Nosh Kitchen Bar is kind of like that famed actor who doesn’t need an introduction. By now, when people think of a place to get fries and a burger in Portland, Nosh undoubtedly soars to the top of the list.
But what about Nosh as simply a bar — does it stand alone? Is it possible to walk into Nosh and not be tempted to order a pail of fries (and a charcuterie plate, fried pickles and fried cheese curds)?
The short answer is no — it’s nearly impossible. But anyone could tell you that.
After numerous outings to Nosh (mostly after 10 p.m.), I wanted to experience this Congress Street blockbuster as an early-evening bar during the work week. And I wanted to see if I could resist the temptation to order something fried, cured or pickled.
The usual suspects were on draught — Maine Beer Co.’s Peeper Ale, Allagash White and Oxbow Farmhouse Ale — but it was nice to see some less-familiar beers, such as Uinta Cockeyed Cooper ($7), an American barley wine out of Utah, and Green Flash Le Freak ($7), a Belgian IPA out of California.
And the bottled beer list is impressive — 25 beers ranging in price from $3 (PBR) to $9 (Saison DuPont).
I ordered Pretty Things’ Baby Tree ($7 usually, but $1 off for happy hour). Baby Tree is a quadruple brew made by Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project in Somerville, Mass. Pretty Things describes it as an “Easter” or “springtime” beer. It’s crimson in color and complex with dark fruit and nutty flavors, but pleasingly light.
Nosh’s clientele around 6 p.m. is as varied as its beer list.
There were a handful of people at the sleek granite bar, most watching one of three flat-screen TVs.
But then there was a lively party of 10 at the front of the restaurant who all appeared to be under the age of 25. And a sprinkling of two- and three-tops sat at the tables along the wall.
The wine and cocktail list is sturdy too, with seven choices each of red and white, and 10 cocktails to choose from — five of which are made with Twenty 2 Vodka, a distillery in Maine.
I wanted to stick with beer, and to my delight, there was a beer cocktail — the Oxbow Shandy (Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale and lemonade, $6).
Then, as I was waiting to get the bartender’s attention, I noticed a curious advertisement penned on the board behind the bar — “Text ‘noshkitchenbar’ to 90210 for special information.”
No one else seemed to notice the “text 90210″ business. Surely it was a scam.
And save for just one woman at the bar inhaling a sumptuous-looking burger (at this point, it was getting difficult for me to not glance at the food menu), everyone else was sipping on beer and cocktails. Nothing looked out of the ordinary.
So, I texted “noshkitchenbar” to 90210 and felt mildly ashamed of myself. Within seconds, I received this message: “Welcome to Nosh’s Mobile VIP Club! Show text for free bucket of fries with purchase.”
I read it again. Free fries with purchase.
I looked over my shoulder to see if people were pointing and laughing. But everyone seemed to be preoccupied with their (insert fried food item).
The bartender sauntered over after he noticed the confused look on my face. I held up my phone and showed him the message. Could this be true? I asked him, nearly drooling. He smiled (and laughed at me). Yes! What kind do you want? And you get your choice of sauce.
Never mind what “Mobile VIP Club” entails from here on out — I received a free order of sea salt and pepper fries with chipotle mayo sauce.
The bartender said he gets about 10 to 15 people a night who text 90210 and receive “special information.” So far, the free bucket of fries has been their test-run promotional offer, and they plan to change it on a regular basis.
I set out to experience Nosh’s happy hour without ordering food. I failed.
My lack of willpower is partly to blame, but I think this is what Nosh intended to create — an open, casual space that caters to the masses and ultimately keeps people hanging out long enough that they’ll want to order fries, a burger, a meat and cheese plate, or all of the above.
Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer.