Sarkall’s: Anyone Pho Donuts?
Sarkall’s Donuts & Noodle Soup is located at 133 E. Rio Vista Ave. in Burlington. Check it out!
We have to admit to some initial misgivings when Sophann Ley first presented her vision for the pole sign she and her husband, Kea Sok, wanted us to design, fabricate and install outside their newly opened eatery in Burlington, just off the intersection of Burlington Boulevard and Rio Vista. Even for a company that prides itself on bold signage, the envisioned design seemed…well…a little over the top.
Sarkall’s sign passes the five year old kid test for visual appeal.
Of course, that was on paper. In all it’s screaming technicolor reality, the sign announcing the location of Sarkall’s Donuts & Noodle Shop is (all humility aside) an absolute showstopper that elevates the image of a donut and noodle soup shop (yep, you heard me right) to theme park heights.
But there’s more to Sarkall’s (the “r” is silent) than fried dough and killer broth. You can also get espresso (last time I checked, serving donuts without coffee was a punishable offense in most if not all states), bubble tea (a completely unique genre of beverage that incorporates small black balls of a tapioca-like substance for people who like to eat and drink in the same mouthful), and what the menu describes as an “Asian Sandwich”.
It’s your home away from home…except that you don’t make killer doughnuts.
If Sarkall’s menu seems a curious mashup, there are a couple of things you should know about it right up front. The first is that with the possible exception of Homer Simpson, man (or woman, for that manner) cannot live by donuts alone. Lord knows I wouldn’t mind trying, but there you have it. Sarkall’s has a beautiful new kitchen and a bunch of great recipes to make in it besides the best darn apple fritters you’re likely to find in the Magic Skagit. And after all, Starbucks figured out years ago that people will come for the coffee and stay for the Sous Vide Egg Bites (for real). That’s good for the bottom line (literally, if not figuratively).
Sarkall’s interior is clean, simple, and bright…and features an amazing wall mural of a ruined temple site in Cambodia.
The main thing you should know about Sarkall’s, however, is that the food is really, really good. Let’s start with the donuts. Personally, I think the best donuts to be had in the Skagit Valley are from Darren’s Donuts at the corner of Riverside Drive and E. College Way in Mount Vernon (I’m far from alone in that belief — check out Darren’s Donut’s reviews on Yelp and you’ll see what I mean). So, here’s the good news for all you folks on the north side of the Skagit River: Kea and Sophann were the former owners of Darren’s Donuts. They sold Darren’s to family members in order to launch Sarkall’s. That’s right…Sarkall’s donuts are Darren’s donuts…and vice versa. Doesn’t that news just make you feel better about the world?
If you think we’re slinging superlatives about the donuts at Sarkall’s because they’re a customer, you fail to appreciate that as people who fabricate, excavate, and install stuff for a living, we darn well care about the quality of our donuts and coffee. Sarkall’s are the kinds of donuts you take to work on a Monday and nobody bitches about the weekly meeting at 9am. Want to be a working class hero? Show up at the office with a baker’s dozen. You’ve got cake and old fashioned, raised donuts with a texture as sublime as cherub flesh, the aforementioned apple fritters…and then, there are the Bacon Maple Bars. Let me repeat this for full effect: Bacon. Maple. Bars. You have to show up early for these, my friends. You snooze, you lose.
Advisory: The ownership and management of Meyer Sign & Advertising do not endorse any combination of fried dough, sugar, and fatty protein as a long-term source of nutritional health. All we’re saying is…damn!
“Pho” shizzle! The umami infused beef pho will make you ask for a straw. It’s from a family recipe in a culture that may judge you by the quality of your broth.
The “noodle soup” part of Sarkall’s menu is, in fact, the much loved Asian dish known as “pho”. If the key to a great donut is the dough (duh!), the essence of great pho is the broth — and the broth behind Sarkall’s three soup selections (beef, chicken, seafood) comes from family recipes originating in Sophann and Kea’s birthplace of Cambodia. (Sadly, the couple was forced to flee their homeland as children because of the genocide that took place under the regime of dictator Pol Pat.)
Kea Sok and Sophann Ley are the husband and wife owners of Sarkall’s Donuts & Noodle Soup. It takes two people to handle a large bowl of Sarkall’s “pho”. Thank goodness, they have large left over containers, so you can enjoy it the next day (or two).
Having only experienced the beef pho at the time of this writing (chock full of tender, thinly sliced steak and beef brisket), I can tell you that there is something immensely satisfying about adding the fresh bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño peppers and basil that come as a side dish, squeezing in some lime slices, and topping the whole thing off with a spoonful of chili sauce — and then savoring that glorious umami fragrance steaming off a bowl big enough to soak in. You leave feeling right with the world. And wanting an apple fritter.
And then there’s the Asian Sandwich — which some may recognize as the famous Vietnamese bánh mì — about which Wikipedia offers the following description: “(bánh mì) refers to a kind of sandwich that consists of a Vietnamese single-serving baguette, also called bánh mì in Vietnamese, split lengthwise and filled with various ingredients. A Vietnamese baguette is airier than a Western baguette, with a thinner crust.”
More than a sandwich, bánh mì is an edible cultural experience.
In the case of Sarkall’s sandwiches, your choice of ingredients is lemongrass chicken, grilled pork (right off the skewer), or beef brisket — all of which, as the menu states, include slices of pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cucumbers, and sliced jalapeño peppers. For $4.99, you’ve got yourself a meal. Split a sandwich with a friend and order a small bowl of pho (which will cause you to reconsider “small” as a concept), and you’ve got yourself a celebratory meal. In addition, Sarkall’s menu includes rice plates with grilled chicken or skewered pork along with egg roll and salad. (You can also order the egg rolls separately at two for $3 — which is a good thing, since you’ll probably want more.) Whatever you decide, be sure to save room for dessert. Might we suggest a chocolate old fashioned with a cup of joe? At least until July 4, any size fresh brewed coffee (and they keep it mighty fresh) is $1.50, and any size espresso is $3.00 — which could make it the best deal in town.
Oh…the origin of the restaurant’s name? It’s named after Kea and Sophann’s youngest son. (“My father called me while I was at the hospital to tell me that he was on his way over with the name of my child,” Sophann recalls.) It might not be a common name, but by the time young Sarkall graduates from high school, people will most likely be far more familiar with it thanks to his family’s culinary chops and an awesome sign in the heart of Burlington, Washington. We’re awfully proud to take credit for the latter, and we’re even happier to take full advantage of the former. And yes, we still think the design is over the top. But then, so is the menu…in all the right ways. Call it “truth in advertising.”
The Cambodian countryside as it would have appeared to the families of Kea and Sophann in the blissful days before war and genocide. That spirit is kept alive through the hospitality, graciousness, and good food served up by Sarkall’s owners.
The Sarkall’s Donut & Noodle Soup sign reflects the gutsy optimism of Kea and Sophann in going with their design concept. They could have settled for a colorful one-dimensional sign on the front of their building (which would only have been visible to people driving past it on Rio Vista), hung a banner along the side of the building or above its front deck (adding visual clutter to an otherwise attractive facade) or dressed up the windows with cut outs (and spoiled a nice view of the neighborhood for those dining inside). Ultimately, however, none of these options would have had the visual impact of their pole sign — especially given its proximity to Burlington Blvd. and traffic coming off of I-5. The phrase, “go big or go home” comes to mind with Sophann and Kea’s sign decision.
This ain’t your grandpa’s donut shop, but you should definitely take the old guy here. You can’t miss the sign.
Last, but certainly not least, the Sarkall’s sign communicates something about its brand that goes to the heart of Kea and Sophann’s story. Like them, Sarkall’s is here to stay. And if for a local business it projects some of the swagger of a franchise brand, maybe it’s entitled to do so. After all, Sophann and Kea are building on their legacy of ownership in the Skagit Valley’s most loved donut shop. You can’t really have too many Darren’s donuts, right?