Until about a year ago my experience with pho consisted of watching Anthony Bourdain slurp a bowl full of beef part-filled broth on the Travel Channel. It looked delicious, and I tried to make some myself. The results were mediocre at best. After having my first proper bowl of pho in Tallahassee whenever I travel I keep an eye open for a Vietnamese restaurant serving this delicious dish.
I was recently in Jacksonville, Florida, and heard about a little place which allegedly served up the best pho in the city. I punched the address into my phone and made my way towards Bowl of Pho located on Old Bay Meadows Road. It is located in an aging strip mall between Publix and Winn Dixie. When I arrived the parking lot in front of the restaurant was packed, and I had to park behind a pizza place in an adjacent lot.
Opening the door revealed a small seating area that faced an empty refrigerator case. The vinyl seats lining the wall were packed. I gave my name to a man with a clip board and waited for a seat. A large party was called and I wedged myself in between an elderly gentleman and a girl tapping away on her iPhone. People continued to stream into the restaurant. After a ten minute wait my name was called and I was led to a small wood patterned laminated table. It faced a stylized bamboo room divider. The waiter immediately appeared and gave me my menu, along with a glass of water.
I knew I was going to get a bowl of pho, the only remaining question was what toppings I was going to select. There were sixteen combinations on the menu. I decided to take the easy way out and ordered the Bowl of Pho Speical which came with all of the toppings. These consisted of rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon, meatballs and something I had not encountered since working at Mike’s Red Barn as a teenager, tripe. The only people who ever ordered the tripe were short old ladies with blueish hair. I never had any desire to eat a cow’s stomach, but decided today was as good a day as any to give it a shot.
Five minutes later the waiter brought a large white bowl filled to the brim with pho. The beef broth was served over rice noodles and full of slices of rare beef and other assorted meaty bits. A tray of garnishes accompanied the pho. I added several fresh jalapeno slices, Thai basil, cilantro, hot chili sauce and some sliced onions to the soup. The freshness of the herbs paired well with the spice of the jalapenos and chili sauce. The meat was flavorful and, over time, the sliced beef cooked from rare to well done. I saved the tripe for the end and carefully placed a small piece on the spoon. It was spongy and did not have a very strong flavor. It was not unpleasant, but I cannot see myself ordering it again anytime soon.
The service at Bowl of Pho was attentive and the restaurant was spotless. The pho was very good, and it was well worth the drive to this little gem of a restaurant on the south side of Jacksonville.
Sweet Tea & Bourbon’s Rating: