It’s been four years since Noodlecat (234 Euclid Ave., 216-589-0007) pounced on the scene, bringing a mix of traditional and contemporary Japanese noodle dishes to the heart of downtown. Looking back at the original menu, a diner would have been given a choice of three different categories of noodle soups, each boasting multiple variations, along with a roster of 30 “extras,” add-ons like quail eggs and veggie cakes that diners could use to customize their bowls. All this in addition to a roster of salads, starters, steam buns, sides and specials, not to mention the full bar.
Subsequent menu changes since opening day have served to greatly streamline the menu, but none of those tweaks compare to what chef and owner Jonathon Sawyer has just put into play. In preparation for a major format change, in which Noodlecat will edge closer to a fast-casual format, Sawyer recently unveiled a menu that is dramatically different from all previous iterations.
The menu, which features the now-familiar check-box configuration, has diners pick their noodle (ramen, udon, rice), their flavor (pork miso with roasted pork; pork dashi with crispy short rib; coconut curry with tofu tonkatsu...) as well as a few add-ons. Also on the new bill of fare are veggie side dishes and a handful of steam buns. The bar has been downsized as well, now limited to a few beers, sakes and house cocktails.
The move is a sort of mea culpa, says Sawyer, who mistakenly believed that an authentic ramen shop would be universally well received downtown.
“I thought because of the success of Greenhouse Tavern I could do the most Japanese-inspired, neo-Tokyo ramen shop,” Sawyer explains. “I thought, let’s do a slurp shop that takes Japanese street food seriously. That was a silly decision by me.”
Of course, downtown, especially the area around Public Square, was a drastically different place four years ago.
“That strip is now where it should have been when we opened,” he says, adding that opening now would have been a different ballgame.
Sawyer notes that in addition to the new menu, additional tweaks to the restaurant will bring it more in line with a fast-casual eatery. But don’t expect it to be the latest in a long line of local startups eager to be the “next Chipotle,” he says.
“Everyone wants to be the next Chipotle,” he explains. “I think what everyone is missing, what was great about Chipotle in the beginning, is the human interaction. All these places seem to be eliminating it. I like the interaction. I really like that style of QSR (quick-serve restaurant).”
While details still need to be ironed out, Sawyer foresees a system where customers work with somebody at the counter to place an order. “A conversation happens, and then you sit down and the food is delivered to you, where there’s another opportunity to talk to the customer.”
Meanwhile, the new menu is live as of today.