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Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe, Chelmsford

I noticed this place in passing today. It is on 110, opposite the trailer park and a couple of doors east of Countryside Veterinary Hospital. Very small hole-in-the-wall that used to be, I think, a pizza takeout. Googling unearthed some Yelp reviews that were quite favorable. The cuisine is from the noodle-centric Shan Xi area of Western China, and you can see noodles being handmade on the premises. Apparently there is very little seating, no table service, and a busy lunch business drawing people from the high-tech firms nearby. I don't have familiarity with the dishes - and am posting mostly as a heads-up to hargau, lexpatti, tatsu, and other north-of-Boston Hounds.

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  1. I went there months ago and had some wonderful spicy pork noodles. They gave me a taste of flatbread that didn't wow me.

    1. Biang biang mian in Metrowest! I'm so there

      1. I have been once recently. Never had cuisine like this before going here. The Menu, which you can see here from FB ( https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/... ) is very small and lacks variety IMO.

        The Hand Pulled Noodles were very thick and toothsome. They only had one prep with them however and I believe it was chili powder, some green I could not identify, Cilantro, oil and an overpowering pile of garlic. I would request to go easy on the Garlic next time, or take some out myself.. Never had noodles that were anything like this before. They were excellent and I feel that he needs to incorporate many more dishes with these noodles, like the famous Cumin Lamb from Xian Famous Foods.

        The Pork flatbread was ok, not sure I would get it again. Loved the crunchy soft texture of the flatbread, however the pork filling in mine was lacking any real flavors other than the pork itself. Too one dimensional. It was very small as well.

        On the weekends he makes the Xian Chilled noodles by hand.. Been meaning to get back for these because they look pretty special. He said only on the weekends because of the amount of work involved in making the noodles.

        Would like to see what others think of this place that might have had this cuisine before!!

        12 Replies
        1. re: mjg0725

          Glad to see this place has really taken off on this board. Also glad to see some people that know this cuisine and are raving about it. Cannot believe I am so close to something so unique.

          Looks like we'll be getting my wish, maybe as soon as next week! Talked to Gene today and he is planning on adding Spicy Cumin Lamb over his Hand-Ripped Noodles!! He just has to get his small kitchen set up to properly store and prepare the dish.

          Since this post I have tried the Liang Pi or Chilled Noodles on the weekend. They are not as thick as the hand ripped ones, but they are as addictive. The sauce is given to you on the side with takeout orders and it is separated into two layers, the top being a rich chili infused oil and the bottom is a vinegar of some type and when combined and tossed on the noodles, it is wonderful. Never had a noodle dish with vinegar being such a predominant flavor before.

          As for the Biang biang mian, or House Pulled noodles, I cannot get over how good they are and I am completely addicted to them. Cannot wait to have them topped with lamb.

          1. re: mjg0725

            SInce I probably can't make it to a Chowdown in early May, I rousted Andy Tannenbaum and Sam Lipoff and we went up there tonight. We had most of their Shaanxi menu, aside from the liang pi, which they were out of, and the noodle soup, since one of us doesn't eat pork.

            I found the pork sandwich underwhelming, but enjoyed the beef sandwich. The cumin lamb on skewers was also damn good stuff. Sadly, they don't make a lamb sandwich, but one could improvise from the lamb skewers. We had the lamb stew, served with presumably stale-ish bread (I believe there's another version with noodles) which the diner is expected to break the bread into chunks before the soup is added. It was a fine dish, though not spicy. Everything was good, but of course the standout was the hand-pulled noodle (singular) with a truly addictive oily sauce with just the right amount of garlic and heat. I could eat several bowls by myself.

            I will be sad to miss any special dishes Gene happens to make, and I hope he's open to the idea of making more complicated dishes by special order in the future.

            1. re: KWagle

              The Lamb Skewers are very small and he only serves them as a special on the weekend right now. They were $1.50 the last time I got them. He uses a gas grill outside the back door of the restaurant to "properly" cook these. He says they take a couple of days to marinate. They are very small and have a ton of flavor from the cumin and they are nice and spicy due to the chilis. They are very rich, crunchy on the outside and buttery tender on the inside. I would love them inside his flatbread, however, i think they are the best when mixed up in the Biang biang Mian. Gene also agreed they are excellent when mixed with the noodles. Order a few skewers if you want a substantial amount of meat to accompany the noodles.

              I would think they are made similar to this recipe:
              http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

              I too wish he would really expand on his menu offerings. He seems to be doing well and he has been extremely busy (Place was pack to the gills on Sat & Sun night and all the picnic tables were full outside as well). So, hopefully a menu expansion is in the near future!? One can only hope!

              Very excited for the Chow down!

              1. re: KWagle

                I like your precision with number on the hand-pulled noodle.

                On occasions when I have to talk to lay audiences about the power and beauty of mathematics, I use the hand-pulled noodle as an example of exploiting exponentiation. Take a cylinder of dough that's a foot long and a little over an inch in diameter, and "pull" it 10 times. In about ten seconds you get something over a thousand feet long and less than a millimeter thick.

                1. re: KWagle

                  I can't believe it took me so long to get up there. Shaanxi food is some of my most favorite in all of China, and even if this is a hike from Cambridge, I am so excited that this place is here. I'll be going back this weekend. =)

                  The lamb stew is one of my favorite dishes, ever, and this version is so much better than what used to be served at the now defunct Beijing Star in Waltham. As good as I've had in Xi'an.

                  The hand pulled noodles are really remarkable too, freshly made, each bowl a little different, each so tasty.

                  I was actually not, however, a fan of the "flatbread" sandwiches. I found the bread that worked so well when torn up and bathed in the lamb soup just didn't work as well as a sandwich. I only had the beef version, but I found the cumin almost indetectable, the beef cut too thick, and the red and green bell peppers a truly odd addition. I was also surprised that there was no lamb version of these. There's nothing like really good rou jia mo, but these didn't hit the spot for me.

                  The cumin lamb skewers, however, were wonderful. Not super-strongly spiced and pretty thick for this style (in China one often gets skewers from street vendors that are thin little scraps of meat that have been coated thoroughly a spice mixture and so one gets a different balance of taste and texture). I have to say though, that I really like Gene's way too.

                  So happy about this place.

                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                  1. re: lipoff

                    I was wondering about the bell peppers in the beef sandwich. I have never had this sandwich, but the peppers did feel a bit out of place. Maybe it's his one concession to American tastes?

                    1. re: tatsu

                      I have no idea how authentic - or in - the peppers are. But since the bread is dense in a bagel-y way, I was happy for the addition of some vegetables. The peppers are lighly-cooked, so there's still an appealing crunch. As for American tastes, the right half of the menu board caters to that.

                    2. re: lipoff

                      So, seven menu items (if you exclude the Americanized right half of the menu), including two flatbreads, and weekend-only noodles. The cuisines of China are some of the most varied and diverse in the world. I think they can do better than that.

                      1. re: Dinsdale45

                        true, but personally I'd rather they work on doing a few things well for a while first before adding other things on.

                        1. re: Dinsdale45

                          Dinsdale, aren't you being unduly harsh? I'm sure you realize that 50% of restaurants fail in under a year. If you were starting a Kirgilnix restaurant in a tiny, mostly take-out space, in a down economy, would you not do the prudent thing and also offer some familiar choices for the more skittish among your American customers? In larger restaurants, the buffet option allows owners to introduce their specialties to the uninitiated. Adventurous Chowhound types are a small minority of the dining public. Few people are willing to order a completely unfamiliar meal that they might not like.

                          Gene has said he is planning to add/substitute some different dishes during the warmer months. Fingers crossed that the restaurant is successful and will continue to grow.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            Of course I don't fault Gene for having Americanized options, that's just how you do business. I just wonder about the other side of the business decision, going with only 6-7 other menu items. Most other "authentic" Chinese restaurants that appear to be favored by expats and Chowhounders have quite a few more choices. How often do you eat anywhere that offers 6-7 menu items? If you're not into noodles or bread, you're out of luck. He's making the good stuff for a select few, anyway, why not offer more? As I said before, this place is right around the corner, and I hope he succeeds, because we're lucky to have this representation of regional Chinese cooking.

                            http://www.tourdechina.cn/Blog/shanxi...

                  2. re: mjg0725

                    ok, how to you compare Xian's to Gene's.

                    i will definitely make the comparison myself once he opens up in Boston.

                    1. Wow, this is why chowhound is absolutely indespensable. I'm totally hitting this for lunch tomorrow. I'm not super well versed in this regional chinese variant, but I've liked what I've had at X'ian Famous Foods and Lan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles in Queens. I can hardly believe that this is a just a short drive from my NH home. We're getting awfully close to having zero reason to drive to NYC anymore. I'll report back with all of my highly unqualified thoughts.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: crowdingthepan

                        What a find! My wife and I hit Gene’s for lunch yesterday, and it was fantastic. The “Xian Chilled Noodles” are incredibly tender and bathed in tangy vinegar and chili oil sauce, mixed with bean sprouts and little cubes of what I believe is a sort of Chinese seitan called mian jin . Some of the other comments I’ve read indicated that the meat in the flatbreads tended toward unappealing dryness, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Our fresh bun was filled with quite moist cumin laced beef and tender peppers. I actually like this example more than the much lauded cumin lamb burger I had at Xi’an Famous Foods, which was served on an incredibly dry and crumbly bun. The main thing I’ll be returning for is the biang biang mian, though. The thick, hearty chewy noodles are sitting in rich smoky chili oil and are topped with crushed chilis, cilantro, and a solid 1/8 cup of finely minced raw garlic. You stir the whole thing up and slurp and chew your way to spicy bad breath nirvana. The staff and chef couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming, taking great interest in how we heard about the place, and what we thought of the food. I’m so happy that this place exists.

                         
                         
                         
                         
                        1. re: crowdingthepan

                          Thanks for the great report. I wish I had known about this place a few months ago!!

                          Dave MP