With a lot of anticipation but not a lot of fanfare, Jenni's Noodle House opened their doors last Friday on 20th at Oxford. Immediately they were flooded with families and news came across the Mommy Mafia wire that it was good, affordable and family friendly. My only experience with Jenni's was before kids and even before the Heights, when I once wore a feather boa and ate Pho at the Montrose location. I had only just discovered Jenni's when I headed to the Heights and my experience was limited to that one trip. Still, I was excited for this location to open and bring a little flair to 20th. I love that we are seeing development along that busy street. It's ripe and ready for it. And this casual kind of restaurant is a great use for an old Mrs Baird's store front.
"Noodles rule" at Jenni's on 20th. Eat in or take out.
We went early on Sunday night, arriving just before 5:30 in hopes of getting our family (+ my mom, in from out of town) fed and keeping an early bath and bed time. There were a couple other families with small children and a couple tables of adults, sharing BYOB wine. We were greeted at the door by Jenni's husband, Scott, who I recognized from their Facebook page. He showed us where there were a couple larger tables in the back and left us menus, including a "visual menu" with pictures of all the different dishes. Scott also let us know that there was a section on the back of $5 smaller portions for kids, named after their own son Logan. We sat to read our menus and proceeded to the counter to order.
The menu is fun, with quirky names for some Vietnamese favorites and a lot of dishes based on familiar items but with a twist... or two. We started with Suhn Spring rolls, which are your basic Vietnamese cold rolls: shrimp, vermicelli, lettuce, mint all wrapped up in rice paper. They were pre-wrapped and came to the table quickly, served with some peanut sauce. They were basic, nothing more and nothing less. My husband wanted the Vietnamese egg rolls but I wasn't in the mood for anything fried. Luckily, they have a great concept at Jenni's- "teaser" portions. For $6 you can get the full order of 5 rolls or for $3 you can get "Teaser rolls" which is an order of 2. This is a genius concept in my mind. I can't wait to have this smaller portion with some Pho for lunch one day soon. It also obviously allows for an individual to get an appetizer even when no one else wants the same thing.
"Teaser" portion of Vietnamese Egg Rolls, with lettuce, mint and veggies. Husband says they were "very good." I think the small portion size is brilliant.
There is also a teaser portion for the dumplings. However, the minute my older son heard the word, we knew we would be getting a full order. In fact, we got 2 full orders- one veggie and one pork. The dumplings arrived at the table quickly, served in a bowl with the ponzu sauce in the bottom. I loved this, since I like to drown my dumplings in ponzu anyway. The dumplings were large and dense but not chewy or gummy. Veggie was really only mushroom but I don't even like mushrooms and I ate 2 of these. There is something about the texture of a good dumpling that makes me think you could fill it with cat food and shoe leather and I would still eat it.
Steamed pork dumplings. A good 3-4 inches across, these large dumplings make a hearty appetizer which could even suit some diners as a small meal.
The "veggie" dumplings were all mushroom but still (for a mushroom hater like me) tasty.
For dinner, my mother ordered Stir Me Crazy with chicken. Nice, wide noodles. Not too sticky. Bamboo shoots and a few snow peas with a very light sauce. She thought it was a little bland. I tried it and wouldn't say "bland" but it was more of a light peanut flavor and not that tangy/salty soy I think she was expecting. I told her to just dump the rest of the sauce from the dumplings in, which she did. Whatever she said about it, the bowl was empty at the end and that is testimony in and of itself.
I got the Lemongrass Beef Vermicelli bowl. At $8, I was expecting a small dish but it was the same size as a vermicelli bowl at most other Vietnamese place I've eaten in town. Like the names on the menu, the dish was what you expect in form- thinly sliced meat, veggies, noodles, fish sauce- but with a little something extra. This dish has grilled onions. I'll be honest: at first they thru me off. It was just a weird, kind of steaky taste that seemed to me to be entirely foreign to all the vermicelli I have ever eaten in my life. Honestly, I can see some people not liking this extra but a few bites in my mouth became more accustomed. The fish sauce had time to penetrate the noodles and onions and it all came together for me. I enjoyed it and would order it again for sure.
My husband loves curry. I do not. I know, I know. Shameful. He ordered the Infernal Chicken Curry and had the whole plate to himself. Good thing I didn't want any because he was in love with this dish. He described it as "very spicy but not over powering" and said that the curry was a light broth, guessing it was made that way by not going heavy on the coconut milk. I just now asked him for any additional comments and all he could add was a "very, very good."
Jenni's prides itself on being family friendly and I think it might be the only Vietnamese/Asian restaurant I've ever been to with a kids menu. Logan's $5 menu had a good selection with over 10 available dishes in kid portions. I can appreciate that Jenni and Scott are also trying to appeal to kids' palates but I was a little disappointed that veggies did not figure more prominently in to the kids' dishes. We ordered the Uptown Lauren for the kids to split, knowing they would have already gorged themselves on dumplings. It was the only dish on the $5 menu with multiple vegetables. It was supposed to have broccoli, snow peas and carrots but when it came to the table the carrots were missing. This is important because carrots and broccoli are the only two veggies I can easily get my 3 year old to eat. He actually likes broccoli but he eats carrots because I have lead him to believe that they help him to see rocketships. I could have asked for the carrots, I know. I am 100% sure they would accommodate whatever request. I guess my larger point is that it was a bummer that only one kiddo dish had veg. There was also very little sauce. The kids didn't mind the plainish noodles but I know they would have enjoyed more flavor as well and I really try to keep them away from "plain" lest they start to expect me to make them a seasoned down or alternate version of dinner at home ("I am not a short order cook," I will explain). Still, for $5 it was a generous but not ridiculous portion and they were happy. However, with most adult entrees in the $8-11 range, I might just get them an adult dish to split next time (minus 2 orders of dumplings) in hopes of more veg...
In addition to kid friendly food, Big Boy was given another family focused perk: a chopstick helper. He wasn't the most proficient but he did manage to eat his entire bowl of food with the chopsticks. We all start somewhere, right? Scott returned to check on Big Boy's status and when he saw that he was making his way through the bowl at a good pace, he rewarded both kids with a Jenni's sticker and temporary tattoos.
A chopstick helper for the Big Boy made him feel super cool and very grown up. Too bad they didn't bring one for my mom...
After we ate, we let the boys play outside for a few minutes in the giant concrete tube. Big Boy was excited to scream and hear his echo and of course Wee One likes to do whatever big brother does, so for a good 10 minutes there was a whole lotta high pitched squeeling going on in that pipe. They made their creative contribution with sidewalk chalk and we headed out. We had been there about an hour and the crowd had just about tripled in that time. There were only a couple empty tables left at 6:30. This is one of the benefits of small children who eat early- we always get a table. As soon as we got in the car, Big Boy wanted his sticker and tattoo but I realized I had left them behind on the table. He was pretty upset but I promised we would be back soon and he could get another. And we will.