The latest eatery on 86th Street, Pho & Co, opened at the beginning of September. As promised when we wrote about it back in July, we stopped by for a bite.
The restaurant describes itself as a destination for “Vietnamese street food.” That kind of had me hoping for some extraordinary, exotic treats – like this rather grotesque squab porridge. But it turns out the menu is a slimmed down, somewhat Americanized version of what you’d find at other area Vietnamese restaurants – soups (pho), sandwiches (bahn mi), and meat-over-vermicelli dishes.
While some might consider a more limited menu to be a handicap, it’s actually quite liberating to not have to look over a hundred or so options and, in a spasm of indecision, order the same darn pho you always get. Here, you come specifically for the soups, sandwiches and noodles – no distractions.
One neat thing I noticed about the menu right away is several options of summer roll. Most Vietnamese restaurants serve these with shrimp only. The shrimp is steamed, chilled, and packed into a rice wrap with vermicelli, scallions and other veggies. At Pho & Co, other options include grilled chicken, B-B-Q pork, soft shell crab and tofu.
I went for the soft shell crab, but was disappointed to learn they were out. So I settled on the B-B-Q pork ($3.95). Once you choose traif, you don’t go back, pal.
Minutes passed, and the B-B-Q Pork Summer Rolls arrived. Having only had shrimp summer rolls, which are cold, I was surprised when the rolls came packing in hot meat. The pork was flavorful, if a bit charred, and neatly accentuated by bits of mint rolled into the vermicelli and lettuce. The accompanying peanut dipping sauce was much saltier than I’ve had at other places, but not overwhelmingly so.
I was struck by the relative sloppiness of the wrap itself. It was done a little too long and couldn’t support its own weight, and the wrinkled folds suggest someone who’s just getting the hang of it.
Since I was there on a hot day, I declined the pho and went for the Lemon Grass Beef Rice Vermicelli ($6.50) for my entree. The short version? The beef was dry and flavorless, the noodles clumpy and unevenly cooked, and they forgot the accompanying sauce (a heavenly concoction of sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime juice). The pickled carrots and cabbage that came with it were pretty spectacular, though.
So with an amateur’s hand putting together the summer roll, and lemon grass beef that had little hint of lemon grass, you’d think this an unkind review, right?
Wrong. I’m actually looking forward to Pho & Co upping its game because they have everything else they need to succeed. The staff was young, energetic, friendly and incredibly helpful. They were well aware they were just starting out, and no less than three people came by my table to ask for suggestions, feedback and recommendations – two of them more than once.
What they lack in experience, they make up for in drive, and I have faith that they’ll take that feedback and put it to use. It’s true, they need to work out the kinks in the kitchen, but they’re eager to learn – and I’ve seen restaurants achieve far more with a lot less than that.
As for me, I’ll be back in a month or two to try that soft shell crab summer roll. Because where else in Bensonhurst can you get that?
Pho & Co Vietnamese Street Food, 1927 86th Street, (718) 946-8686.
Is there a restaurant or specific dish you think we should check out? Let us know!