Whenever I talk about barbecue, my Yankee friends just roll their eyes as if to say, “There she goes again.”
I grew up in Memphis, which has some of the best barbecue in the world, and that’s the standard to which I hold all barbecue joints. I’ve eaten ribs at the Rendezvous, down a seedy alley in downtown Memphis. My brother, sister and I used to eat barbecue pizza with friends at Coletta’s, an Italian restaurant near my childhood home, decades before barbecue pizza became a thing. And my family went to Gridley’s nearly every week, back when it was a new up-and-coming place and not the (apparently) has-been restaurant it is now.
I’ve waited and waited for the day when Portlanders would finally get to experience truly excellent pulled pork. Now I think I’ve finally found it. This is no slap in the face to other places around town that put out perfectly fine pulled pork. But the pork at Noble Barbecue, the new restaurant on outer Forest Avenue, is on a whole other level.
It’s tender and incredibly juicy. It’s aggressively smoky. And there is plenty of bark.
Not everything at Noble is of equal caliber. I found the chicken mole, for example, to be dry (and I’ve heard others complain about that, too). But I enjoyed a pastrami reuben made with tender, salty, thick-cut smoked pastrami on rye, and I know the brisket must be good because they keep selling out of it early in the day. All of the meats are smoked and wood-roasted at the restaurant, which also serves as a base for the owner’s catering operation.
The restaurant makes four “naked” sandwiches – just meat and bun – that are a dollar cheaper than the “Noble sandwiches” ($9 to $12), which are dressed up a bit and include a vegetarian option made with black bean fritters and hummus. If you’re worried about carbs (which is a little funny if you’re eating all this meat), you can have your sandwich served over greens.
The pulled pork Noble sandwich on brioche is just $9 – a bargain considering it is piled high with meat and topped with a delicious citrus slaw right on the sandwich (the way it’s done in Memphis). The beef brisket (so I’m told) comes with “old school” slaw and fried onions on top.
Choices for sides are mac and cheese, baked beans, the two kinds of slaw, fries and something called “scrappy fries,” which cost $10, but are well worth it. Scrappy fries are like a barbecue version of poutine – twice-fried fries topped with baked beans, jalapeno mayo, cojita cheese and meat scraps. Crazy good, but it’s obviously not the kind of thing you should eat every day.
In addition to its sandwiches (and meats sold by the pound), Noble usually has some creative specials listed on butcher paper hung on the wall. The last time I went, those specials included Asian lobster rolls, two for $13 (and, of course, sold out by the time I got there) and smoked pork ribs ($14 for a half-rack). They also recently offered a side of pastrami hush puppies for $6. (Serving hush puppies with barbecue is, apparently, a North Carolina thing; in Tennessee, these treats typically made with cornmeal and onion are usually served with fried fish, especially catfish.)
Noble has eight local beers on tap and wine choices as well.
Thanks to Noble Barbecue, I will, officially, shut up about pulled pork now.
WHERE: 1706 Forest Ave., Portland, 536-1395; noblemeats.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday (will open on weekends in the fall)
WAIT: It’s still busy because the restaurant is so new, so you may wait 15 minutes.
PARKING: A few spaces on site, and plenty of on-street parking
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: No