Thursday, April 21, 2011
Hartford Food Guy Reviews: Pho Boston
No, I wasn't in Boston on business.Pho Boston is actually in West Hartford, in the plaza on New Britain Avenue that sits on the Hartford/West Hartford line (the address is actually on Shield Street). My Italian-American co-worker suggested it as a less-crowded alternative to Pho 501 in East Hartford and we went for lunch there on Tuesday.
That area - the Elmwood section of West Hartford and the Foster Heights section of Hartford - was once home to a very large Irish-American community. Like many Irish neighborhoods, it had a storied political history, mostly (if not entirely) because Foster Heights was home to Eleanor Kennelly. If the name Kennelly is vaguely familiar, it is probably because Eleanor's son, Jim, became Speaker of the Connecticut General Assembly, her daughter-in-law Barbara went off to Congress and ran for Governor, and her grandson John served on the Hartford City Council.
Mrs. Kennelly, however, was a formidable and extraordinary woman in her own right, and not only because she was in politics at a time when that was very rare for a woman. By all accounts, she was a determined campaigner, a master (actually mistress) at cultivating her political base by meeting the needs of her constituents, and a leader capable of inspiring fierce loyalty from her supporters.
Indeed, I am told that during a particular Presidential primary the legendary John M. Bailey, a confidant of President Kennedy and national powerbrokerextraordinaire, decided that Connecticut Democrats would be backing a particular candidate. And so they did; except in a single precinct in the City of Hartford - Foster Heights. Mrs. Kennelly, you see, was backing a different candidate for President and so her neighborhood voted overwhelmingly for her candidate instead of the mighty John Bailey's.
What makes that story particularly interesting was that Mr. Bailey's daughter, Barbara, was married to Mrs. Kennelly's son, James. You can imagine what the Bailey/Kennelly holidays were like that year!
Both times and neighborhoods change, of course, and neither Elmwood nor Foster Heights has much of an Irish population these days. In fact, Elmwood now has a substantial Asian population and Pho Boston and the A Dong Market (in the same plaza) are cornerstones of that new community.
My co-worker suggested we start with some springrolls which was just fine with me. Pho Boston has several different types of springrolls and we decided to try a pair of the goi cuon ($3.75) (#2 on the menu), which consisted of mint, vermicelli, shredded pork, and shrimp. The rolls were large, but I have to say I was not all that impressed as I thought my roll lacked flavor.
I am not a big fan of pho, so I opted for the canh chua ga; i.e the hot and sour soup with chicken ($10.95) (#105 on the menu). It was not the best hot and sour soup I've ever had, but it was very good and a solid choice. The portion was also massive (it came in a very large bowl). I was perfectly satisfied.
My Italian-American co-worker had the banh xeo, which was a crepe with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts ($7.95) (#13 on the menu). It looked delicious and my friend said it was. It was also very amply sized.
Pho Boston has an extensive menu (130 items in all) and the service is solid. The atmosphere is OK, but only pretty much what you'd expect from a restaurant located in a strip mall. That said, the place was crowded with a diverse clientele and my co-worker tells me they always have had good crowds when he has been there, so they must be doing something right.
I have no idea why Pho Boston is called Pho Boston and their website didn't offer any insight. I do know, however, that Pho Boston is a nice little restaurant and that my friend and I both had a good lunch. At some point, my wife and I will check it out for dinner and you probably should too.