Three brothers-in-law have created a delightful new Vietnamese restaurant in Mechanicsburg. Gordon Crampton, Tony Nguyen and Do Duong built Pho 7 Spice from the ground up. The three men, along with their wives, designed the chic modern interior. They built most of the furniture and lighting from scratch and installed the floors themselves, purchasing only the table legs and chairs. The result is a light, beautiful, modern-looking restaurant offering delicious, authentic food.
Nguyen had been nurturing and revising his personal pho recipe for many years but waited until the timing felt right to open a restaurant. And his patience is paying off. Since Pho 7 Spice have its soft opening in January, local media and foodie message boards have been buzzing with enthusiasm.
I was excited to taste the food. As I entered the restaurant, I was impressed with the clean, warm feel of the interior. The dining room was simple but stylishly decorated with a high open ceiling and light walls adorned with bright prints. The staff was friendly and professional. From the moment I walked in, I felt like an honored guest of the family.
As the restaurant’s name suggests, the menu revolves around pho (or Vietnamese soup), a staple comfort food for many Vietnamese families. Pho (pronounced “fuh,” with an upward, questioning intonation) is believed to have entered the mainstream in Southeast Asia at the beginning of the 20th century and in the United States at the end of the same century. It’s a delicious and satisfying combination of rice noodles, fresh vegetables, spices and broth cooked for many hours.
Pho comes in several varieties – including beef, chicken, seafood and vegetable – and is served with various accompaniments like Thai basil (a sweet purple basil native to Southeast Asia), crunchy bean sprouts and dipping sauces. The sweetness, sour, heat and rich broth combine to produce a unique and addictive dish.
Crampton says the restaurant’s name refers to Nguyen’s proprietary seven-spice pho recipe. Three of the seven spices are a secret, the result of Nguyen’s painstaking research. But Crampton is willing to reveal the other four: coriander, star anise, cloves
I ordered seafood pho and beef meatball pho. The seafood pho contained
the freshest shrimp, scallops and squid I have had this far from the ocean. They were perfectly cooked, and the seafood broth was so flavorful it could stand alone as an entree.
But the scrumptious seafood, crispy shredded carrots, cucumbers, scallions, lettuce, bean sprouts, Thai basil and vermicelli rice noodles with spicy sauce and a lime definitely enhanced the flavor. According to Crampton, the restaurant makes every effort to obtain local ingredients for all the recipes – and the quality is evident.
Beef meatball pho can be ordered with or without tendons – I chose without. Like the seafood broth, the beef broth tasted of a long slow cooking process that brought every element of flavor together in each delicious sip. The meatballs – made with finely ground beef – were mild and tasty, with hints of interesting spices. The toppings were the same as those offered with the seafood pho, served in ample proportions and absolutely fresh.
Another dish worth noting is the seven-spice special pho made with seven cuts of meat: rare beef slices, flank steak, fatty brisket, lean brisket, beef tendons, tripe and beef meatballs. I didn’t try it, but the menu’s description definitely caught
I sampled both the spring rolls and egg rolls. The spring rolls are made of a soft rice paper wrapped around shrimp, pork, basil, lettuce and cucumber slivers and served with peanut dipping sauce. Each roll was a work of art in itself, with the ingredients arranged to shine through the light wrappings in a way that pleased the eye.
The cool, refreshing spring rolls contrasted nicely with the warm, crispy egg rolls. The deep-fried egg rolls contained ground pork, julienne carrots, jicama, onion, vermicelli and mushrooms. They came with a light, flavorful sweet and sour sauce brightened with carrot strands.
Crampton, Nguyen, Duong and their wives built Pho 7 Spice around a simple question: What would they want to eat, and how would they want to be treated if they were the customers? The restaurant is open for the convenience of everyone – including busy office workers in search of a quick and delicious lunch, couples craving a sophisticated place for a date, families looking for a great Sunday lunch and diners on special diets.
For the office worker, Pho 7 Spice guarantees that every meal is delivered to the customer’s table within 10 minutes of ordering. This is accomplished through meticulous planning and measurement, as each dish is freshly prepared – not pre-cooked.
Vietnamese food is perfect for anyone who wants to eat healthily and still have a tasty meal. And Pho 7 Spice appeals to many different dietary persuasions, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. Given the portion sizes and the extraordinary quality of the food, the prices are unbeatable – even better for police, fire and military personnel who get a 10-percent discount.
The restaurant serves a variety of traditional beverages like Vietnamese pressed espresso, sweet limeade, Vietnamese salty preserved lemonade, house-pressed sugar cane drink and fruit smoothies made with durian, avocado, strawberry, coconut and pineapple.
Crampton’s sister is responsible for adding desserts to the menu. Most recently, her chocolate rum cake with butter cream strawberry filling and toasted nuts was introduced and met with rave reviews.
Clearly, the family behind Pho 7 Spice is energetic, talented and customer-focused. In the future, they plan to emphasize the family vibe by serving family-style meals like stir fries, pork dishes and grilled marinated steak dishes.
• 4830 Carlisle Pike, Suite D8, Mechanicsburg; 412-7155
• Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
• Wheelchair accessible, credit cards accepted, completely nonsmoking, reservations accepted, BYOB, takeout available