We're all familiar with Cleveland's AsiaTown, a robust concentration of Asian-owned restaurants, markets and shops in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood. But a little less conspicuous is the one currently taking shape in University Circle. Within a few short blocks of the intersection of Euclid and Mayfield are no fewer than eight Asian eateries, buoyed in large part by a student population hungry for a taste of home.
Newest among them is Phusion Cafe, owned by Andy Newman with partner Ivan Tsou. The two also run Phusion in AsiaTown, Phuel Cafe in Playhouse Square and China Sea, which Tsou has owned for more than 30 years. The pair also intend to open a second Phuel on Chester near the campus of the Cleveland Clinic.
Phusion is located on the ground floor of Euclid 116, the brand new apartment building that replaced Mi Pueblo (and later Piñatas). The first thing that strikes a diner when entering is the menu, a dauntingly large chalkboard wall emblazoned with dozens and dozens of entries handwritten both in English and Chinese characters. Newman describes it as a sort of Greatest Hits roundup of the group's most popular dishes.
Taiwanese street eats like noodle and rice bowls are amazing values, with dishes like the Peddler's noodles ($6.95) and Hakka noodle soup ($8.95) rising to the top. The former is a deep bowl of chewy noodles, minced pork, boiled shrimp and crisp bok choy in a savory broth. The latter a satisfying medley of noodles, tofu and tender pork ribs in a rich broth. It's topped with a puddle of pungent fermented black bean paste that gets stirred into the soup.
Long-braised meats like pork, pork belly and even "trotters" are served on noodles or rice and garnished with bright pickled veggies, sauteed greens and the occasional hard-cooked tea egg. A whole category of "Night Market" items range in price from $1.25 for an egg roll up to $15 for a family-style lamb pot with rice. Popular dishes include crunchy fried popcorn chicken, crispy scallion pancakes, and steamed or fried pot stickers.
The number of dishes and the speed at which they come out is impressive for such a petite space. While many customers grab and go, there are a dozen or so seats from which to enjoy your food from real tableware and utensils. To drink there's bubble and milk teas made from TenRen teas and quality fruit syrups.