We cling to some strange things in the South. Take kudzu, an invasive species that smothers anything in its path. It should be considered a nuisance, yet, we've embraced it and elevated it to a regional icon.
And in the same way kudzu's endless ropy vines climb and coil their way into everything, Kudzu Noodle Bar will take over your tastebuds. This brand new eatery in Montgomery's Old Cloverdale neighborhood inhabits a small space with sparse decor. But its lack of embellishment plays perfect foil to the lively, multi-layered flavors found in every dish. (There is one distraction from the food; cheesy Japanese television shows and films projected onto one wall.)
Chef Miguel Figueroa's take on Asian cuisine respects its traditions while twisting them a bit with the addition of a few Southern favorites like ham-hock broth and collard greens in the Redneck Ramen and corn-meal crusted fried fish tucked into steamed buns.
If you're anywhere near Montgomery, you should go soon (and go often), and here's what you should eat.
The Kudzu Salad: I'm normally not a big salad fan, but this refreshing blend of shaved Brussel sprouts, cucumber, radishes, snow peas and tomatoes in a heavenly ginger-rich dressing has converted me.
The Spring Rolls: Spot-on bite-sized versions of the classic Eastern appetizer.
The Teriyakii Bowl: Yes, it's a noodle shop. And no, this dish doesn't have a single one. But this rice bowl does have a haystack of crunchy green papaya slaw on top that's good enough to be a meal all on its own (and is available as an add-on for any dish). Add chicken, tofu, beef (called bulgogi) or shrimp for a few dollars extra.
The Ramyeon: Korean roots anchor this beef bowl that's surprisingly light. Soft, slurp-worthy noodles, bean sprouts, slender slices of ribeye, scallions, garlic and a soy-marinated soft egg swim in a spicy broth.
The Guppy Gulper: This sugary (strong) drink is 32 ounces of vodka, coconut rum, blue curaçao, sours, pineapple and Sprite served in a take-home Kudzu Noodle Bar cup.
The Spice Bomb: I wasn't brave enough to order this aptly named peppery add-on, but if you are (and if you have a medicine cabinet stocked with Zantac), prepare to have your tongue torched with the heat of 1,000 exploding suns.