By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Aug 18, 2008 at 10:50 AM

I love Chinese food, and I always have. But my earliest memories of Asian cuisine, in retrospect, were bland and downright Americanized compared to what I prefer now.

Growing up, we ordered take-out, pretty much exclusively, from a place called Port China, 312 W. Bradley Rd. This was before I knew the different between Szechuan and Cantonese. I didn't know Asian food comprised Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean or Vietnamese (and more). I just knew that when my sister and I would stay at my grandparents' house, my grandma would simply say, "Would you like chop suey for dinner?" and send my grandpa out to pick it up.

By "chop suey," my grandma was referring to all Chinese cuisine, but without fail, I ordered beef with peapods and chicken fried rice. I can still taste that dinner now.

I bring all this up because my wife and I had a ridiculously retro and wonderful dinner this weekend. Running around, doing pre-baby chores, we passed House of Fong, 5460 S. 27th St. We've seen this place before with its teal, pagoda-inspired exterior.

But this time, we said, "Lets do it."

Walking inside was like stepping into a Chinese time machine. Red vinyl booths, arched wood paneling and a sound system quietly playing the theme from "Taxi."

I felt almost giddy.

I knew, then and there, that I'd be eating a dinner that would be pumped full of MSG, heavy on the sauce and light on the spice. Could I really order anything but beef with peapods? Of course not. And just to keep it real, Velia ordered "chop suey," which, I believe, was invented in America.

You know what? The food was great. If there's a such thing as Chinese comfort food, this was it. The thick, black "soy sauce" made it even saltier, too, and it brought me back to 5 years old, sitting in my grandparents' kitchen.

House of Fong is ridiculously inexpensive, too. Two dinners (hers included soup, egg foo young and ice cream), plus a virgin Mai Tai for the pregnant wife, came out to less than $20.

We are so coming back ... with friends.

For the record, Port China is still there, but after a visit a few years ago, it felt rundown and bland and reminded me that you can never really "go back."

That said, House of Fong is about as close as you'll get. It's as far away as you can possibly get from nouveau Asian fusion cuisine.

But sometimes, a little old-school chop suey is all you need.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.