Fledgling barbeque joint needs some work but shows promise

Barbeque is starting to develop a bit of a presence in Portland and Noble Barbeque on outer Forest Ave. is one of the new guys in the genre. With a bunch of fresh restaurants in the area, I picked them over the others on a Friday night when I had a hankering for some poultry. They weren’t as conveniently located as the other options but when a Portland Eater needs bird, no distance is too great to travel.

Upon entering, I liked the rustic look of the place. To the immediate right was the menu, including a couple specials. On the far end to the left was a small, attractive bar and to the right was the cashier. Since most of the tables were full, we saw a couple empty seats at the bar and grabbed those. We assumed it was counter service, but figured we’d order a drink first.

We sat, verified that ordering was done at the cashier counter, and asked about a drink. The person behind the bar was more than happy to pour us beverages – they have a good selection of beer and wine – but apparently the standard procedure was to order drinks with the cashier who would then walk to the bar to get them.

Mrs. Portlandeater ordered an Urban Farm Fermentory Super Dry Cidah and I went with the Fore River Timberhitch Irish Red. Immediately after, I took my wife’s food order and went to inspect the menu up close. It offered entrees of naked sandwiches – just meat and bun, meat by the pound, and noble sandwiches – sandwiches with rubs, sauces, pickles, sides. The available meats were pork, brisket, pastrami, and chicken and there were also a couple vegetarian options.

I placed the orders, choosing for myself the Chicken Mole Sandwich – wood-grilled chicken, mole negro, curtido, sesame plantain, cotijo, on brioch, pickled onion. My wife went with chicken too, but it was from the specials menu – Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich – old school slaw, B&B pickle, baked beans. I threw on a side of Mac n Cheese.

My beer was really good. It felt like a perfect Friday night brew and I could have had multiples if I had the inclination to do so. Before long, the food came out. “Peter,” the cashier yelled. I raised my arm and the food made its way over to me. We were both surprised, but not bothered, by the fact that, except for the pickles, all other ingredients were on the sandwich itself. My wife put her slaw and beans on the side.

Both sandwiches were well filled with goodies. Some of the chicken on mine was falling out, so I took a wooden fork and grabbed a couple pieces of chicken to eat on their own. Those first two bites were all gristle and fat – disappointing and largely inedible. I took a sip of beer and tried a bite of macaroni, hoping to find something better. The pasta was tasty, though not quite as creamy as I like.

A first bite of my actual sandwich produced a more pleasant experience than the solo chicken. On top sat a big pile of curtido – a cabbage relish of sorts. That and the cojito cheese added nice flavors while the plantains gave some crunch. I enjoyed the sandwich overall and found the mole along the lines of what I generally expect of it.

There were two sauces sitting at the bar, so I tried a sample of both. One was vinegar-based and one mustard-based. The vinegar sauce reminded me of a traditional barbeque, but the mustard was superior with bold, rich flavors, and understated zing. I added some of that one to my food and it was an outstanding accompaniment.

The special chicken sandwich turned out to be quite tasty, my wife noted. Well into mine, I tried my pickled onions for the first time and they were absolutely delicious – some of the best I’ve had. We finished our food and I ran into a couple more fatty pieces of poultry in my meal, but fortunately no more gristle.

Our total came to about $37. Noble Barbeque wasn’t bad, but there are definitely some issues to address. On the positive side, the food was good overall; the pickled onions and mustard sauce were high points. The prices were fair. The beer and wine selection was strong and includeed many local options. Service was friendly and helpful for not having true table service.

On the needs improvement end of the spectrum, I think that the ordering situation has to be clearer. Just a sign that states something like “order all food and beverage at the counter” would be good. The drink list is at the counter, but that’s not clear either until you get there, so adding that next to the wall hung menu might be helpful too. Both of those would make ordering easier right away.

Most importantly, I think the meat quality has to be better. I only had the chicken so that might be the sole issue, but the fat and gristle made me concerned from the first bite. To be fair, Noble was on their third day, so I assume they’ll work out the kinks. They deserve another shot. They were working hard and had bright spots that make me confident they’ll only go up from there.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start Peterpeterportlandeater.com where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.