Tastes of Vietnam, America at Goshen cafe

Golden Monkey is offering new and traditional flavors at a Goshen restaurant.
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

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Sophana Ham wanted to serve people Vietnamese food and American food.

So far, people are more interested in the Vietnamese food.

“People want the Asian food,” said Ham, who owns and operates The Golden Monkey Cafe, a small place on the southeast side of Goshen.

Operating a restaurant is tough. Trying to introduce new flavors to a town is even harder, but the customers have been receptive in Goshen. Serving the traditional American items hasn't gone as smoothly.

The menu at breakfast is touted as “All-American.” It has offers eggs, pancakes, potatoes. I'd say that French toast is still an All-American item, despite the name. That's on the menu too.

But breakfast is slow. A few regulars are faithful, but it's not as busy as lunch and dinner.

Ham even got a nasty letter from someone saying that they weren't All-American and shouldn't be touting that on the menu.

That's absurd and makes my heart break a little.

For the record, Ham was born in Goshen and raised in Elkhart. She went to Texas to help with a relative's doughnut shop. She came back to be with family and worked at Medtec until it closed. The location at 1311 Lincolnway East, Goshen, was empty and she and her family opted to open a restaurant.

Since opening Feb. 15, Golden Monkey has changed its hours a couple times and tweaked the menu. But Ham isn't ready to abandon breakfast yet. She wants to give it three more months.

I don't have strong feelings on whether Golden Monkey serves breakfast. My father, who is there more than I in the morning, may want it to remain.

I want to try the Monkey Cheese Steak and Unique Burger, sandwiches on the lunch menu which combine cheese and beef in interesting ways. Those are American items.

But I mostly care that Golden Monkey continue to offer its Asian food. That's what makes it different and worth visiting.

The pho is a big bowl of beef broth soup with the proper mix of fresh ingredients. For $8.25, you get beef, shrimp and tripe, which is part of authentic pho. It's tender when it's prepared right and this is a pretty good bowl of pho.

The Thai tea of black tea with sugar and condensed milk ($2.95) is a rich treat. The bubble tea ($5.50) has pearls of tapioca in a smoothie made with tea, milk and a fruit flavor. I do love pulling a big pearl of tapioca through a big straw and chewing it.

The egg rolls are thin and delicate. They were greasy one time when I got them, but otherwise have been excellent. The spring rolls are unfried with meat, vegetables and mint in rice paper. They're good, too.

The “bundle of joy” is a large meat-filled dumpling. When my wife ordered it, Vesna Tim, Ham's husband, offered a soup with it because that's how he would eat it. The combination worked well.

The House Mix has noodles topped with beef, egg rolls and sweet and sour sauce, along with cucumber, bean sprouts and mint. It's a lot of food for $8.95.

That seems to be a theme at Golden Monkey. Portions are large. The food is inexpensive. I'd be willing to pay a dollar or so more on most of the entrees. The flavors are good and simple. Like Shekinah in Elkhart, this feels like home cooking rather than refined cuisine, only this is Vietnamese rather than Filipino.

The nice thing about a Vietnamese/American restaurant is not everyone has to be willing to venture into new territory. A parent can get raspberry ribs or fried rice while you eat tripe.

“I would like it to stay American and Vietnamese together,” Ham said. She wants to do both.

I don't know if it's possible. I hope so. But mostly I'm just glad she and her family are offering a new kind of Asian food in Elkhart County and in Goshen.

The restaurant is still working out how to serve a crowd quickly, what hours it should be open and what its identity should be.

That's OK. I'll just order pho and take what comes.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@etruth.com, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via www.facebook.com/diningalaking.


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