Durham’s Noodles & Company location.
With spring comes new dishes at many restaurants, and that includes Noodles & Company, a chain I’ve sampled a few times before. Well, readers, it’s your and my lucky day, because I was invited to come to their Erwin Rd. location in Durham to try their spring asparagus menu and you get the chance to win a coupon for a free dish of your choice! The first five commenters on this post will win.
All food and drink in this blog were provided free of charge by Noodles & Company.
Interior of the Erwin Rd. store.
About a month ago, the chain restaurant added three asparagus-centered options to their regular menu, and they are likely to be available through early summer. Let’s dine on an appetizer first.
The Asparagus Stack is a large helping of asparagus simply blanched and served with a handful each of bacon and feta cheese. It’s vibrantly presented, and the flavors match. Use the lemon to accentuate each element. I do think a sprinkling of herbs would take the dish to the next level, and it’s not that easy to eat.
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Last winter I tried Noodles & Company’s seasonal additions to their macaroni and cheese menu, a task that I took up with gusto. Their seasonal items are lighter fare for the summer: a trio of salads. I was again invited to try them for free and share with you, my lovely readership, my thoughts on the new items. Let’s go from worst to best, shall we?
Salad #1 is the Chili-Lime Ginger Salad.
This salad wants to be amazing. It looks pretty cool with that pile of rice noodles on top, but those noodles are its ultimate undoing. There were way too many of them for a salad. In fact, there was way too much of everything but lettuce for a salad. The noodles were not cooked enough, and they had absolutely no flavor, not even some salt to enhance their natural taste. There just was no taste. But I could have overlooked that if the rest of the meal was worthwhile—everything has a weakness, and I am a forgiving person. Hiding beneath those noodles were thick matchsticks of carrot, chunks of cucumber, loads of red onion, bell pepper strips, peanuts, mint, black sesame seeds, and strips of chicken breast meat. The dressing was the best of all three salads because of its refreshing and light elements of lime, chili, and ginger. The peppery chicken strips were tasty, and the carrots where thicker than normal for a salad and very crisp, which I enjoyed. However, the rest of the salad just didn’t pull together, starting with those noodles. One-word description: Flavorless.
The other two summer salads on Noodles & Company’s menu are much better options than the first. Salad #2 is the Backyard Barbecue Chicken Salad.
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In early February, I was invited to try the new mac and cheese options at Noodles & Company. I said yes because 1. I have no aversion to chain restaurants beyond when they let success get in the way of creating delicious food and 2. I’d never tried their mac and cheese before. I have this compulsion to try everything once, and who was I to say no to adding something as tempting as a restaurant’s signature mac and cheese to my list?
You should know two things before reading my thoughts on Noodles & Company’s versions of this American staple. First, I’d been to Noodles & Company twice before and was pleased, if unenthused, about the Asian noodles and salad dishes I’d had. Both were good, but they lacked any particular flair that would bring me back in for more. Second, I’m over the gourmet mac and cheese phase. I’ve yet to find a truffle oil or lobster version that makes me happier than a simple bowl of creamy, cheddar-swimming noodles. Thus, I may have been a bit of a tough customer, so to speak — it’s hard to call myself a customer when all the food was free — before stepping into the Brier Creek location.
Brian Rosenfeld, their friendly manager, greeted me and asked me to take a seat. I helped myself to a remarkably good glass of iced black tea for a chain restaurant and waited for the food to arrive. First, I tried their chicken potstickers, an order of 6.
These surprised me a lot. The dipping sauce was especially memorable with a great kick from red chili flakes, but the filling also impressed. It was very fresh and unique for potstickers. The chicken was finely ground and mixed together with carrots and a mixture of herbs — I think I could pick out oregano. It had a great distribution of filling to shell, and each bite went from sweet to fiery.
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