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The Journal Gazette

  • Sesame chicken at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Pot stickers at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • General Tso's Chicken at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • The Kung Pao Three Delight at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Crab rangoon at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Szechuan Pork Chow Mein at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Egg Drop Soup at Chef Peng Chinese restuarant in Garrett.

  • Mongolian Beef at Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Beef, onio and cheese egg rolls from Chef Peng Chinese restuarant in Garrett.

  • Vegetarian egg rolls from Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant in Garrett.

  • Chef Peng Chinese restuarant in Garrett.

  • Hot and sour soup from Chef Peng Chinese restuarant in Garrett.

Sunday, October 29, 2017 1:00 am

Chinese restaurant in Garrett stands alone

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Chef Peng

****

Out of a possible five

$$

I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw the website for Chef Peng Chinese Restaurant boasted it was “Garrett's Favorite Chinese Restaurant.”

There was no disputing that given it is Garrett's only Chinese restaurant, and I think – after talking to Will Peng, the son of owners John and Jen Peng who runs their website – that it was done on purpose in tongue-and-cheek fashion. Will's bio on the site tells you, for example, that “he doesn't visit as often as he should,” from his current Texas home and his mom's says he doesn't call as often as he should.

All kidding aside, I have chuckled several times over the years when folks suggest I check out Chef Peng. Driving to Garrett's only Chinese restaurant didn't offer much promise, I thought. But oh how wrong I was.

The care with which Chef John made the dishes – Jen handles the front of the house – is what made Chef Peng so good.

Take the rather mundane sesame chicken, for example. It had the expected ingredients – fried chicken pieces in a spicy-sweet sauce with broccoli florets and a dusting of sesame seeds – but it was how well the chicken was fried that made it special. It was super crunchy and the meat inside was moist and succulent. The pieces were like good chicken wings that were evenly glazed with the sauce. It was superb.

A more spicy dish also knocked my socks off. I was in the mood for chow mein, but the Szechuan pork on the “Chef's Special Dinners” part of the menu was also quite enticing. Well, never fear, Jen told me I could have a Szechuan Pork Chow Mein.

The pork was so tender I thought it was chicken at first, but it was indeed pork and pork that rivaled no other Chinese restaurant's. It had crunchy julienned cabbage, carrots, bamboo shoots and onions all topped with light, airy, freshly fried noodles on top, I was quite happy. It had the right signature Szechuan spice kick, but that spice was tempered just right.

The General Tso's chicken, which Will said was his dad's specialty, was certainly special. Like the sesame chicken, the exemplary frying of the chicken made it stand out as did its sauce, which had more of a red color and much more heat. I am not sure if I have had better General Tso's and I have had a lot of General Tso's.

These dishes showed how the years of experience Chef John has can make such a difference. Though the Pengs have been in Garrett since only about 2008, John got his start in California more than three decades ago working at high-end Chinese eateries. He moved to Oklahoma where he co-owned a large restaurant, then moved to Niles, Ohio, for his next venture, as he hoped to scale back and do something simpler, Will said.

After finding success there, the Pengs chose Garrett – the Niles store remains – for his second restaurant after finding a good deal on a building and the family moved there in part, Will said, so he could finish school and hopefully attend college in Indiana.

“I ended up going to college in Florida to their disappointment,” Will said.

Very little is not made in-house – the pot stickers were not but they were still very respectable. The crab rangoon was highly recommended, and I found Chef Peng's little won ton-shaped versions to be quite tasty. The best appetizer, however, was the unique onion, beef and cheese egg roll. It was just that – strips of tender, seasoned beef, sautéed onions and cheese wrapped and fried until crispy. Were they Chinese? No. Were they delicious? Yes.

The regular vegetarian egg rolls were also respectable, but I liked the beef and cheese ones better.

When you are asked what kind of soup you want, get the hot and sour. The egg drop was fine, but the hot and sour was a delight.

It was a complex concoction with flecks of red pepper dancing around in the broth with bamboo shoots, scallions, egg and big meaty mushrooms. And its flavor was complex. One bite was a little sour and the next was a little spicy. It kept me going back and had me pining for more when it was gone.

The other entrées were pretty basic, but all were executed perfectly.

The Mongolian beef had a lot of pungent onions perfuming its nicely velveted beef. The onions stood front and center and you will carry them with you on your breath, but if you are a fan of true Mongolian beef, you will love it.

The Kung Pao Three Delight had beef, super-tender sautéed chicken and shrimp in a darker sauce with more soy richness but still plenty of heat. It also had bigger, rough-cut onions, carrots, mushrooms, water chestnuts and green peppers.

I really had no qualms with the service the Pengs provided, either. They pretty much do it all themselves with only one person helping on occasion. And they make everything fresh so you will not get in and out of there fast. Communicating with Jen was a little difficult, but she was also very caring to make sure it was OK to stagger the courses (rolls and soup first and then entrées) just in case I was in a hurry.

The restaurant's space is rather vacant, but there are a couple of attractive examples of three-dimensional wall art, and it was very clean.

So I guess I should not have scoffed at all those suggestions over the years to visit “Garrett's Favorite Chinese Restaurant.” Because now Chef Peng is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants anywhere.

Restaurant: Chef Peng

Address: 115 W. King St., Garrett

Phone: 260-553-4068

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: Chinese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Crab rangoon ($4.79), vegetarian egg rolls ($1.39), beef-onion-cheese egg rolls ($1.99), hot and sour soup ($2.49, $4.49), pot stickers ($4.99), pork chow mein ($8.29), sesame chicken ($9.99), General Tso's ($9.99), Mongolian beef ($10.99), Three Delight ($11.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.