Nosh Kitchen Bar
Your level of excitement about Nosh Kitchen Bar is going to be directly proportional to how over the whole “Cult of Bacon” you are feeling at the moment. If you ever actually say, out loud, the words, “everything is better with bacon,” during casual conversations with friends, own a t-shirt that says, “I <3 Bacon,” or have a tattoo of either bacon or a pig anywhere on your body, you’re going to be beside yourself when you hear about the menu at Nosh.
If, however, you are patiently waiting for all of this to be over, and to get on with whatever the next food trend is going to be (Popsicles! Eclairs! Chick peas! Waffles!), you may be a little less enthused. Don’t get me wrong. I like bacon as much as the next guy. I’m no weirdo. But I also think that, when bacon is added to everything, from crème brulee to caramel ice cream, that everything starts to taste…well, kinda bacon-y. And when everything starts to taste the same, it’s time to get on with our lives.
Nosh’s menu, designed to appeal to late-shift workers in the food service industry, can be split into two main groups: The joyfully excessive sandwich options on the front, and the smaller plates on the back, available only after 4PM, that combine to form “Noshing platters,” perfect for sitting around with a group of friends, eating and drinking the evening away.
The sandwiches are, for the most part, not as good as they should be. The wonderfully over-the-top ingredients don’t, for some reason, combine to make incredible sandwiches. The “Pig Belly Reuben,” at $10.50, which combines roasted pork belly, cheddar, and caramelized onions is just good, with a lot of flavor coming through what turns into a fistful of wet sandwich by the second half. The “Pig Belly Apple Pie,” which isn’t just a combination of my favorite nouns, but instead pork belly, apple compote, and cheddar cheese on a toasted sub roll, fares less well. The pork belly was a soggy, botulism-rare slab of gray fat, cooked for too long and at too low a temperature in old pork grease. Topped with julienned apples, instead of the promised compote, and a few slices of cold, unmelted cheddar, this sandwich simply didn’t deliver on its promises. A “Bolognese Hoagie,” which the menu described as a roasted pork sandwich, covered with a meaty marinara sauce, was instead a hero roll, split wide and ladled with school-lunch style meat sauce. If there was pork underneath, it was imperceptible. The “Pressed Ham and Cheese,” a grilled ham-and-swiss sandwich topped with two fried eggs and covered in cheese sauce was better, though it’s hard to imagine messing a dish like this up, since it takes all the goodness of macaroni and cheese, and replaces the macaroni with a grilled cheese sandwich and two pleasingly runny fried eggs. The “Apocalypse Now” burger, a $20 monstrosity that tops a hamburger patty with everything under the sun that will help kill you: American cheese, seared pork belly, foie gras, more cured bacon, homemade mayo, and an orange and cherry relish, isn’t exciting at all. The resulting burger should be extraordinary; a celebration of excess. Unfortunately, the rich, salty ingredients become indistinct and, ultimately, don’t improve the burger.
The burgers and sandwiches are served by themselves, and so our table shared an order of what Nosh calls “Bacon-dusted fries,” served in a miniature galvanized bucket. These were unremarkable; soggy, limp potatoes fried in old oil and left to sit around too long before serving, covered in some sort of white powder that, if you squint, tasted vaguely like bacon, but was more of an upsetting textural addition than anything else. Likewise, the “Tempura bacon,” bacon battered, fried, and rolled in honey and toasted hazelnuts, which should be nothing short of the best thing you’ve ever eaten, left me without a single comment to make on it. It was fine. Whatever.
The smaller, simpler plates on the back of the menu, however, are an area where Nosh truly shines. These are the kinds of dishes I expect people burnt out from a night of waiting tables to want to have, not the overblown creations on the front of the menu. The “Jamon Iberico,” a $12 cured pig leg is wonderfully salty and flavorful. The “Petit Jesu,” or “Baby Jesus,” ($6) is a coarse-ground salami that pleasantly coats your mouth with fat as you chew, and pairs excellently with either the Shelbourne Farms 24-month aged cheddar, or more gently, with the sweet, honey flavors of the aged Gouda (both $5). The $3 “Crispy Onions” are a nice take on fried, shoestring-style onions, crispy, salty, and hot. The real winner, though, are the “Quick Pickles,” a vinegary, sugary refrigerator pickle that cleanses the palate and prepares it for what is to come next. Ordering a million small plates is one of my favorite ways to eat, and Nosh delivers solidly on the simpler preparations found on their “Noshing” menu. A few plates, and a few dozen pints from their selection of mostly local beers is as good a way to pass the time as any.
My complaint, then, seems to be this: When you craft sandwich options with such exaggerated, dizzying ingredients, you are setting certain expectations on the part of the diner. When a burger, perfectly serviceable on its own, also heaps on pork belly, and bacon, and foie gras, the expectation is that it will be the best hamburger you have ever had the pleasure of wrapping your lips around. When you melt cheddar cheese on roasted pig belly, or deep fry bacon, or dust french fries with bacon, your tongue had better climb out of your mouth, look you square in the eye, courtesy, and give your face a round of applause. Unfortunately, at Nosh, these expectations are never met. The sandwiches, while created to appeal to our most insane notions of deliciousness, never do rise to meet that promise. The indulgent ingredients present the most tired possible versions of themselves; the pork belly soggy, the cheese bland, and the sauce wimpy. Instead, these sandwiches, which have every right to be the best thing you’ve ever tasted, are merely okay. They’re greasy, they’ve been around a while, but they’re okay.
The small tasting plates, on the other hand, are delicious. As the descriptions and ingredients are scaled back, it is clear that the chefs at Nosh have very thoughtfully chosen some wonderful, simple flavors, that combine beautifully to fuel (or recover from) a night of drinking. The service is casual, fast, and friendly, and the restaurant’s interior is just the right amount of relaxed cool, with copper-topped tables and wine served in juice glasses. Skip the front of the menu, with its breathless descriptions of culinary lavishness, and get yourself a hunk of cheese and an order of the Quick Pickles. They’re not shouting at you, and they are fantastic.