Despite the fact that most folks don't flock north for authentic "barbecue" (or however you grew up spelling it), Portland does okay these days — better than ever, really. Norm's and Beale Street may no longer be options, but their exits paved way for updated entries into the next BBQ space with Salvage, Elsmere, and Terlingua. Now, a fourth contender joins the ranks in Noble Barbecue.
Located on outer Forest Avenue in the space most recently occupied by Taco Trio’s short-lived satellite venture, Noble Barbecue serves up smoked and wood-roasted meats made in-house every day. The humble sandwich takes precedence, here, available either “naked” — nothing but meat, bun and the collision of taste buds — or as one of Noble’s more inspired, signature varieties. Vegetarians take note; the Smoked Spaghetti Squash (pit-smoked spaghetti squash, house red BBQ sauce, tomato compote, pimento cheese, fried bread and butter pickles) is one of the more interesting meatless ‘wich options floating around the city right now.
Barbecue is nothing without the support of a smattering of rib-sticking sides, and Noble covers familiar ground with two types of slaw (“old school” and citrus-apple, both noticeably different from one another in taste and texture), baked beans, mac ‘n cheese, fries and addictive house-pickled vegetables. “Scrappy Fries” give the restaurant a signature item of sorts — a pile of crunchy fries topped with baked beans, meat scraps, poblano sauce and cotija cheese. Is it poutine? Not really, but sort of, and it works.
But how are the meats? Chopped pork (tasted on Noble’s signature sandwich with yellow BBQ sauce, citrus apple slaw and bread & butter pickles on brioche) is as good as it gets in the area — moist, smoky and laden with deep, crispy bark. Having spent a number of years travelling back and forth to North Carolina, the skeptic in me was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, the beef brisket sandwich (brisket, red BBQ sauce, old-school slaw, fried onions and mixed pickles on brioche) left a lot to be desired, thanks in large part to an overly charred bun and way too much gristle on the meat.
Sides were hit or miss, with mac ‘n cheese bordering on floury and lacking the neon-like color and intensity of sharpness found at Salvage. Baked beans, however, were spot-on and tasted as if they’d been building flavor in a crock for days, and both slaws proved more than worthy in their piquancy and delightful crispiness. The pickled vegetables, too, are standout at Noble and certainly worth grabbing extras of.
Noble also offers meats to-go by the pound, which — IMO — is a real boon to those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. I know that if I lived nearby, it would be tempting not to grab a pound of chopped pork on the way home to build a meal around on a Tuesday night.
Soon to be joined by a fifth and sixth barbecue joint in the form of Elsmere’s new Stevens Ave. location and the reemergence of Uncle Billy’s respectively, Noble’s staying power will no doubt be tested in 2018. For now, the restaurant fills a necessary gap in dining options on outer Forest, offering a solid, quick fix for smoked meats on the go.
Noble Barbecue | 1706 Forest Ave., Portland | Mon-Sat 11:30 am–8 pm; Sun noon–8 pm | www.noblemeats.com
Erik Neilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org