Tuesday, December 10, 2013
An uninterrupted diet gleaned from the menu at Nosh Kitchen Bar could spell an early demise for those following a healthy lifestyle. Yet an occasional wisp of the fat and fries, the outrageous burgers and beers might, for some, keep the demons of culinary ennui at bay.
Prepped and ready to go from the open kitchen at Nosh
Still, there’s nothing incidental at Nosh, that Yiddish word meaning “snack” –a particular kind of repast taken like a sly quick-fix schmear.
But this is where Nosh excels because its kitchen is everything but inconsequential, sending out big, bold and highly caloric fare.
As I looked around the room the other evening, still early on, before 7 and before the hipster crowd descends, just about everyone there sported plus sizes--men, women or otherwise. The only thin couple to enter was a grim-looking young pair fit as fiddles who ordered one of those Nosh Burgers to share.
The dining area and bar at Nosh is more subdued at early evening; by nightfall the crowds descend
The well-stocked bar is well tended by a veteran bartender
I’ve been to Nosh countless times for lunch. I usually don’t order a burger but opt for something less involved--not easy to do there. The dinner menu is not much different from lunchtime. At dinner first courses are as thick as main courses. I’ve yet to see soup on the menu, though there’s a cheese platter and tuna lettuce cups filled with cold seared tuna, a Chinese barbecue sauce, peanuts and loads of other flavors.
The essential fried cheese curds to accompany drinks
Otherwise this is chef and proprietor Jason Loring’s inimitable domain, a big, creative man who has carved out a dining niche uniquely his own.in Portland. The combinations of ingredients are playful and luxurious like a pile of fine wool blankets.
One memorable sandwich that I had at lunch a while ago was something called Maine Shrimp Bah-Mi: fried shrimp on a house-made hoagie with foie gras pate, pickled cucumber, hot sauce and cilantro. Only a culinary maverick could dream up this combination to stuff into a hoagie, the aftermath being you adjust your belt notch one less.
The quality of the ingredients is a big issue in the Nosh kitchen. Of course most is locally sourced: meats are butchered, brined and roasted in house; the breads are made there too and a big array of cheeses and charcuterie come on a giant platter to share and nibble on before moving onto heartier fare.
Indeed it’s deli-style food that’s distinctively twisted into different flavors and combinations that go way beyond the typical New York style deli grub.
For most Nosh devotees, however, burgers are the main draw and here is where Loring really lets loose. The patties, which are beef and pork based, are from pastured animals brought up on organic food and grain, and then layered sky high with all sorts of stuff.
The Nosh burger in all its glory
Consider the burger special I ordered at my most recent dinner. It’s called the Big Kahuna, which on its own is a furry word with many meanings. Derived from Hawaiian for big man, it’s also Australian slang, if you must know, to describe a large man’s private parts.
In burger land at Nosh it’s simply a big mound of ingredients sandwiched between a delicious brioche burger bun. Here was the patty topped with a crispy slice of spam, melted cheddar and pineapple soaked in a bright red Chinese inspired barbecue sauce.
An inside view of the Big Kahuna
Did I enjoy it? You bet. Would I have preferred the traditional all beef burger with a slab of bacon and cheese, some ketchup and a slice of tomato and onion? That would work too. My friend had the more traditional Nosh patty, which on its own is not so casual with cheese, lettuce and tomato and sauce of some kind.
We started off this meal with a snack on the lighter side: big cheese curds dipped in a coating and deep fried. There’s nothing incidental about this.
We shared an order of fries. Now, these, I’ve decided, are the best in Portland. What makes them so is that they are thoroughly crisp on the outside, sturdy enough to use as building blocks, but soft and creamy within. They’re served with plain ketchup, or dusted with bacon powder, salt and vinegar and all manner of mayonnaise blends with chipotle, chili sauce or a house-made sweet and sour ranch dressing.
The perfect fries
For purely prurient interest, we ordered one dessert to share. Called the Betty Ford Brownie (as in clinic?), it was a layered wedge of chocolate cake with more chocolate sauce and a pile of whipped cream as white as pure snow. It was a big, sweet ending to a complex dinner of inventive burgers and fries, no more, no less and none better.
The sweet Betty Ford Brownie
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.