After my disastrous Cowbell experience, one of my coworkers told me that I needed to try the burgers at Nom Nom Burger. He has pretty good food taste and I was intrigued by the concept of an Asian-flavored burger/sandwich shop, so I did a little google-ing and was excited to discover that one of the owners of Nom Nom Burger is Tung Ngo, the restaurateur who started one of my favorite Lake Norman-area restaurants, Sushi at the Lake. After letting the anticipation build for a few weeks, BFTB and I finally mustered the motivation to drive over to the Parktowne Village Shopping Center and give Nom Nom Burger a shot. (Unnecessary sidebar- Despite the fact that I have been to the Park Road Shopping Center/Montford area approximately 10,000 times, I have no idea what the neighborhood/area where it's located is actually called. If anybody knows, please enlighten me.)
We visited on a Wednesday night and while the whole shopping center was buzzing with both families and post-work happy hour-ers, Nom Nom Burger itself was relatively quiet. At our request, the hostess led us to an outside table and handed us two menus. On the way into the restaurant, I spotted a sign describing a delicious-sounding special -a grilled chicken breast sandwich topped with grilled pineapple, provolone, pork belly, and cilantro. I am ob-freaking-sessed with grilled fruits, so I barely glanced at the other menu options before settling on the special. BFTB debated ordering The Peeking Duck and the Ahi Burger, but ultimately went with the Banh Mi Sandwich (a grilled chicken breast marinated with lemongrass and curry aioli topped with pork pate, Asian slaw, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and jalapeño). All of Nom Nom Burger's sandwiches are served with a choice of regular french fries or shrimp chips. We weren't feeling adventurous enough to try the shrimp chips and instead decided to pay a little extra and upgrade our sides to some of the fancier fry options -sweet potato for BFTB and jalapeño for me.
|My special grilled chicken & pineapple combo sandwich and jalapeño fries|
Overall, the service was a little slow and it took at least ten minutes for our waitress to just bring out our beverages (water). When outdoor seating is an option, I don't really think it's an excuse to forget about your customers, but I'll admit that the poky pace may have partly been our fault since we chose to sit away from the main part of the restaurant. Either way, our food eventually showed up and we excitedly dug in.
For the most part, I was pleased with my selection. The chicken breast was well-seasoned and grilled to a golden brown. I'm hesitant to order grilled chicken sandwiches because I feel like, more often than not, the chicken breast itself is overcooked to the point that it's either dried out or rubbery. Nom Nom Burger has their chicken grilling technique down, however, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the meat was both juicy and flavorful. Unsurprisingly, the pineapple was my favorite part. Marked with visible grill lines, the thick slice of pineapple was warm, soft, and tasted like the sugars had just started to caramelize. The cheese and "pork belly" were decent additions, but neither were anything to write home about. And now for an unnecessary pork-related rant... I get that pork belly is hot right now, but I'm sick of people claiming that any old strip of limp bacon is pork belly. I understand that bacon comes from the belly meat of a pig, but if I've read Cook's Illustrated correctly, when the pork belly is cut into wimpy strips and subsequently cured and cooked (as it was on this sandwich) it becomes run-of-the-mill bacon. Regardless of how the pork product was labeled (or mislabeled), it was crispy and tasty (it's bacon, obviously it was tasty), but a little too salty. I did think it was a nice touch that it was served in a wadded up ball-shape and, as a result, all the ingredients stayed nicely within the confines of the bun. Admittedly I'm a little prone to sloppiness so I appreciate Nom Nom Burger's attempt to keep the mess factor of their sandwich under control. The bun itself was fluffy and the exterior had a shiny, smooth texture, almost like the outermost layer of crust on a New York style bagel. All in all, the sandwich was good but nowhere close to great.
|BFTB's Banh Mi sandwich and sweet potato fries|
Similarly, BFTB's Banh Mi sandwich wasn't bad, but I couldn't stop thinking that it tasted like a lamer, more American (read: bland) version of a real Banh Mi. I was a little confused because I couldn't really taste the lemongrass or the "Nuoc Mam" sauce (which just means fish sauce in Vietnamese), but the meat was a dark yellow color, as if it had been marinaded for a long time. Either way, I honestly preferred the simpler, plain chicken cutlet that was served on my sandwich. When combined, the jalapeño slices and curry aioli (which BFTB opted to have served on the side) gave the sandwich some serious heat, which I enjoyed. I was really excited to try the pickled veggies but found that they were disappointingly bland. I also felt let down by the bread. While I enjoyed the same shiny, soft bun when it was used on my sandwich, it was not a one-size-fits-all carb and the Banh Mi needed something denser and crispier to provide much-needed textural contrast. Instead, each bite left me feeling like I was gnawing on a mushy, confusing-flavored blob.
We also weren't stoked about our sides. My jalapeño fries were decent, but seemed to simply be McDonald's-esque shoestring potatoes tossed with uncooked jalapeño slices. I guess I expected something more exciting than a few pieces of raw pepper. I could taste the spice, especially on the fries towards the bottom of the pile, but the fries were not good enough to justify spending the extra $1.50 on the upgrade (doesn't a jalapeño cost like 15 cents at Harris Teeter?). BFTB's sweet potato fries weren't any better than something Ore Ida could help me cook at home, and like their jalapeño-flavored comrades, weren't worth the additional cost.
All in all, I think my meal was decent but BFTB's needed an ingredient overhaul. To be fair, neither of us ordered an actual burger, so maybe that's where we went wrong. Either way, the slow service and mediocre food won't bring me back to Nom Nom Burger anytime in the near future. Based on both our meals, Nom Nom Burger gets a 6/10.
The good news is that on the way back to the car, I learned of food-related news that pretty much made my life worth living. While the adult version of me is a froyo fiend, the 10-year-old Sarah's favorite frozen treat was a White Russian ice cream cone from Ben & Jerry's. Sadly, the scoop shop discontinued the flavor in 1996 and laid it to rest in the Flavor Graveyard in Burlington, Vermont. Since elementary school, the closest I've come to reuniting with my beloved White Russian ice cream was in 2009, when I visited its tombstone (I'm not kidding), which read: “Sweet cream flavored with Kahlua® and Camaya liqueurs and coffee extract. A caffeinated communion, the iron curtain has dropped upon this so-velvet union. It is nyet more.” After 17 long, White Russian-less years, the powers that be realized what a terrible decision they had made by retiring the flavor and decided to rein-cone-ate it (I wish I could claim that pun but B&J's said it first...).
So anyway, after spotting a sign declaring that White Russian is "back from the flavor graveyard," I immediately flipped out with joy and demanded that we get a cone before heading home. BFTB patiently followed me into Ben & Jerry's and I ordered both a cone and a handpacked pint (which I completely devoured the next day) of my long lost, favorite flavor. It was just as delicious as I remembered... a creamier version of standard coffee ice cream with a hint of rum flavoring. The more I think about it, I'm not sure why my parents let me consume alcohol-flavored ice cream throughout my childhood years, but I seem to have turned out okay... Either way, I'm stoked that White Russian is back and I plan to hoard pints like a hibernation-prepping squirrel in the event of another flavor rapture.