Hallelujah! Ramen! Crane Ramen Gets Settled in 5 Points

Veggie Miso Ramen, Photo by Nate Mayo

I’ve been stalking Crane Ramen Gainesville on Instagram for years now. I would daydream about bowls of their ramen floating above my head. Now, I don’t have to dream because they’re here! I sat down with Ramen Master Steve Grimes to get the inside slurp.

Steve Grimes, Photo by Nate Mayo

How is Jacksonville reacting to Crane Ramen?

“We’re getting hammered pretty bad on Facebook and Yelp. A lot of people are saying there’s no flavor in the broth, it’s not authentic, and it’s a whole bunch of white people making Japanese food. Yes, they are correct–I’m a white guy making Japanese food in Florida, for a majority of non-Japanese people. In that sense, it is not technically authentic, but I did train in Japan….I try to make it authentic to what ramen is, which is regional cuisine. I spent five months in Japan. I spent two months traveling on the JR (Japan Rail).… On that you’re able to travel the entire country. Every day I went to a different city. I worked two jobs for a year and saved up $9,000 dollars, and I spent it in two months. I just ate and ate and ate and ate. Every 50 miles the food was different. Yes, there are chains and things like that, but every 50 miles there’s a specific fish or specific vegetable they like to work with. With ramen specifically, there’s a Tokyo style, there’s an Osaka style, a Sapporo style. So, I tried to make it Florida-style ramen.”

What were you doing in Japan that wasn’t ramen?

“I was a sushi chef for 11 years. I was able to work in Nobu with Morimoto. I worked around the States for seven years, moved to Japan and lived in Bangkok for four years. Then I opened up a hotel with some people in Jamaica.… Each time when in a new city I would garnish the locality of it and make it specific to the sushi. And, I try to do that when I started doing ramen. They say 10,000 hours before you master [something], and I did 10,000 that first year (with Crane). I was doing 100 hour weeks. I got a whole bunch of Japanese ramen books in Japanese and had people translate them for me. I would constantly tinker and tinker and tinker and get it better.”

KARAGE Chicken Buns, Photo by Nate Mayo

Tell me about how much effort goes into the food.

“With the femurs and the heads, it’s 20 pigs … to make the broth, and that’s every day to make Tonkotsu (pork-bone broth topped with pork chashu, wood-ear and enoki mushrooms, soy-marinated egg, crispy shallot & garlic chips, black garlic oil and scallions). Our chashu (braised pork belly) takes 14 hours to cook. The belly takes an entire day to cure and then 6 hours to cook and then 6 hours to cool down. The karage chicken (wok-fried, marinated chicken thighs served with katsuobushi salt, house mayo & lime) takes four hours to marinate. The kimchi takes two weeks. We don’t just go to the store and buy ingredients.”

Tell me about the appetizers.

“When we first opened in Gainesville, we said we were only going to do gyoza and karage. At the time, we didn’t have a cooking apparatus for the buns. The buns are not authentically Japanese. They’re not Chinese. They’re Taiwanese and Hong Kong. David Chang was the first to have them at a ramen shop. I wanted to do them. I just wanted to make sure we could serve them properly. I like to cross-utilize my ingredients. So, we had the karage already, so take that and add a sauce to it and put it in a bun.… I didn’t want to do just a normal pork belly, so I took this dish that I had in Shangmai in the north of Thailand. Once that worked out, I really wanted to do the pickles. There’s a bunch of places that have a pickle plate, but it’s all the same brine. You’re eating an asparagus or a mushroom, and it all tastes the same. So, I wanted different textures and different flavors for all of them. Some of them go well with the ramen. Some go well with others.”

TONKOTSU Ramen, Photo by Nate Mayo

Are you shocked at how busy it is?

“Yes and no. I was talking to the staff about this before we opened. It was those first 3 days. I was working that Sunday night and there were 50 people at 5 o’clock ready to come in the door. The staff was like ‘what?…’ and I was like ’this is normal. This is what Crane Ramen is.’ As long as the food is good and service is good, we can stay like that. What is the most shocking to me is [that] the sheer amount of stuff we’re going through is madness. And we’re not fully open yet. We’re not doing food yet in the back patio, and we’re not doing to-go orders.”

What are your short term and long goals?

“To have everything streamlined by the end of April. I would like it to be consistent and high quality, staff on-task and able to produce without me being here. I would like to have a day off. April 24th is my daughter’s birthday. I should be able to have that day off.”
“[Longer term,] I’m hoping to get an off-site kitchen. That would entail all the broths are made in one location, all the gyoza made in one location.”

What are your hours?

“Tuesday through Sunday 11am to 11pm, closed between 3pm and 5pm.”

SHOYU Ramen, Photo by Nate Mayo

My favorites so far are the karage chicken buns, kabocha squash, tonkotsu ramen, and shio ramen plus extra snow crab. Jacksonville is slowly filling all of the food voids: From sushi, to pho, to dim sum, to Brazilian steakhouse, and now ramen. What is next? I don’t know, but what I do know is that Jacksonville’s restaurant game is thriving and it has no signs of stopping.

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