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The Journal Gazette

  • The Hot Pot from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Seafood for the Hot Pot from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Shrimp rolls from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Vietnamese pancake from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Pork spring rolls from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Chicken and beef for the Hot Pot from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Spring rolls from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Pho from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Ga Ramen from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • Rice noodles for the Hot Pot from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • The vegetables for the Hot Pot from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

  • House wings from Pho 59 on Coldwater Road.

Sunday, May 20, 2018 1:00 am

Vietnamese spot serving fun, fabulous dish

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Pho 59

***

Out of a possible five

$$

There was a time not long ago when there was just one Vietnamese restaurant in Fort Wayne.

But with the growth of Asian food in the Summit City – and the addition of so many talented people from Southeast Asia who have called the Summit City home opening those restaurants – there are plenty now.

I go to one for its insanely good pho broth. Another is my go-to place for dumplings. And now Pho 59, the newest Vietnamese eatery that took over the former Ichiban Asian Fusion across from Glenbrook Square on Coldwater Road, is going to be in my regular rotation for one dish that nobody else does.

The Hot Pot was as much fun as it was fabulous. A steaming cauldron of broth was placed on my table over a little gas burner and was accompanied by a plethora of raw ingredients for me to cook in that broth. The big metal bowl was divided down the middle with one half of the broth being lightly colored mild and the other half held a bright red, spice-infused elixir that packed a spicy punch.

These broths were not basic, either. Both had big stalks of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves bubbling away in them, which created an intoxicating aroma that added a ton of flavor.

A pizza tray-sized platter had cabbage, broccoli, button and oyster mushrooms, celery, carrots, onions and cilantro on it. One plate had cold rice noodles on it and another plate held raw slices of chicken breast and thin steak, along with the same onions and cilantro. If that wasn't enough, I got a plate full of frozen mussels, clams, squid, imitation crab and fish and shrimp balls.

The best part? The pot, which is meant for two but could have easily fed four adults, cost only $35.

Pho 59 is the first of its kind and is not part of a chain. The number in the name is simply the owner's lucky number. And the owner knows a thing or two about making broth because she learned how to make it at Saigon, that original Vietnamese place I was referring to that also happens to be that go-to place for broth I mentioned. So, Pho 59's Pho Tai Bo Vien had a rich, flavorful broth that worked its magic on the soup's thinly sliced steak that cooked to perfect medium-rare in it and its big beef meatballs.

The Ga Ramen was also a good choice. It had a lighter broth – Pho 59 makes several to go with different dishes – that had a more vegetal, herbaceous flavor that worked great with the chicken and bevy of vegetables – carrots, onions, broccoli, celery and mushrooms – in its shiny silver bowl presented with a lid on top. The crown jewel was the runny fried egg on top as its yolk ran into the broth, forming sort of little noodles of its own.

A weekend special item, the Ban Xeo, was my favorite dish not cooked in broth. This thin, crispy Vietnamese pancake was yellow from turmeric, so it looked like an omelet and was folded over like one. It was packed with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts and it had lettuce wraps and fresh herbs on the side.

The lettuce and herbs added flavor and crunch to this tasty dish. The thin slices of pork were tender, there was plenty of shrimp and the sprouts sort of acted like noodles. It was fun to eat, and the only thing I would call a must-add was a little fish sauce to round out the flavors.

Most of the appetizers at Pho 59 proved worthy of having again and they were a nice mix of basic American-friendly and more exotic Vietnamese.

The most basic, the crab rangoon, was exceptional. They were crispy and had big chunks of imitation crab mixed in its cream cheese, along with a lot of green onion that really made them pop. The tightly rolled shrimp rolls were tasty, and the raw spring rolls had thin slices of tender pork along with shrimp and just enough mint to brighten them up.

The Bi Cuon – pork spring rolls – were funky in a good way. Its shredded roasted pork was seasoned with a heavy dose of salty, briny fish sauce that really stood out and might not be for everyone. But I liked the way it played with the sweet clear dipping sauce that came with them which was loaded with crumbled peanuts.

The fish sauce worked better on the house chicken wings, which were glazed in a sauce that had a little funk from it but was also sweet and spicy thanks to its palm sugar and tamarind.

The biggest challenge I faced at Pho 59 came with its menu. It takes time for a new place to settle in and see what dishes should or shouldn't be offered, but it seems the owner was a bit impatient as the menu was different every time I visited. Adding to the confusion was that some menus had items marked out that were no longer available while others didn't. On two occasions I tried to order a dish only to be told it wasn't offered.

A dish I really liked during my first visit was gone the last time I visited, so there is no sense in me telling you about it. My servers were apologetic and explained some items weren't selling well enough to keep on the menu. I know ever-changing menus are a trend now, but that is usually because places try to stay seasonal. That was not the case here.

But I will still be returning to Pho 59 for sure. And I will just hope that Hot Pot is still on the menu.

Restaurant: Pho 59

Address: 4036 Coldwater Road

Phone: 444-2122

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Crab rangoon ($2.50), spring rolls ($4), shrimp rolls ($5.50), Pho Tai Bo Vien ($9.50), Ga Ramen ($9), Ban Xeo (10.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net or call him at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.