It’s no secret that some of Jersey’s best eating comes from unassuming strip mall storefronts, and a fun new contender in the game opened in June.
The first N.J. franchise of Kulu Desserts, an Asian fusion dessert favorite in New York, opened in a plaza off Route 1 in Edison, and it’s got a menu of things you may have tried before — bubble tea, bubble waffles — and things we’re sure will surprise. Ever tried durian with your ice cream? How about papaya and snow fungus sweet soup? Yeah.
You can thank 21-year-old Justin Zhu and his brother Gavin, 28, for bringing Kulu across the Hudson. They’re Edison High grads who saw the popularity of the N.Y. locations and knew their hometown would embrace the concept.
“But we expected our customer base to be majority Asian and right now we’ve seen it’s not,” says Justin Zhu, who is also a student at Rutgers in his, oh, spare time. “We have a lot of diversity in terms of people coming in, and we’re really happy to educate them on the menu.”
Many of the desserts are Hong Kong-inspired with a twist, like durian — the super pungent Asian fruit that tastes sweet yet garlicky — turned into a puree and served on a waffle with ice cream, marshmallow and chocolate chips.
“We usually get the durian question, and if folks haven’t had it, we give them a sample. Ninety percent of the time they don’t order it,” he says with a laugh. “It’s an acquired taste.”
And if you’re in the mood for something savory before embarking on your sweet tooth adventure through Asia, there’s “Dumpling Town,” another concept served at the same counter, with a menu of creative soup dumplings.
The menu: It’s overwhelming, but the staff are happy to guide you. There are sweet soups or puddings with sago (think tapioca balls) and fruit (or the snow fungus, if you dare); crepes; milk puddings (in flavors like sesame and Thai tea); waffle sundaes (both regular waffles and bubble waffles); and taro mochi served with ice cream (flavors include purple yam and matcha) and toppings like red beans, grass jelly, mango and more. Got all that?
There’s also an entire drink menu of bubble teas, slushies, fruit teas, coffee drinks and my new favorite, cheese foam drinks. (Think shakes topped with milk froth but with a salted caramel-like kick.)
Oh, and don’t forget the nine flavors of soup dumplings, served alone or in soup.
The vibe: It’s casual counter-service in a hip, clean space with booths and high-top tables. There’s free wifi and plenty of folks lounging while dessert-ing.
We loved: The cheese foam taro milk (like a vanilla milkshake, except purple, with salted-caramel foam on top – $5.50); the Pinky Rose bubble waffle sundae (the waffle is flavored with rose water – $9.95) with strawberry ice cream, maple granola, mangos; the chocolate sawdust pudding (chocolate pudding with layers of crushed cookie — just don’t inhale the dust, $4.50); the beef and cheese ($7.75) or pork and dill dumplings ($6.95).
Service: Super friendly, fast. You order at the counter and they use a pager system. Employees are happy to guide when it comes to the menu. Be brave and ask for a sample of the durian!
Online ratings: 4 stars on Yelp, 4.6 on Google
Location: 775 Route 1, Edison
The bottom line: A great adventure through Asian desserts. I’m eager to return and work my way through the rest of the menu.