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Over the years, Durham’s food scene has been pretty progressive in my experience. Taking chances and trying out new concepts before other areas of the Triangle get them. And one eatery that had slipped off my radar screen was Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets. This quirky business had started in 2013 as a butcher shop and cafe but pivoted in 2017 to primarily a restaurant. And I admit that I was always confused about its initial incarnation as a “meats and sweets” shop. But Durham friends of mine, seemed to like the place so I kept it on my ToEat list. After a couple of visits, I’ve got a pretty good feel for what they are doing at Rose’s but yes, the quirkiness still exists here along with some solid Eastern Asian eats.
While Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets (RNDS) is in downtown Durham, the location is actually a bit hidden on Gregson and out of sight from Main Street. But head on over to its busy corner lot and you’ll find a low, white-brick building with a sign hanging out front. Inside Rose’s you’ll find a casual cafe type set-up with limited seating. An open kitchen exposes all the culinary action to patrons with bar seating up front. A smattering of 2-tops line the rest of the dining space, you’ll have to check in with a hostess for a seat in either spot. And a small bakery area and cash register caps off the space in front. It’s all very energetic and simple, good for people-watching.
Taking a look at Rose’s paper menu you’ll quickly realize that the food is East-Asian inspired. While the menu items are fairly classic in name, Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets takes some liberty subbing in local ingredients to give it a more regional appeal. There are a handful of regular items like buns-bao, dumplings along with their popular house-made Shan-xi (thick) noodles. The menu rotates quite a bit given the seasonality of ingredients that Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets relies on. And I’m pretty sure that Rose’s is focused on more Northern Chinese fare which typically is a bit spicier and plays a bit with chile oils.
For a starter, try out their popular steamed pork bun which has more of a tan texture vs. the typically white buns you’d find in Chinatown. Nicely steamed with a good texture, these buns have a slightly different filling, focusing on a spicier pork rather then the usual red-roasted pork. Their sliced pork belly is served up in a nice broth with plenty of scallions which is a nice treat if you find it on the menu!
And of course, how can you miss Rose’s namesake dumplings? I’ve tried a couple of types, the basic dumplings in chili oil and the pork and ginger dumplings. In both cases, you’ll find a soft and supple dumpling that’s been boiled and served in a spicy sauce. Tip your hat, I’m pretty sure all these dumplings are hand-made and folded in-house but I do find the skins here at Roses Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets to be on the thicker side. Thin dumpling skins are definitely a sign of some skill, they provide a more tender outside but have to hold up to the cooking process which can be tough.
Next up at Rose’s are their hand-pulled noodles which are thick and have some chew. Served in a variety of broths and toppings, it makes for a filling meal, perfect for colder weather! And after all this Chinese food if you’re still hungry, dive into some of Rose’s pastries or try their super popular hand-made ice cream sandwiches. They look fantastic on Instagram but I have yet to try one myself, yet.
Now in the end, I’ve enjoyed my meals at Roses Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets even though it might not be authentic. Given I grew up on Chinese cuisine, I’ve got a pretty broad perspective on what they are trying to do here. Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets gets close but spins things up in the end with local ingredients. While the overall concepts and flavors may be true to form, the end product is definitely different than what you would likely get at a big city Chinese restaurant. Which makes it a real challenge for me to review them. Is it tasty food? Sure. And the culinary talent is certainly trying to respect all that goes into authentic Chinese fare, here. But there’s part of me that feels that there’s something missing. I think that’s always a challenge when trying to spin up food that’s meant to be hearty, comfort food for the masses. Sometimes you’re better off leaving it just as it is!