Toward the end of a satisfying meal at Nom-eez in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, while my group sat at one of two outdoor tables on the sidewalk, a passerby approached. “How is the food here?” he asked. He caught me moments after I had started to consume a mouthful of noodles. I grunted something that translates roughly from caveman speak to “Pretty darn good!”
Intrigued, the passerby looked up at the restaurant’s exterior and saw a sign advertising that it also serves as a location for Donut Crazy, a Connecticut-based doughnut chain. “If it’s Vietnamese food why is there a doughnut shop?” he asked.
“No idea,” I replied (by this time I had swallowed and regained rudimentary verbal skills), “but they look awesome.”
2992 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport
Hours: Sun., Mon.-Thu. 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Price range: Entrées $11-$18 (pho: $14, pho-ramen: $15); appetizers $4-$10 (pork nom nom buns $8, see-through roll $7); dessert $5-$6 (coconut-tapioca $6).
And that, in a nutshell, is my opinion of Nom-eez — a restaurant opened in April by the team behind Norwalk’s Match restaurant. I don’t quite understand it, but I like it.
Part takeout joint, part sit-down restaurant and, yes, part doughnut shop, Nom-eez, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has counter service and limited seating, is many different things at once. At times it feels like a sit-down restaurant hiding within a takeout place, or maybe it’s a takeout place that’s been invaded by sit-down diners? Regardless, it all comes together thanks to the quality of the food.
It is the brainchild of chef Matt Storch, who is co-owner of Match, and a silent partner at The Chelsea in Fairfield. Storch, who works as head chef at both Match and Nom-eez and whose wife is Vietnamese, has long wanted to open a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant. Using recipes based off his mother-in-law’s cooking, Storch teamed with his Match partners Susan McConnell and Jason Wojnarowski, who, as the owner of Donut Crazy, brought the sweet snacks to the project.
The restaurant, which opened in April, features traditional Vietnamese cuisine and street food made from fresh, clean-tasting ingredients prepared with playful, sometimes quirky creativity.
Nom-eez is a play on words taken from the last two syllables of Vietnamese (Get it? Viet-nomeez) and the words “nom,” slang for the sound someone makes enjoying a tasty snack.
The flagship dish and one of the restaurant’s standouts is the pho, a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup. The base of the pho at Nom-eez is a bone broth that simmers for more than 24 hours. It is spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, charred onions, charred ginger and other spices, before being finished with a fermented anchovy sauce. The resulting broth is almost clear and has none of the cinnamon-forward, almost syrupy flavor you find in some pho, giving the completed dish a very balanced taste. I ordered the regular pho, which features this bone broth filled with rice noodles, oxtail and shaved short rib. Both meats were soft and tender.
A non-traditional aspect of Nom-eez’s presentation, the fresh herbs generally served beside the bowl of soup and mixed in by each diner are instead added before the plate is served.
“I made a mistake when I first went to eat pho; I never added the vegetables into it. I just ate it straight,” Storch explains. “That’s one of the reasons I put the vegetables inside the bowl when I present it in the restaurant, because it just makes it that much better.”
Other Nom-eez standouts include the ginger salad (a kaleidoscopic assortment of veggies, napa cabbage and crunchy wontons topped with ginger-chili vinaigrette that comes together to form a salad that is my wife’s favorite in the state) and the mouthwatering nom nom buns (steamed buns with your choice of braised pork — what I opted for — raw tuna or veggies topped with cucumbers and carrots, spicy mayo, hoisin and cilantro).
Less effective was the pho-ramen, a cross-cultural noodle broth that replaces the rice pho noodles with Japanese ramen noodles and adds ramen-style garnishes, such as a hard-boiled egg, to the pho broth. The result, though tasty, didn’t satisfy my craving for ramen and was not as good as the traditional pho dishes offered at Nom-eez.
For dessert, diners must try the coconut-tapioca, a decadent pudding of sweet taro, rice tapioca and coconut cream. “It’s breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Storch says of the dish prepared by his mother-in-law from a secret family recipe, and I’d gladly have it for any meal of the day.
Pho is traditionally a breakfast dish, and Nom-eez honors the roots of its flagship cuisine by offering a reduced-price pho for breakfast, as well as a variety of early options such as the Breakfast “Mu Shu” (flour pancake, bacon, egg, cheese and hot sauce) and fried rice served with bacon and egg. The latter tasted to me like it would be the perfect late-night or early morning meal.
Nom-eez is BYOB — fortunately, there are package stores within walking distance — but even without alcohol, drink options are not lacking. The restaurant offers excellent Vietnamese coffee (Vietnamese-grown coffee steeped over condensed milk and served with ice, providing a slightly sweet coffee with rich, bold notes). I also enjoyed the coconut with a straw, which is coconut water served right out of a giant coconut. It comes with a $6 price tag but is worth it for the fun and flavor.
Storch and his team will soon be opening a takeout spot at the Westport train station that will offer doughnuts and made-on-premises sandwiches. Train commuters will also have the option of ordering from Nom-eez or one of Storch’s other restaurants on the way home and having a bag of food waiting for them at the station.
Let’s talk about those doughnuts. Batches of the fried confections are delivered fresh daily from the Stratford Donut Crazy (there are also locations in Shelton and New Haven). When you walk into Nom-eez, the smell of the doughnuts mixes with the smell of broth and spices, creating an unusual and pleasant aroma that is part bakery and part grandma’s house before a big meal. Donut Crazy prides itself on its unusual, or “crazy,” flavors. The French toast glazed was sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar and drizzled with vanilla and maple icing, all coming together to suggest the flavors of the classic breakfast. The morning buzz variety had an Irish cream glaze and coffee cream cheese filling that combined all the best flavors of your morning coffee and the accompanying doughnut. The treats were, perhaps surprisingly, a great complement to the meal. Now every time I have pho, I’ll crave doughnuts.
Ambiance The feel is laid back with a tongue-in-cheek streetfood attitude. Space is small but has a New York City-style efficiency — to get to the bathroom you have to walk through the kitchen. A polished wood counter wraps around the room, providing the only indoor seating area. Space is limited, so it’s best as an eat-in destination for groups of three or fewer.
Service The order-at-the-counter nature of the spot can take some getting used to. I recommend getting apps, main courses and desserts, but ordering them all at once at the start of the meal can be tricky, and requires more pre-planning than I’m accustomed to. However, the staff was friendly and patient, and made the counter service less awkward by bringing each dish out in the proper order and taking the time to answer questions.
Food Traditional Vietnamese fare is served with creative twists, resulting in simple but excellent cuisine made with high-quality ingredients.