Ramen lovers rejoice, because Crane Ramen has come to Jacksonville! For having a small footprint, the space is quite ample, with two outdoor seating areas: on a front porch-ish area and on a back patio, where a ramen bar lets you see the chef prep bowls and crisp Brussels sprouts, and a second bar from which you order Japanese beer like Asahi and Kirin, traditional sake and fantastic cocktails. Crane's cocktail program is run by Austin Reinhard, and the choices are refreshing. The gin-based Riverside Sling with Yellow Chartreuse ($10) and after-dinner bourbon cocktail Mr. Nobody with Ginger Syrup, Peychaud's Bitters and Absinthe Ordinaire ($11) caught my eye right away.
Everyone's all about the ramen and Crane gets the job done. From al dente noodles, halved egg with juicy yolk, tender pork and rich broth, it's got what you crave, ramen fans! The meat is top notch; tuck into meltaway chashu (roast pork) in the Tonkotsu, or fragrant ginger chicken meatballs in Paitan 2.0. If you're looking for a broth that isn't meat-based, the Market Veggie Miso is for you. Order adult ($10.95-$13.50) or kids ($7.95-$8.95)-no age limit. Even the kid-sized is a hearty portion, so plan accordingly. You can add items like enoki mushrooms, chicken meatballs, more noodles, etc. Expect to get a little messy-this Japanese-style bowl is meant to be slurped down in all its flavorful glory. No slurp-shaming.
Let's move along to the small bites menu, or Otsumami, which translates to snacks (usually consumed with alcohol) in English. Never thought I'd be drooling over something besides ramen at a ramen shop—but turns out the Agedashi Tofu Steamed Buns ($5.95) are my must-eat list's new addition. The soy-marinated tofu is wrapped in dried seaweed, fried and slathered in hoisin. The bao buns are as light and fluffy as yeasty clouds. Each bite brings a blend of textures—the crunch of fried tofu, the lusciously creamy inside, and the softness of the bao. It's a little like heaven. There's a star anise pork belly version ($6.95), too, cooked so expertly it may be my favorite pork belly in the city.
We all know I fall in love with mushrooms at first taste, but the Bonito & Butter Mushrooms ($8.95) were a cut above; my chopsticks kept going back to pinch another bite. The dish features white and brown beech mushrooms, maitake and shiitake in a rich butter sauce. What more do you want? Another dish on the must-have list is kimchi Brussels sprouts ($8.95). These giant sprouts are tossed with garlic (as is right and good with the world) and mushrooms, but the kick here is the kimchi purée. I'm usually a Brussels purist—salt, garlic, olive oil, nothing else—but I've seen the light and kimchi is a perfect companion to Brussels. Dig in, friends, dig in.
The small but extremely well-laid-out restaurant is bound to enchant your taste buds, and not just with ramen.