Photos courtesy of facebook.com/jadeflamesvietnamesegrill
Spoiler alert: this is a review of another West Mobile Asian restaurant. I seriously hate the drive, but I love Asian food so much (particularly Vietnamese) that I had to make my way through three or four zip codes to get to it. It was, however, worth the time and gas spent. I started seeing a buzz about Jade Flames a few weeks ago, so I sent my number-one Asian cuisine spy to check it out. Bánh mì. That’s all he talked about.
The spy and I have put away some Vietnamese sandwiches in our days. If it’s a good sandwich, we aren’t having one each. We go for as many varieties as we can handle, cutting them in two and sharing. With the go-ahead from my nameless covert operative, I thought it was time for Rob to accompany me for some lunch. Also, I was nearly out of gas and was fairly certain old Bobby Boy had a full tank. He only drives three miles a day on average. So we hummed along Cottage Hill Road at breakneck speed to squeeze in a sandwich or three between appointments.
This is out there. Past Schillinger. Past Dawes. It’s darn near in Mississippi, which is OK by me. The best bánh mì I ever had was from Le Bakery in Biloxi. Maybe there is something in the water in that part of the country, but whatever it is — skill, voodoo or just plain good luck — we have a lot of quality Asian food in the oh-eight and beyond.
In a narrow little strip of shops, we found our target. The tiny dining room suggests they do more takeout than anything, but we ordered and found a table next to the other six or 10 patrons making up the lunch crowd.
Rob wasn’t enthused about the “cup of shame” we were handed for our water, but I talked him down. They had the good ice, so that made up for some of it. We began with Vietnamese egg rolls ($4.88), the tightly rolled, thumb-width variety with the sweet sauce. This set of four got us off to a very decent start.
We were certain to get almost every bánh mì, but after reading the preparation, Rob requested that all mayonnaise be served on the side. He drove, so what was I to do? A minor offense compared to our aforementioned cups of shame, but we pushed through. The first one we tried was the ribeye steak bánh mì ($7.95). The pickled carrot and cucumber were complementary to the pâté, and the mayonnaise squelched the flames on the off chance you took in a raw jalapeño every few bites. Bánh mì or not, this is a spectacular version of any steak sandwich.
I was told the Jade sandwich ($7.95) was kind of like a steamed pork sandwich. With all of the same accouterments of our first sandwich, the establishment’s namesake sammy was more than what I was told. There were different types of pork, tender and juicy, which were made better by the mayonnaise our dear Rob was missing.
The chicken bánh mì ($6.95) really stood up to its livestock counterparts. All of these meats were just so juicy and tender, even the leftovers could be cut with a fork. These are the only sandwiches I know of that don’t require cheese.
I noticed they also serve vermicelli. I couldn’t pass it up. The pork noodle ($8.95) was, as expected, very good. I can only assume this is the pork they serve on their pork bánh mì, but whatever the case, it’s delicious. I usually get pork and shrimp with my Vietnamese noodles, but I didn’t miss the shrimp enough to complain. Served on a plate rather than a bowl, the noodles came with the usual side of vegetables, herbs and fish sauce. This one is plain, but just plain good.
Jade Flames is smart enough to know you can’t serve Vietnamese food in the U.S. without dabbling in phở. That being said, they don’t have it every day. Those that have been fortunate enough to phở-it-up over there are speaking favorably of the soup, but the best way to plan on it is by checking out the restaurant’s Facebook page. They seem to announce it fairly regularly.
The key to really nailing the bánh mì sandwich lies in the bread. It’s the most important ingredient and often the hardest to come by. I don’t know where they’re getting their bread, but it doesn’t look like there is enough space in this facility to bake at that volume. Whatever they are doing, it seems to be working, so I shouldn’t question it. I’m just fascinated by where bread of this nature comes from. It seems as if there are less preservatives or stabilizers than the kind I’m used to. I wish someone would bake it here!
I don’t think there are many strikes to this place. It’s a fresh and clean facility. The service was good. Maybe phở will eventually find its way to the permanent menu. I’m thankful to my spy for sending me this way, even if it did turn my lunch hour into my lunch two hours. Every time I tell myself I’m reviewing too much West Mobile Asian food, I have to step back and realize that I need to keep doing it as long as they keep making it.
But hey, what’s wrong with Midtown? Let’s get some sandwiches on the other side of I-65! The ribeye was the best. I’d love to have it nearby. The two things you can always count on are that Chick-fil-A is cheaper on Sundays and sandwiches are better with mayonnaise.
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