Voted Madison’s best new restaurant last year in an annual newspaper readers’ poll, Morris Ramen is the most popular of several ramen noodle places to open here in the past couple of years.
The restaurant was launched by restaurateur Shinji Muramoto and two of his former employees, Matt Morris and fellow chef Francesca Hong. The trio opened Morris Ramen on King Street, just off the Capitol Square, in a space that was Muramoto’s first restaurant 14 years ago. It also stands next door to his flagship Restaurant Muramoto.
Morris Ramen, of course, bearsthe surname of one of its owners, who was a sous chef when he traveled to Japan at Muramoto’s behest in 2013 to study Japanese cuisine. When he returned, Morris helped transform Restaurant Muramoto into more of an izakaya (a Japanese gastropub).
At Morris Ramen, he and his partners crafted a small, focused menu that offers four types of ramen—Morris ($13), miso ($12), spicy ($12) and veggie miso ($12)—along with a handful of appetizers and some steamed buns.
The restaurant is cozy, built in a long, narrow room with space for about 40 diners. The minimalistic design features lighted wood paneling on the walls and ceiling and handmade wood light fixtures resembling birds’ nests, giving the place a sleek, elegant look. On one side of the room, diners can sit at a counter that formerly served as a sushi bar and observe as chefs prepare ramen bowls. The other side is filled with low tables and chairs.
Three of the four ramen options are built on a rich blend of pork and chicken broth with various seasonings such as soy and miso to give each a different character. The vegetarian ramen relies on miso and a starchy carrot and potato paste to give its broth a full-bodied base.
The restaurant’s signature ramen, Morris, comes with a generous amount of slow-braised pork belly in pork and chicken broth along with a marinated soft-boiled egg and fermented bamboo shoots, as well as fresh noodles cooked al dente. Those ingredients come standard.
For an extra $2.50, diners can add more protein (pork belly, slow-braised chicken, ground pork or beef short rib) to the pot. There are also vegetarian options that can be added to any ramen bowl for $1: seaweed, bean sprouts, mushrooms, tofu pockets or a soft-boiled egg.
The fatty pork belly in the Morris ramen was tender but came in large chunks that were tricky to handle with chopsticks. Crunchy, earthy bamboo shoots and the soft-boiled egg added texture and flavor to a bowl that easily held enough food for two.
Morris ramen is particularly appealing when it’s cold outside, but it is an intensely meaty bowl that, while delicious, bordered on being too fatty and too rich for my palate.
Noodles in the spicy ramen were thicker and more substantial, soaking up a base made with soy and a variety of hot peppers: habaneros, jalapeños, Thai and Korean chilies. The smoky broth, burnt red-brown in color, was not as spicy as advertised, and we especially liked the surprising snap of baby bok choy and wood ear mushrooms.
The miso ramen, with hints of ginger, is made with fermented soybeans and is lighter than the Morris and spicy versions.
From the “not ramen” section of the menu, check out the Korean-style chicken wings ($8), which come with kimchi ranch dressing and pickled daikon radishes. This section also offers four large steamed buns (beef, pork, chicken and squash for $4.50 each) and hearty satsuma sweet potato fries ($5.50) served with brightly spicy gochujang mayo.
A fantastic short-rib beef bun came with a smear of shiso and ssamjang, a Korean soy-chili-sesame paste, while the pork bun held ample amounts of marinated meat with pickles and hoisin. If you’re fond of Brussels sprouts ($7), you’ll like this kitchen’s version: blanched, then caramelized and tossed with a sauce made from miso, sesame seeds and honey.
Morris Ramen has a full list of alcohol beverages including sake and cocktails, as well as a few desserts, which you probably won’t have an appetite for after devouring a bowl of ramen.
Service on the night of our visit was first-rate. Our server was never intrusive but always around when needed and was friendly, professional and knowledgeable about the food.
Despite a lot of buzz about Morris Ramen, we hadn’t visited the restaurant until last week. The place is particularly inviting during days and nights of cold, damp weather—something to keep in mind during a spring season that so far is transitioning from winter grudgingly in fits and starts.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.