick the broth is) and further categorized into straight or wavy. Don’t get me started about toppings: pork belly, pork shoulder, chicken, marinated soft-boiled egg? Bamboo shoots, beansprouts, corn, mushrooms and nori. The combinations are endless and when put together right, it’s an an umami-filled bowl that is honestly the closest thing to heaven. I love ramen, if you can’t tell. /end overly simplified explanation of why ramen is my favourite in the world.
Prairie Noodle Shop’s grand opening last Tuesday caused quite the ruckus on 124th street. With line-ups out the door and wait times pushing over an hour for the dinner rush throughout the week, Edmonton is most definitely ready for ramen! About time we slurp up the good stuff.
Interior designs by Be Something make the typical ramen shop layout really stand out: bright red concrete flooring, a feature woodwork wall of farm animals in the prairie setting (complete with cowhide!), eclectic styles of bar stools at the 600-year old B.C wood counter in front of the open kitchens, and a touch of industrial lighting to brighten up the otherwise darkened underground space. Love! I also enjoy the fact that their blackboard features their local sources for the day!
Staying true to their beloved pop-up recipes created and consulted by Chef Stephen Baidacoff and Chef Wendy Mah, Prairie Noodle Shop’s head chef, Jason Oliver is cranking out four ramen bowls: “Prairie Pork”, “Roasted Barley Chicken”, a vegetarian “Smoked Gouda Miso”, and a spicy “Meat & Potatoes”. Throw in some of his fantastic appetizers (the “Molasses Corn Bread” is definitely a must-try dish!) and desserts, the menu is the perfect size for the ramen-centric shop. Say hi to him if you’re seated at the bar!
Since opening, I’ve had a chance to visit the shop twice, both during the lunch hours. Joe and I tried to avoid the Wednesday lunch crowd by showing up at 11:40am. Unfortunately, everybody else had the same idea and our wait time for a table took about a half hour. Shortly after we were seated by co-owner and general manager, Terry, other tables began to empty (noticeable larger groups of people), which sped up the wait time for those behind us considerably. Prairie Noodle Shop does not take reservations so time your lunch and dinner dates accordingly!
Prairie Noodle Shop had sold out all of their pork products the grand opening night before, leaving us with only three options to order. Joe ordered the “Roasted Barley Chicken” and slurped up his entire bowl. The only difference noticeable compared to the pop-up bowl was the use of a yakitori-style wing rather than a fried wing, although still delicious in my books. Joe had a hard time eating the gigantic wing but I think it’s just one of those items where you just need to really forgo the chopsticks/forks and just use your fingers! His broth was cleaner than a lot of the ramen broths we’ve tried elsewhere, with great chicken and roasted barley flavours pulling through. I did notice a more onion-predominant flavour profile than the sneak peek bowls I’ve tried but not sure if that’s coming from the pickled pearl onions or the broth itself. We were told that the kitchens were still tweaking their broths for the week to accommodate the higher than expected demand. Soft opening comments had given them feedback of being on the blander side, a crime in the ramen world. Joe’s broth was well seasoned for this visit! As usual, the noodles are handmade by their “secret old Chinese lady”, a softer bite than what I previously remembered but still enjoyable.
I ordered the “Meat & Potatoes”, a play on the famous dipping tsukemen style. I’ve read that once you’ve tried a dipping noodle bowl, you’re now one of two teams: traditional ramen or tsukemen. I think I have a slight bias to tsukemen, one of my all time favourite meals of my life a bowl of umami-packed tsukemen in Tokyo. Again, Prairie Noodle Shop is bringing the ramen home, using potatoes as the main ingredient in the “broth” and an addictively spicy beef ragu as the main topping. I really could eat this bowl every day.
The next day, I had the pleasure of round two with my friend Jody. It sure is handy to have a friend who works in the area! We ended up going at 1pm for Thursday lunch, avoiding the prime time traffic and nabbing a table within minutes. Seated at the communal table, it can be a bit of a squeeze although getting to know your neighbours isn’t a bad thing at all!
Jody ordered the “Prairie Pork Buns” to start, and unbeknownst to me, we apparently had a choice between pork shoulder and pork belly! I didn’t find this out until our tablemates beside us pointed out that their dish looked different than ours! Good to know. Either way, the trio of Taiwan-style steamed buns is served with a pear, lime and ginger garnish, with pickled vegetables, or fresh vegetables. Three buns for $10 is a steal of a deal, my favourite being the pickled vegetables!
Jody was in the mood for an adventure and chose the “Smoked Gouda Miso” and added a side of pork shoulder to throw the concept of a vegetarian bowl of ramen away. I commend Prairie Noodle Shop for having that option on the menu, an uncommon concept in the ramen world. Compared to the pop-up bowls, the Sylvan Star Smoked Gouda was noticeably mellow, more rounded out by the addition of mozzarella. On the one hand, I miss the stronger gouda flavour, but on the other, I can understand on making the bowl more palatable from start to finish. To note, a paste of garlic is on the side of the bowl to add in as you please. Both our server and myself forgot to tell Jody that… whoops! Good thing she likes garlic!
“Prairie Pork” was back in stock (oh thank goodness!) and I’m all for wanting something I might not be able to have later on in the week! Accounting for over 75% of their orders, there’s a reason why this bowl is the Prairie Noodle Shop bowl. What’s not to love? Roasted belly, smoked pulled shoulder, and a crispy pork rind to use up as much of the pig as possible, what’s not to love? Oh. It’s a pork party. Love the smoky flavours and the richer pork broth (compared to the chicken). I thought the “Roasted Barley Chicken” and “Meat & Potatoes” were my top two bowls! Now I’m not so sure.
Oh my goodness, how can I forget about the Umeboshi Egg? It’s Prairie Noodle Shop’s iconic topping to be sure, a pickled plum marinated soft-boiled egg to cut through the fat of the broth. This time around, the eggs are looking more brown (compared to the slight pinkish hue they had at the pop-ups) and noticeably more soy-flavour predominant than umeboshi. I personally loved the pickled flavour as I think that’s what sets Prairie Noodle Shop’s egg apart from anybody else in the city. #TeamUmeboshi!
I could go on forever about Prairie Noodle Shop, I really could. It’s been a lot of fun following them from their first pop-up all the way to their brick and mortar. I’m so happy that Edmonton has a new ramen shop and a seemingly popular and welcomed one at that! I’ll be frank with any “critique” that I have, because that’s not the reason why I write! As with any new restaurant, service and consistency of the bowls will always be concern numero uno. Both of my lunches were just a touch past the one hour mark (from entrance to exit), which could complicate those with a tight schedule. I think once the kitchen settles into their new home and speed of things, turnover should be faster. Staff training to explain little nuances (such as choice of pork with the buns, garlic purée with the miso ramen bowl, and even explaining the tsukemen-style “Meat & Potatoes” would have been appreciated as new diners) and better communication between the kitchen and the front would be beneficial as well as there were a few times where I noticed ramen bowls sitting in the pass for a touch too long. I’ve heard a few rumblings about bland broths during their soft opening but so far I haven’t hit a bad batch. Overall though, both Joe and Jody were impressed with their respective bowls and I have no doubts that I’ll be a frequent diner. Need a ramen partner? Call me.
Congratulations to owners Terry, Arden, Ryan, Jeff, and Craig on opening their long-awaited concept! I will always be a Prairie Noodle Shop fangirl. Big thumbs up to Chef Jason Oliver and his team for keeping up with the high demand (occurrences of sell-out bowls should be less once they settle in the next couple of weeks!) and looking forward to my next visit!Prairie Noodle Shop
10350 124 St
Disclosure: I am not financially affiliated with Prairie Noodle Shop in any way. I just love ramen. Good ramen.