By MARK NIXON
Weird things are happening in the Nixon household. No, not that. Sicko.
I mean, breakfast has officially become dinner — dinner from the night before. It churns some people’s stomachs to think of having, say, fish tacos for breakfast. Tough tofu. Let them eat pancakes.
Me, I will take the leftover Miso Ramen from Ruckus Ramen. As I write this, I am still slurping last night’s leftovers, and it is just as good as the night before. Which is to say, perfectly delicious.
Pork and chicken broth, pork shoulder, pork belly and fresh scallions are ladled into a bowl heaping with fresh ramen noodles. For $13, plus a $1 upgrade for fried garlic and shallots, it cannot get any better on a cold winter’s day.
This is going to sound like I’m bought and paid for by the Greater Lansing Convention and Tourist Bureau, but here goes: Michigan Avenue is one of the great selling points of our community. It is more vibrant and more alive than at any other time I can remember, which goes back 50 years.
Somebody should throw a parade in Michigan Avenue’s honor; I’d vote for as the parade marshal.
Even if you aren’t in the mood for food (your loss) a pilgrimage to this place is a sensory treat. Ruckus Ramen is the hidden gem parked inside a wide-open joint called The Avenue Café. As the name suggests, The Avenue sits on a street corner on Michigan Avenue. The Avenue is part bar, part pinball palace, part pool hall. Throw in a trove of quirky posters, one stuffed peacock and a huge dose of music that basically is a soundtrack of my youth, and you’ve got yourself a sensory paradise.
One minute the Coasters are belting out “Yakety Yak”, and minutes later Patsy Cline pines over lost love in “I Fall to Pieces.”
The place is practically a museum for cultural references. I fully expected to see an Andy Warhol print of Campbell Soup cans. Instead, I strolled around admiring the 19 pinball machines, many representing iconic movies like “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.”
On our meal receipt is the word “Cowabunga!” Younger generations recognize it as a term from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Folks my age know it as the somewhat culturally insensitive exclamation uttered by Chief Thunderthud on the “Howdy Doody Show.”
Why am I fixating on all this? Because this place has attitude down to an art form. Its website proudly boasts being “home to local miscreants.”
Let us return to the menu … Judy ordered a small plate of Karaage, Japanese-style fried chicken with barbecue sauce and spiced mayonnaise on the side. She declared the $7 dish authentic, but not spot-on in the traditional Japanese tradition. She would know. Throughout her teaching career, Judy has spent several months in Japan, feasting on food from street vendors and straight from the kitchens of host families.
She next ordered the Shoyu Ramen ($11), similar to the Miso Ramen. But this dish was topped with saffron-like threads of a mild chili pepper, plus a soy-soaked egg. Judy writes: “It’s been many years since I had my first real ramen from a ramen cart outside the train station, on my way home from a night of celebrating with friends. I have had many, many bowls of ramen since then. Yes, there are differences (Where’s the corn? Maybe I forgot to order it!), but I would say the ramen at Ruckus Ramen fulfills my wish for a bowl of real ramen. Is it different from what I had in Japan? Probably. Is it good, anyway? Yes. The broth is rich and yummy, the other ingredients are tasty, and the noodles themselves are chewy. It was even good warmed up for breakfast.”
For our second meal, we shared a small plate of pork gyoza ($3.50) and a Pork Belly Rice Bowl for $7. The gyoza — a popular Japanese dumpling — was filled with bits of pork, ginger and chives, and daubed with a fermented soy sauce called Ponzu. My only regret is asking for a single order — three gyoza. I could have wolfed down a half-dozen.
The rice bowl gets passing marks, but doesn’t come close to the ramen bowls we tried previously. They didn’t skimp on the chunks of braised pork belly, so kudos for that.
For those adept at using chopsticks, know that they are standard operating equipment at Ruckus Ramen. For those inept souls who find chopsticks a form of mental torture (me), you can ask for a fork and they won’t kick you out.
Many years ago, I lived two blocks from where the Avenue/Ruckus Ramen now resides. It used to be Raupp Campfitters. The closest restaurants were a fast-food fish and chips joint, and a narrow, dark Italian restaurant, Emil’s. Both are gone now.
Better dining spots have thankfully appeared along Michigan Avenue. Ruckus Ramen has joined the party, and Lansing’s restaurant scene is better for it.Noodles for the whole family
By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE
A big, steaming, brothy bowl of fragrant noodles. Don’t the words just make you want to start slurping? So many cultures have their own have their own iteration of this comfort food, from spaghetti to pho, and I’ve never found a carb I didn’t like.
Ruckus Ramen’s offerings are a far cry from Ramen Noodles of yore. Get rid of your idea of pouring boiling water on top of a hard clump of noodles and stirring in your sodium-laced flavoring packet.
Ramen is a work of art at Ruckus, and while the general shape of the noodles remains the same, these bowls also feature protein and other flavor-boosting things like kimchi, green onions, and seaweed.
During one of our recent blustery nights — one of what, two blustery nights that we’ve had this year? Where is winter? I daydreamed about curling up in front of a fire in our den with steaming bowls of ramen. To that end, I found a telephone number on Ruckus’ Facebook page and started calling. And calling. Every time I called, the phone rang and rang until a fax machine picked up. I finally sent them a Facebook message, which resulted in someone answering the phone to take my order.
With limited hours that start at 3 p.m. and busy evenings, we needed to do a takeout dinner and this was a bump in the road.
We started with pork dumplings, which are one of my ever-favorite part of Asian cuisine. I love the slipperiness of the wrapper, the smells of pork and ginger that waft out after your first bite, and the punch of umami from the soy sauce I dip them in. These were no exception, and I could have made a meal out of them, but I’m happy I didn’t.
Having grown up in a house with a mother who didn’t like curry, I always forget that I’m allowed to eat whatever I want now and that I do, in fact, like curry. With that in mind I ordered the spicy red curry with fried chicken. The coconut milk-based sauce was just past the level of spicy that I can comfortably handle, but I mopped my forehead and soldiered on because the flavor in this bowl was unbelievable. The sauce was so richly flavored, but also lightened with the tastes of coconut and lime. The fried chicken was perfectly crispy. If you think that noodles and fried chicken are a strange combination, don’t be alarmed. I did too. But fried chicken and waffles probably strike some as being a strange combination, and if you haven’t had them together you haven’t lived. Come to the wild side.
Mr. She Ate chose the miso ramen and was excited to see a big old chunk of pork shoulder floating in his broth between his noodles and scallions. As we both happily slurped, I planned our next visit and stared sullenly at the bottom of my empty bowl.
On the next round, we abandoned pretense and started with fried chicken. Again, it was crispy and juicy and didn’t stand a chance. We demolished it. I also gobbled my way through a bowl of cool, fresh seaweed salad. An aesthetician once told me that seaweed and miso are both good for the skin, and as I close in on the last few years in my thirties I am considering slathering both of them directly onto my face.
We both chose the shoyu ramen, because I love a soft-boiled egg. Dehydrated sheets of seaweed are lovingly nestled into the bowl, and you can choose whether you want to give these a moment and let them soften, or snatch them up and crunch on them for the texture. A generous handful of chopped scallions studs the bowl, and the flavor profile is rounded out with menma, a fermented bamboo shoot that kind of looks like an egg noodle. The star, of course, is the ramen noodle, and even Baby She Ate chomped on a few of them. He only has six teeth, so we will save the pork dumplings and fried chicken for Mama.
The location, inside the Avenue Café, is unorthodox. As someone who lusts after Cuban sandwiches made in a gas station and once had to get a Hepatitis A vaccine before a trip abroad because I couldn’t promise my doctor that I wouldn’t eat any “weird meat,” this doesn’t faze me. Ruckus Ramen is eclectic and delicious, but maybe they should consider a dedicated phone line.
Monday through Saturday 3 p.m.-1 a.m.
2021 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing, Inside Avenue Cafe