Find top-notch service, Thai in Huntertown
The menu is tiny and, depending on how busy it is that day, the restaurant may not even have all of those limited options available.
It is well off the beaten path. It is driven by carry-out, so be prepared to wait a while because there will likely be a few parties waiting in the tiny dining room : another seemingly negative feature : or coming in and heading out making it so the cold air hits you every few minutes as the door flies open.
But you won’t mind the limited choices, the waiting, dealing with the cold or making the drive to Huntertown to enjoy what Nine House serves you.
The food : Thai and Burmese : is simply amazing.
It is pretty much a one-woman show.
Ezra Kokonaing, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Gabriel, cooks all the food with help from her daughter, and she often comes out to help her son who mans the register.
Nine House was opened basically as a catering kitchen, but restaurant service was added because there was ample space.
Kokonaing makes everything fresh to order, so don’t be surprised if she tells you she is out of noodles or you will have to wait while she makes more rice. She might be out of red peppers, too, so you will just get extra meat.
There are only five menu choices.
Famous Fried Noodles and pad Thai are staples with two daily alternating specials and one monthly feature.
Fresh egg rolls, samusas and chicken dumplings are also offered, but I have yet to try a dumpling because Nine House was out of them every time I visited. And that was the only troubling aspect for me because I assume they are fantastic given their scarcity.
The samusas were top-notch. There are three per order. They were big, crispy and stuffed to the max with a delicious blend of spiced potatoes and meat, and there was a plethora of meat. The filling of carrot, cabbage and thin glass noodles in the long, thin egg rolls was a deep yellow from a heavy dose of turmeric.
They were delicious and were also sold out during one visit.
Though pad Thai is a very basic and unexciting dish at most Thai restaurants, Nine House’s version was a real eye-opener.
The fresh, flat egg noodles that Kokonaing said she has to go to Chicago regularly to purchase had a perfect, almost buttery-smooth texture, and this dish was as good as pad Thai gets.
It had big tofu cubes, plenty of tender chicken pieces, green onion slivers in one corner, a little container of chili sauce to add as you liked and a lime wedge to garnish. There was a subtle sweetness to the lightly sauced noodles that could be made to any spice preference.
I like my Thai hot, very hot. Well, Nine House was not messing around and lit me up like a Christmas tree.
When I requested the simply named spicy beef to be “Thai hot,” this dish of rice and seasoned beef pieces was a spice-lover’s dream.
There were ground chiles all over the tender, roughly chopped beef pieces. I fought my way through it and loved how much depth there was to the dish in terms of flavor even with all of that heat.
The Famous Fried Noodles with Spicy Chicken was less intense, but still delicious. The long, brown lo mein-style noodles were joined by long beans, onion petals and cabbage : bok choy and regular : with a zesty Asian slaw in a container in the corner of the foam take-out box that all the dishes are served in with a banana leaf protecting the bottom. The sauce coating it all had a distinct soy sauce flavor and it all picked up the roasted flavor of the wok. It had some heat but was not enough to startle.
Chicken basil and beef basil were masterfully executed and these were the safest choices for those shy about spices.
The chicken version had plenty of fresh basil, onions and sweet red peppers that were a fantastic counter to its chiles that were pronounced but not at all overbearing. Served over rice, they also had a lot of complexity as different ingredients were prominent with each bite.
The beef had that same yummy chopped meat that the spicy beef had but much fewer pepper flakes, of course. And my version had no red peppers because it was busy and they ran out.
But Kokonaing loaded on the beef to make up for it, which was great, and I still loved it.
I actually loved all of these dishes even more the next day for lunch. I swear something chemically happens when they spent time in the refrigerator and the flavors seemed to transform and become even better the next day. It’s often a cliché when people say something tastes better the next day, but in this case it was true.
The dining area is very pleasantly decorated and even though few stay there to eat, I was greeted and made to feel welcome, and my party was tended to quite well. And even after adding that extra beef and throwing in some free samusas to make up for the scarce ingredients on that overly busy night, Kokonaing still insisted on also discounting my bill.
During another visit, my bill was much less than I expected and I was told the price for the family meal : one large entrée, two partial entrées or a sampler of daily offerings with six egg rolls : was applied to my bill. That was an unexpected and refreshing surprise.
Having to wait on the food for a good half-hour as she dealt with stacked up carry-out orders that were called in before I arrived also was not so bad because it just gave me an excuse to go next door to Fort Wayne Pinball and throw a bunch of quarters down the slots like I did when I was a kid.
It was just another thing to love about Nine House, a place I will be visiting again soon. I have to try those dumplings.
Restaurant: Nine House
Address: 14617 Lima Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Kid-friendly: Yes, but no menu
Menu: Samusas (8.99 for 6; 3 for 2; 15 per dozen), entrées (40)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.