Sugar Bowl: Sweetness plus a little spice makes almost everything nice in Willoughby (photos)

October 4, 2018

Sugar Bowl: Sweetness plus a little spice makes almost everything nice in Willoughby (photos)

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio -- Cuter than a clowder of new-born kitten videos, Sugar Bowl’s sweet logo pretty much tells you everything you need to know. It’s a peach-colored bowl with a cheery smiling face sporting a top knot of pho noodles bedecked with chop sticks. In one anthropomorphic hand, the bowl holds a cupcake. In the other, a glass of bubble tea.

There you have it. Sugar Bowl, located discreetly next to a convenience store in a mini-strip mall in Willoughby, has a menu starring pho, bubble tea and very fun bakery treats. It’s decked out in charming pastel tones, some very cute colorful bric a brac and thoughtful personable counter service. To be more specific, if Hello Kitty, the West Side’s Minh Anh, and the late lamented Coquette Patisserie could somehow hook it all up, Sugar Bowl would be their urchin love child. 

And there is a lot of love here. Menila Preevanich, co-owner of Sugar Bowl, and also Pho and Rice in Cleveland Heights, wanted to bring her pho to Lake County, and then decided to let her other two passions tag along.

So there is a multitude of customizable cold tea drinks here. Tropical fruit and flower flavors abound, and you can choose your level of sweetness. Add flavored jellies, traditional black pearl boba,  or fruit-flavored popping boba for a “Gusher”-like experience. Go Carmen Miranda and order a cornucopia, if that’s your thing.

Oolong tea with strawberry and passion fruit flavors and lychee popping boba was a little too tutti fruity for me. But I’m from Minnesota. The next visit I kept it simple and was thrilled with my mango smoothie. 

The one thing everyone agreed on was Sugar Bowl’s spectacular Thai Coffee. Coffee boiled down to its essence gave the drink a unique smoky quality that was enhanced by the unorthodox, but deeply satisfying mix of cream and sugar instead of condensed milk. Over-caffeination never tasted so good. 

Preevanich also brought in her desserts. There are some serviceable chocolate selections, including a Japanese cheesecake that tasted like a nice light brownie with a swirled vanilla cheesecake/chocolate topping.

But the main attraction is the fun and fanciful French-style macarons. There are some traditional shapes and flavors, coffee latte and matcha tea are standouts, but Preevanich pulls out all the stops for her specialty items. Vanilla unicorns sport gilded horns, bright-sprinkled forelocks, and long luxurious eyelashes. Peach-flavored bunnies have long floppy ears and Hello Kitty is more charming as a macaron than on any pair of pajamas.  Order them when you order the rest of your dinner, they need time to come to room temperature to enjoy the full crisp cookie/creamy filling experience. 

Speaking of the rest of dinner, let’s talk pho. Sugar Bowl’s is on the lighter side. All the flavors seemed to be there in the Pho Dac Biet, onion base, ginger, the rest of the spices, and fish sauce. But I found myself putting in a little more hoisin, lime and sriracha sauce than usual.

The beef steak and tendon, however, were first class, and the tripe was tender.  On another visit, the udon had a little more character. The broth is the same as with the pho rice noodles, but the hefty wheat-based udon noodles seemed to strengthen the dish, though it may have been a matter of a more developed broth. 

Other items of interest included Fresh Rolls true to their name. The basil, cilantro and shrimp all had the crisp quality of the freshest of ingredients and the jewel-toned ingredients were lovely in their translucent rice wrappers.

Most of the fried items were left a little too long in the fryer, but not the Country Wings. They were perfectly cooked, hot from the stove, and the sweet spicy chili sauce was a perfect foil for their crunchy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside goodness.

For those enamored of Bahn Mi, leave your expectations at the door. This Vietnamese Sandwich is not that vast multi-layered porcine behemoth. It’s a more delicate delight, but still deliciously stuffed with well-spiced grilled chicken, cucumbers, hot peppers, pickled vegetables and more than enough mayo to enrich the experience. 

Another twist on the cuisine is the Mango Salad. Usually done with slivers of green mangos, this instead featured cubes of ripe mango, with fresh shrimp, paper-thin onions, red pepper and a vinegary dressing that enhances the the lush, rich sweetness of the mango.

And right now, we could all use a little more sweetness in our lives. Just a spoonful  of Sugar Bowl’s good pho and one of the very fun macarons, plus a generous helping of their unstinting considerate hospitality, can confer a  genial gracious satisfaction to your day.  

Sugar Bowl

Where: 34912 Ridge Road,  Willoughby, OH 44094

Contact: 440-525-5999

Online: sugarbowlwilloughby.com

Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday Noon-9:00 p.m., Closed Monday.

Prices: Appetizers $4.95-$5.95; Entrees $8.50-$9.50; Desserts $1.50-$3.95. 

Reservations:  No reservations

Credit Cards: Most major credit cards accepted.

Kid-friendliness: No children’s menu, but if your tykes like slurpy noodles and fun cupcakes, they’ll do just fine. 

Bar Service: No liquor license.

Accessibility: Total access.

Grade: ***

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