Restaurant Review: Family is the secret sauce at New Age Cafe noodle house
Chef Joshua Prakobkij had several well-known, high-end restaurants on his resume after graduating from culinary school, but he made a left turn with his career in 2018 when he decided to return to his native Macomb County, go into business with his dad, Toom Prakobkij, and open the casual noodle shop New Age Cafe.
The diners of Clinton Township and surrounding areas are lucky for it, too.
The 32-seat eatery has a small menu of about seven items that are a blend of Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese and other Asian influences. The dessert menu alone — with house-made ice cream, waffles, inventive bao doughnuts and bubble tea — makes this strip-mall cafe a destination for dinner or just a treat.
With the BYO feature — that's build-your-own bowl, not bring — I picked what I think is the feel-good soup of 2020 so far: miso broth with seared tofu, which is nicely fried and served in huge chunks. I chose ramen noodles and added a soft-boiled egg. I didn't need the huge pile of bean sprouts, but the lime and jalapeno made for a savory and sour broth.
The best part of the miso broth, though, is the gorgeous mushrooms. The quality and variety was such that I felt like I was getting away with something. Prakobkij chose firm, earthy hen of the woods mushrooms, shiitake and large, chewy wood ear mushrooms that I thought was Cherokee lettuce floating in my bowl at first.
Other options for the noodle bowls are a labor-intensive pork broth finished with pork loin and Japanese spices or the chicken broth with seared chicken thigh and bok choy.
Rather than offer a few chef-created bowls, it made more sense to Prakobkij, who was most recently the sous chef at high-end Detroit steakhouse Prime + Proper, to start with an $11 base and let customers add what they really like to their meal. Guests can choose pho, ramen or udon noodles and add a ton of extras such as pork belly, kimchi, crispy garlic or shrimp.
Another standout at this family-run restaurant is the banh mi, with pork or chicken. The pork version is one of the juiciest and most flavorful banh mi sandwiches I've ever tasted. It has nicely salted, thickly cut pork belly and thin-sliced pork loin, with crunchy cucumbers and a fresh blast of mint. The house-made baguette is sturdy, but not crusty, and has been softened a little by the banh mi glaze. This rules.
Besides the noodle bowls and the two sandwiches, Josh and Toom and their team serve a trio of appetizers, including three burrito-sized fresh rolls with translucent wrapping around lettuce; pink shrimp; white, glossy Korean-style noodles; and crunchy veggies. This is served with a killer house-made sweet and spicy sauce.
If they aren't sold out when you go, get Grandma's Eggrolls, a deep-fried, thinner egg roll stuffed with pork and cabbage that is a secret family recipe. Toom's mother comes to New Age Cafe a few times a week to make these egg rolls with Josh.
Wash all this down with your choice of Faygo in 24-ounce plastic bottles like they sell at the party store, boxed water, or the throwback drink Clearly Canadian.
When you arrive, order and pay at the counter. Dine-in guests eat on real dishes and silverware while watching the team work in a large, open kitchen that takes up about two-thirds of the cafe's overall footprint.
Unfortunately the somewhat harsh florescent lighting that makes sense for the kitchen is the same over the small dining area, which also has soft music playing and one television in the corner by a chalkboard that lists the menu and daily specials.
It's easy to get food to-go here, but I recommend dining in. While you pay at the counter when you order, that doesn't mean you're on your own there on out. The service here is great, a testament to hands-on ownership.
New Age Cafe
20860 Hall Road, Clinton Township
(586) 846-2364 or thenewagecafe.com.
Rating: ★★ (very good)
Hours: 2-10 p.m. Tues.-Wed., 2 p.m.-midnight Thurs. (maybe earlier if food runs out), 2-11 p.m. Fri., 1-11 p.m. Sat. and 2-10 p.m. Sun.
Prices: appetizers, $5-6; bahn mi sandwiches, $6.50-$7; noodle bowls start at $11; add-ons $.50-$2 each; desserts, $5 and up.
Noise level: Low to medium.
Accessibility: No barriers
Parking: Plenty of strip mall parking in front
What the stars mean:
★ — good
★★ — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — extraordinary