In Grand Rapids, Brandit Queen Wins the Noodle BattleBy Jane Whitttington on August 7th, 2015 /
Ramen has long been the go-to cheap eats for college students. Pop open the package and pour hot water over the desiccated noodles and seasoning mix. That’s ramen, right? Bandit Queen answers that with a resounding, “No!” Their ramen is a whole new experience with ingredients like bone broth, pork belly, wakame, micro green, do chua, sous vide eggs and hoisin. Even if you don’t quite know what those ingredients are, the consensus is that Bandit Queen is offering up a delicious and different dining option.
To clarify things, bone broth is a stock with added seasonings and flavor; wakame is edible seaweed; do chua is a kind of Vietnamese pickle; sous vide eggs are slow-cooked eggs and hoisin is a thick, pungent sauce used in Asian cuisine.
Jen Dykstra is co-owner of Bandit Queen, which was opened in January of 2015. Together with Chef Les Fleming, they serve up some of the most innovative dishes in the Grand Rapids area.
Fleming says, “I think you could call what we serve ‘pan-Asian’. I take the idea of traditional ramen, a very popular dish in Asian countries, and give it a twist. We purchase our basic ingredients from local farms, butchers and Asian markets and put it all together in our kitchen.”
Vendors include Farm Link, a consortium of local farmers; Ingraberg Farms in Rockford; Saigon Market; and E. A. Brady’s, a local meat market.
Dykstra says, “We started with a small menu but have expanded the basic menu with some new entrees. We also have periodic specials that have proven to be very popular. Our wontons (pork pate with sticker sauce) started as a special but were so popular that we’ve added the dish to our regular menu. In addition, we have different kinds of tea, Rowster coffee, and some unusual soft drinks that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Fleming adds, “I use a lot of French techniques to make Asian cuisine; I was fortunate enough to work with Mike Wayland and Jim Powell who are local, highly-respected chefs in the Grand Rapids area.”
He continues, “I take ramen, which is typically a Japanese dish, and add things like Korean kimchee which we make in our own kitchen. I try to be very creative in my recipes and use unexpected ingredients and techniques.”
The restaurant itself is small with limited seating so take-out is an option. Dykstra says that they are hoping to get a liquor license and expand into the space next door.
Open six days a week for lunch and dinner, they have vegan/vegetarian options on their menu. Their vegan “mock eel” is especially tasty. Dried shitake mushrooms which are rehydrated, spiral cut and battered with tempura batter are then fried and added to the dish for a meaty flavor and texture without the meat. “The Blind Fisherman” also includes the requisite noodles, house-made hoisin, bok choy, oyster mushrooms, do chua, alfalfa sprouts, micro greens, scallions and nori. It is one of their vegan options.
Most popular on their menu, according to Dykstra, is probably the Mongolian Chicken, which includes noodles, chicken confit, bell peppers, red onions, and bok choy served with a house-made sweet Mongolian sauce.
Bandit Queen shares a wall, a kitchen and ownership with Propaganda Donuts (Danger, Intrigue, Donuts!), an insanely popular bakery which offers such enticements as the flame princess (a red-hot cinnamon donut), ice king (blue mint and blueberry), emerald (almond, green tea and pistachio), and a raspberry, cream cheese donut. Propaganda wants everyone to partake, so they offer vegan and gluten free selections.
It’s hard to go wrong at either or Propaganda, and both venues enhance the down-town scene in Grand Rapids. Whether you’re dropping in for a donut and coffee before work or settling in for a meal at Bandit Queen, you won’t be disappointed by this new entry into West Michigan’s burgeoning foodie landscape.