I managed to make it through an entire meal at Ivan Ramen, Ivan Orkin’s new noodle shop on New York’s Lower East Side, without tasting the scrapple waffle. I don’t mean that I was too engrossed in the braised ox tongue, the fist-sized musubi made with fatty roast pork in place of Spam or the crunchy dirty rice made with monkfish liver where you’d expect the chopped pork innards to be, I mean that I ate my bowl of shio ramen, paid the check, and started walking toward the door before Orkin stopped me and told me I had to try it.
Orkin is legendary in ramen circles, a journeyman cook who left his native New York to start a ramen shop in Tokyo a few years ago, becoming the only foreigner to succeed in Japan’s ultracompetitive ramen scene. His restrained style is a welcome contrast to the super-intense porkiness of the brand of tonkotsu ramen popular now, and he is famous for the touch of toasted rye flour in his ramen formula, which may or may not refer to his New York Jewish roots.
His bare-bones stall in a market on the western fringes of Hell’s Kitchen has been churning out 800 bowls of ramen a day. This new place on Clinton Street is his dream New York restaurant; friendly to but not consumed by the otaku obsessions of the ramen freak, with a nice patio to have a bite and a beaker of chilled sake on a warm spring night.
But anyway, when Orkin commands you to try a scrapple waffle, you pretty much try a scrapple waffle. The waffle is crisp, heaped with shredded cabbage and pickled apple, and striped with gooey streaks of Kewpie mayo and fruity Bulldog sauce, which are kind of the mustard and ketchup of Japanese fast food cuisine. I believe maple syrup was also involved, although I couldn’t begin to tell you how.
The taste, the crunch, and the purpose of the dish was very much that of a splendidly greasy okonomiyaki, and in fact it was called Lancaster Okonomiyaki on the menu, honoring both the Pennsylvania Amish birthplace of scrapple and the name of the Japanese snack it was meant to evoke. (I admire his restraint in not naming his creation Scraffles, Scrokonomiyaki, or Wapples, although admittedly all of those sound more like exotic skin ailments than they do like food.) It was a good dish. If Orkin ever opens a restaurant in Los Angeles, I’ll be first in line.