A popular quote, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” fits Noodle Koodle, a new restaurant in Blair.
Owner Jeff Brehm and his wife, Debbie, returned to Blair in 2008 after 20 years in San Antonio.
Jeff thought he could work in information technology at Offutt Air Force Base, but the base had a hiring freeze. While he was instead working at an agricultural plant in Blair, he thought of starting a food truck to feed the workers who waited for hours in corn trucks.
Jeff's wife and his sister Jill Harrold had lots of pasta sauce recipes they had been cooking for their family for years. Many of the recipes were designed for one of their children who had a number of allergies.
The Noodle Koodle food truck was ready to go, but insurance issues at the plant where Jeff worked ended their plan. They decided to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant instead.
Jeff and his family spent the next few months looking for a location in Blair. Noodle Koodle, at 1621 Washington St., opened Jan. 3.
Noodle Koodle is right in the middle of Blair's historic main street. Most of the buildings were built in the mid-1800s. The original brick remains on both walls in the entryway of the new restaurant, and Jeff did many of the improvements to the restaurant himself, including adding new silver vents on the ceiling and a counter for ordering and serving.
On one wall diners can see where the original wood stove that heated the building was located. The small dining room seats just over 30.
The succinct menu has six pasta and sauce dishes, a side salad and several desserts.
All the entrees are served in resealable 12-ounce plastic containers and the silverware is plastic, too. It's all held over from the initial food truck plan. All the pastas are under $5; for a couple dollars more each can be turned into a combo with sides and a drink. Noodle Koodle also serves 48 oz. family-size containers for around $15 each.
Jeff and his staff make the sauces fresh daily, and when they are gone, that's it for the day. On our first evening visit, only three sauces remained. My wife, Kris, had the Strog-a-noodle, which is beef, fresh sautéed mushrooms and cream over egg noodles.
I have never been a fan of cooked mushrooms because they often dominate the flavor of the dish. In the Strog-a-noodle, the mushrooms don't take center stage. Instead, you can taste the onion and garlic along with the slightly spicy cream sauce. The sliced fajita beef was tender and Kris said she liked the way the egg noodles held the sauce.
Originally, Jeff said, the dish was served with bow-tie noodles but customers requested egg noodles instead.
On our first visit, I had the King Koodle, which is basically a deconstructed enchilada. Jeff said his wife came across the recipe when the couple lived in Texas.
The chicken is sautéed with onions, garlic and bell pepper and then combined with cream, southwest spices and cheese. It's served over penne pasta and topped with crumbled tortilla chips. I really liked the way the flavors of the pasta and chicken mixed with the cheese and chips. I wouldn't call it spicy, but it does have a little kick after the first couple of bites.
We both ordered our meals as combos with two sides and a drink. We tried a basic iceberg lettuce salad with fresh tomatoes, a fruit salad that was a blend of oranges and grapefruit and one dessert, a slice of turtle cheesecake.
The desserts and fruit salad come from Reinhart Foods in Omaha. Desserts include brownies, two kinds of cheesecake and chocolate or Boston cream pie. Jeff said he is working on finding a local baker to provide desserts.
Nonetheless, Kris enjoyed the turtle cheesecake, even though it was still slightly frozen in the middle.
I had my favorite of the dishes during our second visit. The Kajun Koodle is a creamy jambalaya served over spiral pasta.
Jeff said the recipe is a combination of the time they spent in Texas and in Shreveport, La.
The Kajun Koodle is not spicy but is very flavorful, with andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp. The sauce is tomato-based with onion and bell pepper, and the chicken is sautéed before it's mixed with the sausage and shrimp. Jeff says they picked the spiral noodle because the sauce sticks to it better, allowing for a full-flavored bite.
Our oldest son loves mac and cheese, so we ordered the Bake-a-roni for him. It's baked macaroni with four kinds of cheese, including cheddar and mozzarella, over penne pasta.
The pasta was a little hard and difficult for him to chew. Jeff said that was because the dish had just come out of the oven and needed to sit for a while longer. I thought the cheese sauce was very good but many of the noodles were almost crunchy.
The spaghetti with meat sauce is traditional. A sauce made with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic and Italian-style sausage wasn't too spicy. My oldest son, who can't eat anything spicy, had several bites and had no issue with the sauce or the sausage. My wife thought the sauce was a tad bit salty.
Jeff says he has had some complaints from parents about the sausage and veggies in the spaghetti sauce when they order it for kids so they're working on a more kid-friendly spaghetti with plain sauce.
That's not all he has planned.
Jeff hopes to add gluten-free pasta, a cold breakfast pasta called Noodle Kugel and their version of Pad Thai. The goal, he said, is to keep customers happy. So far, they're doing it.