Solo Road Trip Home Part II continues here.
I was pleasantly surprised when my folks agreed to a meal at Dong Yang, a tiny Korean restaurant located inside a tiny Korean grocery store, connected to a hardware store in Hilltop, MN (near Fridley and Colombia Heights).
735 45th Ave NE
When I lived near Theodore Wirth Park, I occasionally ordered take-out from Dong Yang. Since my folks recently moved to Shoreview, it seemed like a shame not to take advantage of the close proximity.
J. is an adventurous diner who is fond of spicy food, while Dad has always preferred his food mild and well-done. I prepped them about Dong Yang’s stern Korean grandmother-style of service and they assured me they were ready. Despite my dad’s disdain for kimchee.
We meandered through Dong Yang’s grocery store to the small kitchen that bustled with customers. Although most of the tables were full, a gentleman graciously led us to an open seat.
I immediately noticed an illuminated menu with prices and photographs above the counter. Gone were the pieces of 8 X 11 paper with menu items handwritten in Korean. An arched entryway punctuated the back of the dining room where there had once stood a solid wall.
J. ordered the spicy pork stir fry, Dad chose beef bulgogi, and I ordered the kalbi shortribs. When Dad handed the woman the credit card to pay our bill, she flung the card into the air and let it crash down onto the counter, where it rattled to a halt. This sequence occurred within the blink of an eye and was performed in a comically, nonchalant manner.
We froze in confusion as we tried to figure out how the card flew up into the air. Finally, she broke the silence by saying “No MasterCard.” Her deadpan expression softened a bit. Dad muttered “you were right” from the corner of his mouth and I just nodded and smiled as I tried not to crack-up.
After we settled, we were brought a beautiful tray of banchan, delightful little dishes of Korean appetizers and pickles, perfect for cutting the richness of meat. We also received our own little bowl of rice.
Our spread included spicy, assorted kimchees and milder dishes like slightly sweet beansprouts, marinated strips of fishcake, eggplant and a cabbage salad of sorts.
Besides the traditional cabbage kimchee, my favorites included the eggplant and this spicy version kimchee made with different vegetables.
Shortly after, the kitchen began to set our entrees on the counter. J’s spicy pork stir fry was indeed spicy.
Much spicier than the version Jake used to order from Hoban, and plush with fresh veggies like sliced jalapeno, thinly shaved carrot, and silky cabbage. The sauce was delightfully spicy, perfectly balanced to the point of tasting addicting, and complicated in flavor. This is definitely my favorite and spiciest version this type of pork dish I have ever tried in a local Korean restaurant. When I return, I will order another serving.
Dad’s beef bulgogi was savory and sweet.
The slices of beef were thin, though one slice I tried was slightly dry. I’m a sucker for beef bulgogi so I still considered it delicious. He complained a bit about some fatty bits of meat he had to pick around, a taste and texture to which I’ve become accustomed or acquired the taste.
My galbi short ribs were plush and flavorful. Some of the meat was medium rare, a treat in my book.
They were a bit chewy, but not enough to complain about and I enjoy working for my meat. Similar to chicken wings and crab, I don’t mind navigating around bone and cartilage, and savoring small bits of melting fat.
During a lull, the staff took a break to enjoy a staff meal and I admired the mysterious and delicious-looking contents in their bowls and pots.
After we finished eating, we stood up to leave and had almost passed through the dining room’s doorway when we heard the same woman hollering at us. When she repeated “self-serve” we realized she was trying to tell us to pick up our dang dishes, so we scurried back to clear our table.
On the way out, we explored the restaurant and curiously eyed a row of tables near the entry, displaying plastic bins of mysterious treats. All of the items were available for sampling, suggested by a plethora of toothpicks.
I didn’t feel brave enough to taste tiny, preserved fish soaking a vibrant red brine, nor preserved sea squirt. Yes, sea squirt. The same, pulsating, ruby red creature Andrew Zimmern sampled in Japan on Bizarre Foods.
All in all, the food was divine and the dining experience an adventure. The prices of soups and entrees ranged around $8.99-$13.99 and the portion sizes were plentiful. And remember, that banchan always comes with the meal. I love Korean food, I love Dong Yang, and I love the Korean grandmothering I never received. There’s nothing like making up for lost time.