It would take me multiple pages to express my love for The Avenue Cafe, a dive bar and music venue on East Michigan Avenue. I can get a 16-ounce beer for $4, test my knowledge of various topics in weekly trivia, enjoy live performances by some of my favorite local bands — often for free — and put all my loose quarters to use at the plethora of pinball machines.
With a night of imbibing often comes a hunger for quick, greasy food. Ruckus Ramen, located within The Avenue, always delivers, and I don’t even have to leave the bar. The menu offers various types of ramen, curries, rice bowls, loaded fries, tempura shrimp and even bar nuts if you just want something to munch on, but time and time again, I find myself going back to my tried-and-true favorite: the bao sandwiches.
Vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike can enjoy these delicious handhelds, which are contained within soft, pillowy bao buns. Bao are steamed bread-like dumplings that originated in China, but they have become street-food staples throughout Asia and beyond. They’re light and fluffy but somehow still dense enough to hold all the toppings one could ever want in a sandwich.
My go-to is the Fried Chicken Bao, which includes fried chicken, spicy mayo, chili sauce and scallions. The chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and it isn’t made soggy by the sauces, which I’ve experienced with other fried chicken sandwiches. The mayo offers a nice balance to the salty chicken, and the chili sauce definitely brings the heat.
The scallions and chili sauce help cut the richness of the sandwich a bit, but if I could make one change, I would add a touch of acidity, like some pickled veggies or a light slaw, to make the dish feel less heavy on the palette and gut. That being said, I’m happy to down one or two of these sandwiches with absolutely no complaints.
For vegetarians, the Fried Tofu Bao is almost exactly the same as the Fried Chicken Bao, down to the breading, but with deep-fried tofu instead of chicken. The tofu is the perfect thickness, and it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, providing a satisfying texture differential.
My boyfriend often orders the Tofu Coney Bao, an Asian-inspired take on the traditional Coney dog that includes mustard, onions and deep-fried mapo tofu, which is flavored with fermented bean paste, chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. While it’s a bit too spicy for me, it has earned a big stamp of approval from a seven-year vegan.
I appreciate The Avenue for its inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, and Ruckus Ramen follows suit with its diverse offerings for every diet. I highly recommend you try it out, but if you visit during a popular event, like the monthly A Night at the Soul Lounge, you may have to order takeout while waiting for a table to open up. Or you could always join another group at one of the larger tables. Though many patrons’ alternative looks may scare away unaccustomed diners, I promise they’re friendly.
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