By Avery Ballmann | Guest Contributor
Clay Pot Restaurant is an authentic Vietnamese restaurant that has been part of Waco’s community since the ’80s. The Franklin Avenue location is new to the downtown scene, but it’s atmosphere feels like it’s been there forever.
On the menu there are no American options, but that’s the beauty of Clay Pot — it’s a taste of Vietnam on Franklin Avenue.
I ordered chicken fresh rolls with a peanut sauce, a pot of chrysanthemum tea and a bowl of brisket pho. The tea came in a white ceramic teapot; it was steaming as my mom poured my cup. Chrysanthemum tea is a milk-based tea made with warm spices, and has herbal notes that are hard to say, but worth the learning curve.
The chicken fresh rolls were served cold and wrapped tightly in rice paper. The contents of this roll had chicken, lettuce, vermicelli noodles, a fried wonton stick with cucumber, cilantro and a slice of apple and it was served with a peanut sauce. The peanut sauce was so rich and creamy and it honestly took these fresh rolls to another level. The crunch of these rolls was similar to the crunching of acorns when you walk across campus. These ingredients seem different and intimidating, but together they work so well you can’t help but order them every time.
For the main course, I shared a bowl of brisket pho with my mom. This was my first time tasting pho and I was a little skeptical that my American palette couldn’t handle the complex flavors, but I was happily mistaken. The broth alone could cure any sickness because of how comforting it is. It has notes of cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, bone broth, cilantro and scallions.
At Clay Pot there are many quality protein options for your pho bowl or you can choose to have no protein. If you haven’t caught on already, Clay Pot makes each customer’s experience unique by giving them the option to choose what goes into their food.
After a few spoonfuls of broth, I then dove into the dish itself trying to grab every rice noodle, piece of brisket and bean sprout on my little red spoon. The flavors seemed so intimidating on paper, but in my mouth they melted together so well that I forgot I was a picky eater.
This is a great way to get your vegetables and comfort in while being away from home. I will admit that it is hard to eat pho, but no matter how you do it there is no shame in slurping the noodles up in whatever way you can. Pho enthusiasts could argue to stick with the broth spoon, but honestly a fork or chopsticks will do the trick.
I have been going to Clay Pot since I was a little girl. My mom insisted on taking us often and although I may not have appreciated the culture as a child, as an adult I see how different cultures shape a person’s mind to its fullest potential. It was only fitting to bring my mom along with me to Clay Pot so we could share yet another great experience at this restaurant we hold so dear in our hearts.
The floor-to-ceiling windows with booths facing the busy Franklin Avenue, the various artworks with shades of green and brown and the bamboo accents make the place feel earthy and warm. This place has always felt like more than a restaurant to my family — it’s an extension of home.
The last tidbit I want to leave you with is the jaw-dropping outdoor patio Clay Pot has created. A narrow hallway that passes the old bookshelf and is lined with colorful paper lanterns leads the customer to an oasis in the middle of downtown Waco. As I walked through the door, a giant white marbled dragon was the centerpiece of the patio. Behind the dragon was a tiled mural depicting a Vietnamese village with a lily pond.
Thankfully the owners thought this would be a great place to add tables and their vision of this patio was followed through so perfectly that my words could never give it the right amount of justice.
Whether you’re a picky eater, you’re a college kid who hates vegetables or you’re not comfortable with other cultures’ cuisines, I would highly suggest that you get comfortable with the uncomfortable and give Clay Pot a try. The ambiance, food and family-style seating is perfect for a get-together, date night or mother-daughter day.
Practice how to pronounce pho and chrysanthemum tea, and take a trip down to Franklin Avenue. You’ll find a bright green building and a friendly staff waiting for you to try something new.