Authenticity can be hard to find when it comes to homestyle favorites. Everyone wants to riff on mac and cheese or deconstruct an apple pie. While you can get some interesting stuff out of those inventive dishes, sometimes you just want the real thing. The Hangar Bay Café & Gallery on Mayport Road feeds your craving for the real deal twice over by giving you two dishes that satisfy: Japanese Ramen and Southern Fried Chicken.
Before I lose you to fantasies of that menu one-two punch, let me tell you that the fried chicken is crisp and moist and the ramen includes a fish cake, seasoned halved egg with a perfect yolk and al dente ramen noodles.
It’s no secret that a menu trying to do too much usually suffers for it. However, I won’t put anyone down who’s able to do two things at once this well. Multitaskers for the win! You can choose between the two or just go straight for the kill and order the ramen combo. For $13, you get a hearty bowl of Tonkotsu and two pieces of fried chicken.
Choose your path, white or dark. You can’t go wrong, but I was dining with my resident fried chicken expert who said that dark meat was a must. Pick up your drumstick and ogle those golden ruffles, sink your teeth into tender flesh with a crisp bite from the fry. There’s no extra oil here, just perfect chicken. On the spectrum of moist to dry, the fried chicken is squarely opposite of the dry humor of the owner of Hangar Bay, Chris Straw. The military man spent time in Japan, giving him a great love for ramen, and I’m glad he’s sharing the romance with Northeast Florida.
Tonkotsu (not to be confused with Tonkatsu, Japanese fried pork cutlet) is a traditional style ramen with a hearty pork broth almost milky in color. That color, and slightly thicker broth texture, is from pork bone marrow and provides rich broth. The soup is so slurptastic, you’re going to need lots of napkins, basically the greatest compliment ever. The noodles are nothing like those crinkly 10-cent/pack things from college days, and the al dente texture can’t be beat.
If fried chicken or ramen aren’t your thing, try one of their overstuffed sandwiches ($8-$12) or sample appetizers like the Chicken Gyoza (5/$6.50, 10/$12, and 20/$22), which taste more like a Totino’s Pizza Roll than a traditional steamed or fried gyoza. This might be due to the flaky puff pastry that encases the fried package. Each bite features slightly sweet ground chicken that really does somehow manage to give off the flair and flavor of a good old-fashioned pizza roll.
There’s a wide menu to choose from at Hangar Bay, so keep an open mind. Assuming the quality at Hangar Bay is the same at its sister restaurant, Simply Tasty Thai, I’m putting both on my growing list of spots to eat.