Why hadn't it ever occurred to me to drop matzah balls in pho before? I mused to myself as I sat mesmerized by the giant, stainless steel mug of matzah ball pho sitting in front of me at the new Eatsie Boys Cafe yesterday morning. The pairing is almost a natural, when you think about it: the fatty-slick broth of Vietnamese pho ga -- chicken pho -- and fat, fluffy matzah balls that any Jewish deli would be proud to proclaim as their own.
It turns out that no one has thought of this before, at least as far as head chef Matt Marcus has been able to find out.
"There's a place in Brooklyn that does deli-style ramen," continued Marcus. "With pastrami and deli meat and stuff in there with the noodles." But as far as the Eatsie Boys crew can tell, matzah ball pho is their own unique creation.
"You're the first to try matzah ball pho," he called out over the line from the cafe's open kitchen. "I mean really the first." Co-owner Ryan Soroka nodded from near the register: "I haven't even tried it yet."
It's par for the course for the guys that started one of Houston's first and most popular "new generation" food trucks, which has always featured their own interesting remixes of classic Houston dishes: ice cream flavored with Shipley's donuts, for example, or a chicken banh mi with avocado puree and hoisin sauce on a Slow Dough baguette.
Blending Houston's disparate ethnic cuisines -- Vietnamese into Jewish, in the case of the matzah ball pho -- into one dish has been one of the best dining trends to come along and is most often cited at higher-end places such as Underbelly. But now you can find that same technique at a casual cafe setting, where the Eatsie Boys have taken over and remodeled the old Kraftsmen Bakery space into a home of their own.
Open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days, the cafe -- which is still in its soft opening phase -- has expanded Kraftsmen's footprint ever-so-slightly to give patrons more place to stretch out inside. The picnic tables on the ivy-covered patio are still intact, but (for now, at least) it's more fun to sit inside so you can watch the chefs at work in the kitchen, which has also been opened up and expanded significantly.
Although you'll still find a few old Eatsie Boys food truck favorites on the menu, Marcus is taking advantage of having a much larger kitchen by offering intriguing-sounding lunch dishes such as Gone Phishin -- fried Gulf fish with cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumbers and jalapeño-tartar sauce -- and vegetarian items like the Namaste, which pairs roasted cauliflower with whipped feta and pickled peppers on a brioche bun. Naturally, the Eatsie Boys' ice cream will also be available for dessert.
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The breakfast menu is short and sweet for now, but also pays homage to the Boys' Jewish roots with a bagel plate that features house-cured salmon along with onion and tomato. Other morning meals include breakfast tacos with your choice of chorizo, chicken-poblano sausage (presumably from Marcus' father, Al Marcus of The Grateful Bread), bacon or potatoes as well as a simple yogurt with granola. The coffee service was set up by David Buehrer of Greenway Coffee & Tea, so you know it's good. And soon, the pastry case that currently sits empty on the counter will be filled with sweet stuff from area bakeries.
The matzah ball pho won't be available every day, however -- it's one of the Boys' daily specials, listed under the "Trust Us" chalkboard. But if it's any indication of the quality of the food that'll be coming out of the kitchen, I'll be happy to trust the Eatsie Boys with anything.