ST. CLOUD — Banh mi-oh-my.
Vietnam Bread & Roll rolled into St. Cloud in mid-November, taking up residence at 1100 Fourth Ave. S, #B, near St. Cloud State University.
The deli-style restaurant has a small-but-focused menu centered on banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich on a French-style baguette. Other menu items include rice and noodle bowls, meatball soup and spring rolls.
Here’s what my guest and I found when we swung by for lunch:
Vietnam Bread & Roll is tucked into an inconspicuous strip of stores off Fourth Avenue. Inside, the space has a design similar in style to other fast-casual sub sandwich restaurants.
As you watch, food is prepared behind a deli bar complete with a cashier, and seating is available at standard tables, high tops or at wall-facing bar stools.
Though on the small side, the dining area is clean and bright, with a lot of natural light pouring through the windows. The music is played at an inoffensive volume and includes top 40 hits with a modern hip hop slant.
There’s no other way to say it: Service was slow at Vietnam Bread & Roll.
Just two employees were on staff at the time, and their service lacked any kind of urgency. They often disappeared from behind the service counter into the depths of the kitchen to, presumably, retrieve ingredients or supplies. But who knows?
We waited about 20 minutes for our food, which is longer than we would have liked. We were dining in, but the staff seemed to prioritize carryout orders — two customers who ordered after us got their food well before we were finally served.
There were other, more minor issues with the service, too. The plastic silverware provided in a serve-yourself station next to the soda machine had forks and spoons, but no knives. This was unfortunate for two people who had ordered quite a bit of food with the intention of cutting items in half and sharing.
Speaking of the soda machine, there were issues there, too. My guest’s soda was flat, and I overheard an employee tell another customer the ice dispenser on that machine was broken. While one could still get ice from the machine the employees used to make their specialty drinks, it is an inconvenience to all involved.
Nearly two months into a restaurant’s life, I don’t expect things to be perfect. But I would expect issues like staffing and speedy service to be sorted by now.
I tried one of Vietnam Bread & Roll’s signature beverages, a sparkling tea. Five varieties are offered — peach, mango, orange, passion fruit and watermelon — and I went with passion fruit, a personal favorite.
While I can’t say I could discern the distinct flavor of passion fruit in the tea (it was more of a general, fruity-sweet flavor,) it was still delicious. It’s a thirst-quencher with just enough sweetness to make it feel like a treat. And the popping boba inside are fun — unlike traditional, chewy boba, these little pearls of fruit flavor pop under your teeth.
It’s not for everyone — my guest was completely grossed out by the notion of the popping pearls — but I enjoyed it. I got a medium sized tea for $4; the jumbo size is $6.
The restaurant also offers Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.50) and fountain soda for 99 cents.
Offered at Vietnam Bread & Roll are six varieties of banh mi, with fillings that include chicken, beef, sardines, tuna and several different kinds of pork.
Traditionally, a banh mi is a small baguette spread with pork liver pâté and filled with one or more meats, like pork belly, sausage or grilled pork, plus fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, pickled carrots and shredded radishes.
We tried Vietnam Bread & Roll’s version of the traditional banh mi, the #1 “Special” banh mi ($4 for a small, $6 for a large; we split the former.) The menu describes this sandwich as having steamed pork roll (sausage,) shredded pork and and ham with pâté and special mayonnaise sauce.
There was no shredded pork on our sandwich, but it did seem we got a double helping of the ham.
The sandwich also came with shredded carrot and cucumber slices, plus sprigs of cilantro (cilantro-haters can request it be left off,) pâté and the “special mayonnaise sauce.”
The sauce seemed to be a simple homemade mayo, which was more yellow in color due to the inclusion of raw egg yolk. And if you’re concerned about the taste of pork liver pâté (I was!), don’t be — there’s no strong liver taste and it serves as more of a rich textural component than a core flavor.
We also ordered the #7, a rice noodle bowl with grilled pork ($7), and the #11, a grilled pork spring roll ($2).
Or, at least, we tried to order the pork spring roll. We were given a shrimp spring roll instead. Regardless, we liked the spring roll fine — the rice paper wrapper was a little gummy, and the homemade hoisin-style sauce a little too sweet.
The rice noodle bowl was a bit of a disappointment. While the meat in the bowl was tender and tasty, the noodles were bare. No sauce, no broth, nothing. Although the bowl was vastly improved by the addition of hoisin sauce, helpfully provided at the self-serve station along with some sriracha products, we were underwhelmed by the base dish.
It’s also worth noting that, while the photo on the menu shows the bowl coming with a baguette on the side, ours did not come with any bread.
Our favorite of the day was definitely the banh mi, which is good news for a banh mi-centric joint.
The bread is the star, with a crunchy outer texture and soft inside, and all the ingredients stuffed inside harmonize nicely. The luscious, fatty pâté and homemade mayo play well with the crunchy vegetables, and everything was very fresh.
Two entrees (the small sandwich and the noodle bowl,) one spring roll, one sparkling tea and a fountain drink set us back $19.36, or less than $10 per person had we split it all right down the middle.
For what it’s worth, a Jimmy John’s sandwich of comparable size to Vietnam Bread & Roll’s “large” goes for about $6, so the price for their core menu item is right on the money.
With the amount of food we received for that price, we felt satisfied, leaving the restaurant full but not overstuffed.
Still, though, there’s a nagging reservation in the back of my mind: At $7 a bowl, shouldn’t those noodles have had some sauce? And was the unique offering of a banh mi really worth all the waiting we did, when we could sate our sandwich craving more quickly somewhere else, for the same price?
Vietnam Bread & Roll has a lot of things working in its favor: A great location near hungry college students, a unique concept, and an approachable menu.
And it would be a very fine introduction to the banh mi for neophytes (banh mi-ophytes?) curious about the famous street food. The sandwich was absolutely the standout of our meal.
Would I go back just for that? I’m not sure. The agonizingly slow service, partially incorrect order, seemingly incomplete entrees and amenity oversights all give me pause.
For this place to really get rolling, they’re going to have to work out the kinks in the service. Many hands make light work, so perhaps a few more folks in the kitchen wouldn’t hurt. Or maybe it’s simply about stepping up the pace.
Whatever solution they come to, I’d be glad to see Vietnam Bread & Roll rise to the occasion.
The above is the opinion of Times reporter Alyssa Zaczek. Follow Alyssa Zaczek on Twitter: @sctimesalyssa, email her at [email protected], or call her at (320) 255-8761.
If you go …
Vietnam Bread & Roll is located at 1100 Fourth Ave. S, #B in St. Cloud.
Hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays. and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/freshvietnamesedelior call (320) 217-8778.
Review: Vietnam Bread & Roll's banh mi were tasty, but sluggish service slowed our roll have 1425 words, post on www.sctimes.com at January 3, 2019. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.