Durham's Noodles & Company location.

Durham’s Noodles & Company location.

With spring comes new dishes at many restaurants, and that includes Noodles & Company, a chain I’ve sampled a few times before. Well, readers, it’s your and my lucky day, because I was invited to come to their Erwin Rd. location in Durham to try their spring asparagus menu and you get the chance to win a coupon for a free dish of your choice! The first five commenters on this post will win.

All food and drink in this blog were provided free of charge by Noodles & Company.

Interior of the Erwin Rd. store.

Interior of the Erwin Rd. store.

About a month ago, the chain restaurant added three asparagus-centered options to their regular menu, and they are likely to be available through early summer. Let’s dine on an appetizer first.

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The Asparagus Stack is a large helping of asparagus simply blanched and served with a handful each of bacon and feta cheese. It’s vibrantly presented, and the flavors match. Use the lemon to accentuate each element. I do think a sprinkling of herbs would take the dish to the next level, and it’s not that easy to eat.

The Springtime Flatbread is a more successful starter.

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If you’re a mushroom lover, you’ll appreciate how thick the slices are, but as I’m not one, I pulled mine off and gave my husband double the pleasure. The bread is soft and fluffy all around. The dish’s star is the bacon, whose smokiness accentuates the asparagus and soaks into the bread. Though an unusual flatbread choice, the parmesan is perfect for this dish, lending a moderate tang that a softer cheese would not provide.

The Garden Spring Sauté is made with pesto, mushrooms, spinach, red bell peppers, red onion, feta, bacon, pecans, gluten-free fusilli, and of course, asparagus.

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The ingredients provide an attractive array of greens, creams, and reds, and the fusilli’s freshness, made in-house throughout the day, is apparent. The pesto is mild, which is good because it might have detracted from the tangy feta or fresh spinach flavors otherwise. I’m not sure why pecans are used rather than pine nuts, which a Genovese pesto typically has ground into the sauce. Pine nuts would make more sense with their oily, buttery flavor than the stronger, earthier pecans do. The bell pepper and onion add a nice crunch. I’d recommend using the lemon to enhance the flavors of this dish as I did with the Asparagus Stack. It’s palatable, light, and you won’t feel guilty for eating it. How often can you say that about Italian food?

For drinks, I was again impressed with Noodles & Co.’s blackberry-jasmine iced green tea.

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The flavors are subtle and taste natural rather than from a sugary mix, which lets the tea’s quality come through. Yes, folks, I’ve lived in the South for seven years, and I’m still not a sweet tea convert.

I always think a pretty presentation is worth noting, so enjoy this picture of Ben’s cup of coffee with dessert as well.

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What’s that I said? Dessert? Why yes! The tres leches was the first Noodles & Company dessert I’ve tried. It’s a cute, ramekin-sized cake that comes topped with a jumbo-sized sliced strawberry.

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The evaporated and sweetened, condensed milk pool is thick and delightful, and the cake is soaked about halfway through. Its texture is somewhere between white cake, angel’s food cake, and a biscuit in texture, both finely ground and dense. The strong vanilla goes great with the strawberry. Tres leches cakes vary drastically in quality and style, and I’d rank this one high on the scale because it’s not slathered in poor quality whipped cream like the last few I’ve had. The texture was somewhat odd, but the milks made it a tasty end to the meal.

So if you’re in the mood for a spring asparagus dish, Noodles & Company has your back! All three special items are worth ordering, though I give the flatbread an edge. And go ahead and spoil yourself with that tres leches cake.

Now for the fun part! First five commenters on this post will get a coupon for a free Noodles & Company dish of your choice. Make sure you include your e-mail address so I can get your physical address to send it out. Comment away!

Noodles and Company on Foodio54

Noodles & Company on Urbanspoon

Reviewed 3 May 13.

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