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Slightly irreverent, decidedly innovative, Nosh Kitchen Bar is part of Portland's creative economy, successfully offering a lot of inspired cooking from the kitchen behind the high counters in back.
An eatery of many facets, it’s a great concept motivated by the deli world of New York noshing where one person’s snack (as in knish) is another’s forshpeis (appetizer).
Nosh extols its mantra of indulgence with a distinctive flair. It may not work for culinary moderates because its cooking banks on the scrumptious flavors of fat, fatty, and fatter.
Their basic burger, for instance, is a patty made with ground beef, pork and bacon and topped with a mountain of shredded lettuce, sweet pickles, cheese, and bacon rashers, between two halves of a brioche bun.
Chef and co-owner Jason Loring is an enormous hulk of a man. And I wonder if his cooking style conspires to remake his patrons into the likeness of his largeness, ingratiating a salivating public who want big, bold, fatty, and obscenely rich fare. Still, a native of Yarmouth, he sports Culinary Institute of America credentials, which he has put to fast use at Nosh.
Located in the ever evolving part of Congress Street, it’s on a byway for the homeless strapped into their city-funded motorized wheelchairs, mingling with great restaurants, stylish condos, and striving art galleries. It's nothing less than melting pot urban renewal to the hilt.
Nosh reigns over this circus of the extremes like a maestro of the avant garde. Soon to be added to the mix will be their newly devised Mexican outpost across the street, Taco Escobar, which is due to open later this week.
I wouldn’t count myself as a regular Nosh patron, but I’ve gone enough times to form an opinion. Some of the cooking works well indeed. Yet when I look at the menu, I’m often bewildered by a cornucopia of conceptualized noshing fare. Everything is essentially built on the same platform of cheese, fats, pickles, bacon, et cetera.
One of the best items on the menu is the fries. Made from local potatoes from a farmer in Lewiston, they’re crisp and delicious. But it doesn’t end there. Have them bacon dusted and dipped into a choice of toppings like cheddar cheese, blue cheese, chipotle mayo, barbecue sauce and more. What makes them so intrinsically good is the cooking process. They’re first blanched in boiling water then put into the freezer overnight. The resulting hand-cut potato is crunchy and scrumptious.
Then consider the Nosh burger. For me a great burger is a thick 8-ounce mound of beef that’s simply seasoned and charred over a grill. Here the ultimate choice is the extravagantly conceived Apocalypse Now Burger, a summit of multi layers of meat patties each topped with bacon, deep fried pork belly, foie gras, mayo, cherry jam and glued together with melted cheese.
Outrageous? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely.
More temperate fare does exist at Nosh, but none of it is ordinary. A tuna melt, for instance, is served on whole wheat bread (as though that keeps away food demons) with avocado, melted cheddar, tomato and pickles.
A recent blackboard special that I tried at lunch was seared tuna set over local greens, roasted beets cloaked in a remoulade sauce topped with shavings of fried parsnip. It was very good, but I couldn’t resist ordering some fries, too. So went my moderate lunch.
Another staple is the Nosh Gobbler, which is a tribute to Thanksgiving leftovers, including stuffing, between two slices of that curative whole wheat bread.
What’s in short supply at Nosh are starters. There’s no soup or salad per se other than to have your sandwich served over greens.
After 4 pm there is an expanded menu of plates designed, I suppose, to act as prelude to any of the burgers or sandwiches. Such items as tuna tartar, bacon tempura (a must have), cheese platter, or charcuterie plate, all seem like sanguine choices in a world of evanescent avoirdupois frivolity that otherwise holds sway at the Nosh Kitchen Bar.