A quirky Vietnamese restaurant called Jenni's Noodle House (2130 Jefferson, 713-228-3400) opened in May of last year in the old Chinatown neighborhood near the intersection of highways 45 and 59. The noodles and curries are pretty good, but it's the atmosphere and inside jokes that really caught my attention. So I decided to give owner Jenni Tran-Weaver a call to see if she could explain a few things.
First of all, although she has a hyphenated name, Tran-Weaver assures me that she's "100 percent Vietnamese." Where did the Weaver moniker come from? "I married a white boy," she explains.
Said white boy, husband Scott, fills a special niche at Jenni's Noodle House. The menu says: "Add shrimp $4, substitute shrimp $3, add the Scott's special lap dance $50 (please reserve in advance)."
"So what's the Scott's special lap dance?" I have to ask.
"That's for the boys who come in late at night," Tran-Weaver giggles. "Scott has a great bootay. When we first opened I would sell ass-grabs for a dollar."
"How many did you sell?" I wanted to know.
"I don't think I sold any," she admitted. "He wasn't into it or I would have sold a lot. Scott's very shy." Now, when people try to reserve a lap dance, Jenni tells them there's a yearlong waiting list.
I also had to inquire about the waitstaff's T-shirts, which read, "Madonna Eats Here" on the back.
"That's not all they say," Tran-Weaver corrects me. "Some say: 'My noodle is bigger than your noodle.' "
"So when did Madonna eat there?" I want to know.
"Madonna is my biggest fan!" Tran-Weaver gushes. "Well, I thought I saw her in here one night. But then, when I called her agent in London the next day, he said she wasn't actually in Houston at all that week. But it was too late -- the T-shirts were already printed."
"So, what are going to do if she sues you?" I wonder.
"I think there's a Madonna Johnson floating around Houston somewhere," Tran-Weaver speculates. "Anyway, we're small potatoes."
I don't remember anything about small potatoes on the menu. "Then you didn't have our Infernal Chicken Curry. It has lots of small potatoes," she says.
In fact, I have had the Infernal Chicken Curry, which I assume refers to Infernal Bridegroom Productions (the theater company's office is not far from the restaurant), as well as the Art Car Curry, which is made with tofu. And these two dishes raised another nagging question: Since IBP's artistic director is a publicly avowed vegan, shouldn't the tofu go in the Infernal Curry and the chicken go in the Art Car Curry?
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"No, no," says Tran-Weaver. "The biggest star at Infernal is Tamarie Cooper, and this is her favorite dish. And actually, there are a lot more vegans in the art car gang."
With this issue clarified, I move on to more mundane concerns, like how does Tran-Weaver think her little joint can compete with all the other Vietnamese restaurants in that neighborhood?
She points out that Jenni's has a different atmosphere, different people and different products. "My mom's friends make the dumplings and egg rolls. I make some homemade desserts," she says. "Kim Son is very corporate. This is a little neighborhood place for artists and Warehouse District people. We also get folks from the Eastwood and Idlewood neighborhoods; they don't have much Asian food, so they come over here."
And last, what's the story behind the plastic pink flamingos scattered all over the grass strip in front of Jenni's? "I love pink flamingos," says Tran-Weaver. "I have about 20. I would love to flock the entire shopping center with flamingos, but I have to take them in every night and put them out every morning. Pink flamingos sprout wings at night, you know."