The first sip of steaming broth at Tiger Belly Noodle Bar in Granby tells me all I need to know.
The tonkotsu (pork bone) broth is so dense and savory that it seems like it could cure a cold. Although my ramen bowl arrives a few minutes after I order it, the process of its creation clearly began much earlier. It’s easy to tell this soup was slow-cooked.
The broth cooks for 20 to 25 hours, I’ll later learn.
“We slow-stew it overnight and then we blast it with high heat the next day when we come into work,” chef and owner Ki’yen Yeung says. “We get it down to the point where the bones melt into the broth.”
Along the way, Yeung and his team smash the bones into the broth, making sure the bone marrow flavors the liquid. It’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, but it pays off. That broth serves as the backbone of the restaurant’s signature ramen dish, The Darkness ($16). The broth comes loaded with a pickled egg, pork belly, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, veggies and noodles. The pork belly is also slow-cooked for six to eight hours and is as soft and succulent as any cut of pork I’ve had.
Beyond ramen, Tiger Belly offers sushi, pho and apps like bao. The pork belly bao is powered by that same excellent meat that is featured in the tonkotsu ramen. The salmon roll is fresh and clean-tasting. I’m eager to try the pho on a return visit.
Yeung, whose parents were first-generation immigrants from mainland China and Taiwan, respectively, grew up working at his family’s restaurants. Ultimately he settled in Hartford County and opened Mei Tzu in East Windsor in 2007. Tiger Belly opened in 2016. He was motivated by a love of ramen and a belief that a noodle-focused restaurant would fill a niche in the region. “I wanted to bring something new to Granby and this area of Connecticut because I didn’t see anything like it,” Yeung says.
The restaurant is located within an unassuming shopping center. If you’re not looking for it, you won’t find it. There is limited signage outside and I drove past once before I saw it.
Inside, Tiger Belly has a ramen-bar feel with a sleek sushi bar area as well as a few tables and exposed-wood walls. So far Yeung hasn’t done much marketing, because he hasn’t had to. Instead he’s built a loyal fan base through word of mouth. I heard impassioned rave reviews before my visit, and was not disappointed. The bao and sushi were excellent and that ramen, well, I’m still thinking about it weeks later.
Tiger Belly Noodle Bar
9 Mill Pond Drive, Granby
860-413-9323, facebook.com/ tigerbellygranby
Hours: Tue.-Thu. noon-9:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon-10 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m. Closed Mon.