Halifax institution opens Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in landmark St. John’s building
The lunch rush was on. I walked into the street-level restaurant in the Mix Apartments on Duckworth Street at noon, ready to dive headfirst into a bowl of pho, and was greeted with a full house.
Gingergrass Thai and Vietnamese Restaurant opened in August 2019 amidst much culinary commotion.
The loss of both Taste of Thai and Saigon Bistro in the past few years meant St. John’s restaurant-goers have missed balancing hot, sweet, sour and salty flavours on their tongues while slurping down the curries, soups and noodles Southeast Asia is known for.
Luckily my dining companion was seated when I arrived, an old friend who was trying Gingergrass for the first time. I ate at the restaurant at least three times in the first few weeks it opened. And then I ate there a few more times.
Let’s just say I was excited about a Thai restaurant in the city again (no, Thai Express in the Avalon Mall doesn’t count).
While Gingergrass is new to St. John’s, owner Nira Nugroho isn’t at all new to the restaurant game. Her Halifax restaurant, which went by the same name, was an institution on Barrington Street for almost a decade but was forced to close in 2017 because of the skyrocketing rent. Last year, she decided to open here in St. John’s — her Halifax restaurant will be reopening in a new location soon, too.
Gingergrass’ esthetic is modern by circumstance, the brand new space is bedecked with white walls, pale wood furniture and pops of green. Subtle hints of Southeast Asia are found in the colourful artwork on the walls, silk embroidered pillows on the banquet and an intricate pattern reminiscent of Thai textiles woven into the commercial-grade laminate.
We sipped on wine while perusing the menu. There are at least 10 wines by the glass ranging from the house red ($7) to the Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc at $9 (my choice). My dining companion had the German Riesling ($8) which goes great with spicy food. There’s also local beer from Quidi Vidi and the expected Pepsi products, not to mention hot and cold Vietnamese coffee options and Thai milk iced tea.
The food menu is equally comprehensive with an array of dishes ranging from spring rolls to the infamous Northern Thai Noodle Curry, a photo of which received many dismayed messages of longing from Halifax when I posted it to Instagram after my first visit.
However, the biggest confusion with the menu is that aside from the two Thai soups, most of the dishes were not listed by their Thai names, and those who have frequented Thai spots in the past may have a harder time recognizing their favourites.
Luckily the eager servers were able to steer me towards the right dishes on each occasion — the service at Gingergrass is consistently courteous with prompt water refilling and dish clearing.
To start, my friend chose the Tom Yum soup ($6.99), a hot and sour Thai soup with lime, lemongrass, mushroom and cilantro, which landed blow-by-blow punches of flavour to the tongue from salty at the front, to the sweet spot in the middle, and hot in the back.
The Pork Spring Rolls ($5.95 for two) were filled with flavourful minced pork, glass noodles and mung bean, and were perfectly fried, ready to dip in the pungent yet sweet accompanying fish sauce.
I tried the Vietnamese Beef Pho ($13.95) for the first time on this particular visit. The huge bowl of rice noodle soup swelled with a homemade chicken broth flavoured by star anise, clove, cinnamon and delicious layers of fish sauce and ginger, slowly cooked and served with bean sprouts, green onion and cilantro. The thinly sliced beef floating on top is tossed in at the last second, cooked by the broth by the time it reached the table. It tasted exactly as I hoped it would.
My dining companion’s Spicy Beef ($13.95) with spicy red Thai curry sauce, carrots, peppers and bamboo shoot was slightly less impressive, but still worth every bite, tossed with a side of rice vermicelli noodles ($3.25).
We chatted through the end of lunch service at 2:30 p.m., but the rush didn’t really stop the whole time we were there. In fact, through all my visits the doors never stopped swinging. Gingergrass is clearly a welcome addition to the dining scene in the city. Halifax’s (soon-to-be-temporary) loss is St. John’s’ gain.
345 Duckworth St., Unit 101
1 (709) 702-THAI (8424)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday
5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
Accessibility: No stairs but the entrance does not have automatic door opening. Washrooms are completely accessible with automatic door opening buttons and locks.
Noise level: Average, low music, loud at peak times
Reservations: For parties of four or larger reservations can be made by phone (no voicemail), walk-in only for smaller tables.
Take-away: Online ordering coming soon, orders for pick up available by phone
Meal for two with appetizers, mains and wine: $65
Gabby Peyton is a freelance food writer based in St. John’s. You can reach her by email at [email protected] or via Twitter and Instagram @gabbypeytoneats.