It might seem strange to some that a Northeast Pennsylvania native with Italian heritage would find success opening a “modern ramen joint” that serves up noodles and broth Japanese-style.
But Gene Philbin never tried to fit the mold with his food, even from his first job working at McDonald’s when he would “goof around” with ingredients to try to create something new. To him and his wife, Miranda, Peculiar Slurp Shop was exactly what Scranton needed.
“We’ve always tried to separate ourselves from the norm, hence the name,” Philbin said.
Local foodies may recognize his work from pop-up dinners he’s cooked since 2012 as Peculiar Culinary Co. Without a home or dedicated kitchen space of his own, Philbin rented breweries, bars, restaurants and industrial kitchens on a monthly basis to present unique, limited menus. By fall 2015, the Philbins acquired a food truck that they worked from and then got into wedding catering by request.
“We kept taking slow steps to brick-and-mortar,” Philbin explained. “We had the name, the plan and the following. I loved ramen in the city, and I bought (Momofuku restaurateur) David Chang’s cookbook and fell in love with it.
“I spent years making it our own. We did ramen night every Friday at the Keys,” he said, noting his residency with the downtown Scranton bar. “We talked to our developer, Art Russo, and he said, ‘OK, what do you want to do?’ and we said, ‘A ramen joint. It’s time.’”
Peculiar Slurp Shop opened its doors on Penn Avenue on May 15 and hosted a grand opening during June’s First Friday art walk. The high-ceilinged, polished industrial layout houses seating for 41 at a bar and low, black oval tables that contrast against bright orange and green chairs. Local art adorns the interior, and a wall offers an explainer for the question, “What’s in my bowl?” alongside a glossary of a dozen food terms describing ingredients found on the menu.
“We want it to feel like the city, whether that’s Old Town Philly or down on Bleecker Street in New York,” Philbin said. “We just decorated how we like, so it’s kind of a hodgepodge. I’ve got Godzilla on the wall because I love horror movies and I wanted him there.”
The signature dish at Peculiar Slurp Shop is the Spicy Pork Belly Ramen Bowl, though vegan diners also can find offerings such as the Wild Mushroom Ramen and the Soba Noodle Salad. Under small plates, guests can order Tuna Poke (prepared with bourbon barrel-aged soy) and Japanese Fried Chicken Morsels, among other delights.
The Bao Buns — steamed, soft yeast rolls described on the menu as being “like a perfect slider” — come in BBQ Pork Belly, Spicy Shrimp and BBQ Mushroom varieties.
The drinks are worth experimenting with, too, from the imported Japanese soft drinks to the beer list, which consists of about 85 percent local brews, Philbin noted. Supporting fellow local small businesses is important, whether it’s via local music played over the speakers or buying produce from area growers.
“We’re not made of money by any means, but I’d rather spend the extra $2 on lettuce from the person I know who picked it,” he said. “We look at what we can get fresh and local, so in the winter, you won’t find a tomato anywhere on the menu.”
While the regular menu may change somewhat seasonally, the daily specials are where Philbin truly stretches his muscles as a Culinary Institute of America grad.
“We go nuts and have fun with the features. That’s where we do the fun stuff,” he said. “I do like pulling funky ingredients, but we have to use them wisely so people enjoy them.”
He also believes in constantly trying new approaches to ramen, even if it means incorporating other ethnic flavors and techniques.
“Daily, I’m trying to read and learn new things,” Philbin said. “I touch a lot on Korea, and I’m working on Thai and Singaporean dishes. I’m learning the regions to make the dishes true but also familiar to Scranton.”
By the fall, the Philbins hope to expand their hours from five days a week (Tuesdays through Saturdays) to include an extra Monday night dinner service to accommodate guests. The restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, though it does hold a wait list for larger parties who call ahead.
However long it takes to get a seat, the experience is worth it, especially thanks to the enthusiasm of the rest of the wait staff who love the food passionately.
“Our servers love talking about the dishes they love. (One waiter) talks about the Miso affectionately like it’s his grandma’s soup,” Philbin said. “I hope it gets passed on, and the guests get pumped, too.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5369; @pwildingTT on Twitter
Address: 307 Penn Ave., Scranton
Established: May 15, 2018
Owners: Miranda and Gene Philbin
Cuisine: “Modern ramen joint”
Hours: Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Online: Visit peculiar slurp.com or the restaurant’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.