The winter of El Nino was finally becoming harsh and noodles and soup seemed like a good idea to both Zio and I. I had told him to meet me at a place called 102 Noodles Town, but before I got to the restaurant, I received a text from him. “I am at 102 Mott Street,” Zio wrote. “There is nothing about noodles or the town of noodles.”
Zio was waiting out front when I arrived. The restaurant at 102 Mott Street was now called Wong Kee, but in the window was a declaration from Zagat’s referring to “Big Wing Wong,” and describing the restaurant as “traditional” with “BBQ meats and soups.” Despite the confusion over the restaurant’s name, it had what we wanted and we wasted no more time out in the cold.
We passed an open kitchen where soups were bubbling and where red-glazed ducks, roast pork and ribs hung. The menu was traditional, as Zagat proclaimed featuring congees, an assortment of soups, and barbecue meats over rice. We were about to order when a stranger who had just finished dining approached our table.
“How did you hear about this place?” the man asked us.
We looked at each other. We weren’t sure how to answer. Zio mumbled something.
“It’s my job to know about these places,” I finally said.
“Did you know this used to be “Big Wing Wong,” he informed us.
“I saw that on the door.”
“We thought it was called ‘102 Noodles Town’,” Zio said.
“What?” The man was stumped.
“102 Noodles Town.” Zio repeated.
“I don’t know about that, but I do know that some of the people who work here worked at Big Wong before this place became Big Wing Wong,” he said
“Well we definitely know Big Wong,” I said, referring to another very good soup and noodle place also on Mott Street that both of us had frequented numerous times.
“Yeah, so a group of them left Big Wong,” the man said. “There was a revolt,”
“A revolt?” Zio looked puzzled. “What kind of revolt?”
“I don’t know.” The man now had a sly smile. “They didn’t like working there. It was a communist revolt.”
Neither of us really knew how to respond to that.
“Yeah.” The man stood there. “I used to come here all the time, but not since they changed the name.”
“From 102 Noodles Town to Wong Kee?” I asked.
“You mean Big Wing Wong,” he said.
“So is the food still good?” Zio asked
The man shrugged. “I don’t know. The duck was a little tough. It didn’t fall off the bone like it used to.”
“Maybe it was just one tough duck,” I said trying to inject some humor into the bizarre interaction.
The man finally departed into the Mott Street chill and Zio and I were left to ponder the information we just received.
“I don’t care about the duck,” Zio said. “I want soup.”
“That’s why we are here,” I said.
“Ready now?” Our waitress asked as she approached our table, her pen and pad out.
“We thought this was 102 Noodles Town,” I said before we could order, hoping to clear up the confusion.
“New owner,” she blurted.
“What?” Either Zio’s hearing was going or he didn’t understand.
“New owner,” she barked again. “Ready now?”
I ordered the mixed shrimp, pork and vegetables dumplings with soup. Zio pointed to the beef tripe medley noodle soup on the menu.
“You want that?” Our waitress questioned Zio’s choice.
“Yes I want that,” he huffed indignantly .
She was ready to leave, but we called her back. We came all the way to Chinatown on a cold night. We couldn’t just have soup. I added a roast pork omelet over rice.
“You know you are ordering egg foo young, don’t you?” Zio told me.
“Yeah, but it says ‘no gravy’ here,” I said pointing to the menu. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll make a mistake.” The corn starch-thickened brown sludge usually poured over egg foo young was a guilty pleasure of mine.
Keeping our ordering very old school, Zio ordered the chop suey with pork, squid, and shrimp.
Before deliberating further on Chinatown restaurant revolts, our soups came. The wontons in my flavorful chicken-based broth were fresh and stuffed with a combination of pork and pieces of shrimp. It was exactly what I wanted.
The roast pork omelet came before I could finish the soup; a large fried disc of egg and pork over rice, but, to my disappointment, with no gravy.
Zio was still gnawing through the tripe in his soup when the chop suey, an assortment of meats, fish and vegetables in an oyster sauce was placed in front of him. Soon he gave up on the tripe and concentrated his efforts on the chop suey. Between the two of us there was nothing left.
Fortified now, we put on our winter gear; the soup and hearty hot dishes like another layer. Once outside I looked at the sign again. “Do you think when they called it 102 Noodles Town they were borrowing from Great New York Noodletown?” I wondered referring to another excellent soup and noodles joint.
“Who knows?” Zio said with a shrug. “Maybe there was a revolt there too.”
102 Mott St