Noodles serves up world favorites

A good idea, inexpensive and well done

Eats: dining reviews, Table Talk

January 01, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

You probably never heard of Aaron Kennedy, but I'm convinced the man's a genius.

He came up with the idea for the Noodles and Company restaurant chain, and, like most brilliant ideas, it seems so simple.

He started with a food that is cheap and popular (noodles) and used it as a base for a globally inspired menu. He then had the good sense to add lots of vegetables to most dishes, and to keep all entrees less than $6.

The menu is short, with only 12 noodle dishes, two soups and a few salads, but it includes renditions of favorites from around the world, such as Japanese pan noodles, pad Thai, Wisconsin macaroni and cheese and even plain buttered noodles with parmesan cheese. Many of the entrees are vegetarian.

For a small extra charge, chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu, cheese or more veggies can be added to any of the entrees.

The Noodles and Company chain started in Boulder, Colo., in 1995, and recently made its way to Maryland with locations in College Park, Gaithersburg and Pikesville. More Noodles are expected to open in Columbia, Rockville and Bel Air.

I took my family to the Pikesville location on a recent very cold Sunday night, and the place was packed, mostly with gray-haired couples or families with young children.

That makes sense, since Noodles and Company is more a fast-food restaurant than a romantic dining destination. Customers order at the counter, then wait for the food to be brought to them. Special requests, such as leaving out certain ingredients, are not a problem.

Though the restaurant is clean and pleasant, with the blond wood and black metal accents that have become so popular, the layout is awkward, with small tables positioned in a row along a narrow corridor.

While my husband waited in line, I hovered over the tables, waiting for one to become available. We found a spot near the self-serve drinks and condiments.

It was crowded, especially since we had no place to put our coats, but in no time at all, our food arrived, and all was forgiven. True, the food is not particularly complex, but Noodles and Company dishes up pasta-based comfort that has real flavor.

I especially liked the generous hand with the vegetables in every dish. Some of the veggies were raw and some were cooked, but all were plentiful.

The Chinese chop salad was crunchy and fresh, with romaine lettuce, cabbage, carrots, red peppers and a few fried wonton noodles, topped with black sesame seeds and a nice sweet-tart sesame dressing.

Like the noodle dishes, it arrived in attractive plain-white ceramic bowls, and it was the right portion size, just large enough to satisfy.

I lapped up every bite of my coconut curry, a mix of noodles and vegetables with an intriguing balance of sweet and heat. The thin noodles were paired with just-tender broccoli, carrots and mushrooms, then topped with fresh cucumber and tomato bits, bean sprouts and sprigs of cilantro.

Japanese pan noodles featured thick strands of pasta stir-fried with broccoli, carrots and mushrooms to create a smoky, chewy treat with a welcome kick of spice. A milder choice was the pesto cavatappi, curly noodles topped with a creamy and unassertive pesto sauce.

Desserts were nothing more than plastic-wrapped cookies. We skipped those.

Noodles and Company isn't fancy, but it serves inexpensive, interesting food. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about Aaron Kennedy.

Noodles and Company

Where: 3755 Old Court Road, Pikesville

Call: 410-580-5886

Open: Lunch and dinner daily

Appetizers: $2.25-$4.95; entrees $2.70-$5.95

Credit cards: MC, V

Food: ***

Service: **

Atmosphere: **

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