You wake up and you want the old reliables -- coffee, bagels, eggs and bacon, pancakes. For some people, though, the old reliables turn out to be pork dumplings fused together into one giant cake, pastry stuffed with stew beef, noodles with seafood, noodles with beef broth and noodles with pungent soybean paste with a subtle blend of flavors that wakes up your senses one at a time, like a gentle but persistent snooze alarm.
It took a little cajoling to get a few groups of people together for Chinese breakfast, a special weekend-only menu of regional northern Chinese dishes rarely seen in these parts, but no one who committed to the trips came away disappointed. Rather, the Chinese breakfast served at Jung's Golden Dragon counts among the area's exotic dining experiences, all within view of a Target department store directly across Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie.
Jung's has been around for three decades and its bread-and-butter business comes from standard, bargain-priced Chinese-American fare, the hit parade of dishes so familiar most people don't need a menu to order. It's certainly not an auspicious looking place from the outside, located on the second floor above a 24-hour bar that even before noon one Sunday was blaring Boston tunes so loud we could feel the bass line to "More Than a Feeling" through the floor. Perhaps the first clue that you're in the right place, though, is the handwritten breakfast menu taped to the front door with three pages of Chinese lettering and one page of English translations. Clue No. 2 comes from the tables of families inside chatting in Chinese with the gracious hostesses as they use chopsticks to break individual dumplings out of something sizzling, aromatic and the size of a pizza.
This is the fascinating and delicious pot sticker dish. Cooked in a skim of liquid and apparently tipped whole from the pan to the serving platter, the dish is composed of ten dumplings all joined together by a lacey webbing of egg batter. The dark undersides of each dumpling are crisp and well done while the tops, where the dough comes together in a lip, are soft and moist and bursting with juice when you take a bite. The filling is a tender pork meatball with plenty of ginger and scallion.
There are more surprises. Something translated from Chinese here as "chives pockets" are shaped like Nachitoches meat pies with almost flaky, biscuit-style dough stuffed with minced chives and onion, chopped, thin glass noodles and bits of scrambled egg. The green onion pancake is the size of a pita loaf and is chewy with some crispiness at its edges. It's interesting for a few bites on its own, better with garlic chili sauce smeared on it and best of all when dunked into one of the noodle dishes that make up most of the menu. The sesame pancake was much different. The consistency of the cake itself was somewhere between bread and tortilla and it was rolled in sesame seeds and wrapped around dark planks of stew beef and raw cilantro. It looks like a small sandwich and that's the way we ate it.
The ja-jiang mien, a staple dish that straddles both Chinese and Korean cuisines, is a bowl of noodles covered in stir-fried bits of ground pork, loads of garlic and dark, pungent soybean paste. A clutch of sprouts and slivered cucumber provides a cool, crisp contrast to the soft noodles. Like a lot of these dishes, the ja-jiang mien makes a pretty picture when it arrives, with its various elements arrayed over the noodles, but eating it gets better and better as the dish gets messier and mingled. Mixed properly, every chopstick load of noodles will have bits of pork, garlic and vegetables adhered to it with sauce.
The Szechuan cold noodles are also excellent, made with familiar spaghetti noodles covered in a beguiling mixture of vinegar, chili oil, something sweet and Szechuan hot peppers. The result is a slow, creeping heat that seems more vinegary and sweet until your palate starts to pulse to its own beat. The sesame paste cold noodles were similar, but not so spicy. Both are vegetarian and both are served warm here, despite the temperature adjective in their names.
Jung's spicy beef noodle soup is not going to tempt anyone away from their favorite pho, the much more complexly seasoned beef noodle soup available at just about every Vietnamese restaurant in the area. But it still has the restorative qualities of simmered beef broth, muscled up with fatty stew beef and filled out with slurpable noodles.
Nothing on the Chinese breakfast menu is priced above $9 and most of the dishes are large enough to fill you up on their own. It's a good idea to come with company so you can try a few things.
The regular menu has a few standout dishes if you dig through the ordinary Mandarin chicken, kung po shrimp and the like. A short list of Thai dishes includes shrimp cooked in a moderately spicy sauce with chunks of fresh mango. The Szechuan pork with hot cabbage had nicely smoky slices of pork over something like wet, spicy kimchee. There's another version of the ja-jaing mien, listed under a mini category of Korean soft noodles, but it is milder than the Chinese breakfast version and doesn't have all the vegetables.
No matter whether you order crab Rangoon and General Tso's chicken or paint your pot stickers in garlic chili sauce, meals here still end with a fortune cookie plunked in front of everyone's very full bellies.