Take some slow, deep breaths, foodie friends, and let the excitement wash over you.
Last week, a friend texted me the menu of what appeared to be a brand new Thai restaurant in Hoover. I’d never heard of it. The menu was small but solid, and entrees were listed in both English and Thai. This seemed like a seal of authenticity of sorts. I was intrigued, and we arranged to meet there with a group of friends in a few days.
This is one of our favorite things to do-nothing gets our hearts pumping faster than the prospect of a really amazing meal, and let’s face it, a great blog post. I planned my daily calories accordingly and counted down the hours to our meal.
As Mr. Foodie and I drove through the typical Alabama summertime downpour and lightening storm to get there, we were confident we knew where we were going…. and then we were in the Walmart parking lot. Then in front of a Little Caesar’s. Then at a Chevron. The suspense was, at this point, ridiculous. I called the number listed on the menu my friend had texted me and a friendly voice answered the phone. As we made wrong turn after wrong turn, she slowly guided us towards dinner. We drove down Lorna road, heading northwest, past the Walmart, past the Chevron, past Rocky Ridge Road.
“Do you see Hoover Food Mart?” my new friend asked.
“Yes!” I replied. “But I don’t see you!”
I could hear the smile in her voice. “You’re here!!”
I could see my dinner companions anxiously waving us in through the floor to ceiling mini mart windows.
So that you can find it more quickly than we did, here you go:
Fill up on gas and eat Thai food in one convenient location!
Ah, the food mart at sunset:
Some more shots so you know what you’re looking for:
As I’ve told you before, as far as I’m concerned, this is the holy grail of foodie finds-the authentic [some kind of ethnic food] restaurant attached to a gas station. In fact, I even have a category for my blog posts called “attached to a gas station or a car wash” – only a few restaurants make the cut. But this one trumps them all-it isn’t attached to a gas station, IT IS ACTUALLY INSIDE A GAS STATION.
Mr. Foodie and I were giggling with extreme excitement as we walked through the door. Our new friend who had guided us on the phone waved hello from behind the mini mart check out counter.
We took a seat at one of the two tables (the place is extremely tiny). As we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, we made a few observations. First off, we were, in fact, in an honest-to-goodness mini mart. This meant we could go get anything from the mini mart and bring it to our table (except for alcohol since they don’t yet have a liquor license). We all got sodas and took a little stroll through the aisles. We noticed immediately that it smelled like someone’s Thai grandma’s kitchen – absolutely incredible. Then we started talking about how my friend even found the place – her brother-in-law (who later joined us) is a chef at the Jeff State culinary school, and the restaurant’s chef is a recent Jeff State culinary grad. We could see the back of the chef’s head as he was scurrying around his tiny first kitchen. I felt like we were part of one of those TV shows about great chefs just starting out. His excitement was palpable. Our excitement was extreme. All of this, and I hadn’t even tasted the food yet.
Then the rest of our group arrived. There were 8 of us, and we realized that we could practically order one of everything and share. Then we noticed the prices. Most entrees are $6.95. At that price, our strategy to order as much as we felt we could eat seemed totally reasonable.
Here’s the menu (note the address and hours-and I double checked, they are open Sundays):
The entrees came out as they were made, which meant that they were fresh and steaming hot. And I have to say, given that there are only two people back there in the tiny kitchen (more about that in a second), things came out fairly quickly. As each arrived, there was a gasp from our hungry little crowd and a very long, pregnant pause while Mr Foodie took a photo for the blog. Then, as we tried each dish, unanimous admiration.
Here’s what we had:
Fried dumplings, with pork? inside. Nice and crispy and flavorful. A great start to the meal. Served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Next up, basil chicken. Sautéed with peppers, served with rice and topped with a fried egg oozing just a little yolk. The chef delivered this one himself. “Like we eat it in Thailand!” he exclaimed in response to our excitement about the egg. One of the members of our group’s mother is Thai, and he agreed-it tasted like his grandma’s cooking-high praise. Slightly spicy, perfectly cooked chicken in a light brown sauce, with the creaminess of egg mixed in. Absolutely delish.
This was a Friday nite special: pork skewers with sticky rice. The pork was charred perfectly and so tender. Served with pungent fish sauce filled with onions and other veggies. Incredible.
Of course, the test of any Thai restaurant is its Pad Thai, which we ordered with shrimp and chicken. One of my pet peeves is sweet pad Thai. This wasn’t sweet at all – very savory – mixed with the meat, some garlic, and egg, topped with nuts. our table proclaimed this the best pad Thai in town, and I couldn’t agree more.
A closer shot-isn’t that gorgeous?
Now for another noodle dish that I used to eat in Philly a lot but haven’t seen on menus here. Rad na. Very wide, flat rice noodles cooked in an almost soupy brown gravy. Topped with veggies, in this case broccoli. The gravy was very bright, almost citrusy, and complemented the noodles and chicken well. For nostalgia reasons and because it was so good, this was probably my personal favorite. Exceptional.
Next, the pork noodle bowl. Reminded me of pho. Aromatic, flavorful broth with abundant noodles and pork so tender it melts in your mouth. Definitely as good as the ramen at Bamboo on 2nd– and that’s high praise.
Next, the spicy chicken coconut soup. Moderately spicy (unless you eat the pepper in the middle…then it’s a little spicier). Light coconut broth, juicy chicken, hearty mushrooms. Outstanding. And it’s an enormous bowl of soup. My favorite coconut soup in town. Mr Foodie’s tip: use some rice, especially the sticky rice from the pork skewers, to sop up the delicious broth at the end.
Don’t forget to ask for crushed pepper or the house hot sauce if you want to make any of this even spicier:
We learned that the chef de cuisine’s name is Doninique. As we ate our meal, Dominique and his crew were delighting in our excitement. Several times, Dominique came out to deliver the food or ask us what we thought. As we praised him and his cooking, his humbleness about what he had managed to accomplish was so endearing and made the experience that much more meaningful.
Also, we noticed that even after only being open for two months, they do a brisk take out business. If only we lived closer, we’d be here every night – that’s not an exaggeration.
After such an amazing meal we had to hear the story behind this place. Turns out, there are two chefs-Dominique, the Jeff State culinary grad, and his sister, Pranchit. We met mom, too. Pranchit moved to the U.S. first, about 6 years ago, and Dominique followed closely behind. Since they are just starting out, they were looking for a place with low overhead, and the Hoover Food Mart was the perfect opportunity. The recipes are from their grandma, and just like Dominique told us about that egg, he reiterated, “we’re cooking what you would eat in Thailand.”
After all of this, it’s no surprise that we returned a few nights later to sample a few more dishes:
And finally, the phat si ew. Those same flat rice noodles as the rad na, stir fried in a light brown sauce with broccoli. Wholesome and delicious.
So foodies, take a trip out to Lorna road. Fill up your gas tank, load up on chocolate bars and soda, and meet Dominique and Pranchit. They’ll serve you their grandma’s Thai food in the unlikeliest of locations, and it will feel like you’re at home. And if you see them on the road, give them a wave:
This post is dedicated to our friends Veny and Phil, who keep finding the most amazing out of the way places for us to try. This one takes the cake!