A minor perk of living in a decidedly blue-collar burg: safe distance from haughty terms like “foodie.” Yet Walker’s Point’s recent ejaculation of high-minded dining establishments—Braise, Industri, the forthcoming Clock Shadow Creamery—threatens to spoil all that. Now, The Noble brings another set of lofty culinary aspirations to the ’hood where wings from Steny’s used to reign as the height of haute cuisine.
The space: Cozy, bordering on cramped. A mere six-ish tables line the room, with space for 10-or-so more patrons at the bar. Then there was The A.V. Club’s spot: an archaic game table (Carrom?) wedged between the coat rack and the ass of a pedantic adman sipping wine at the end of the bar. Despite our obvious (and appropriate?) placement at the “kid’s table,” it was hard not to be taken by the joint’s charm: exposed wood beams, low lighting, Billie Holiday crooning softly, an old-timey film projector, vintage instrument bric-a-brac, rows of dusty hardcovers on a shelf below the bar, and a Remington typewriter reserving space atop a desk near the restrooms. It all felt a bit like Gatsby himself had been evicted and forced to cram his dining/living quarters into a single room across the street from Cielito Lindo.
The service: Friendly, if a tad distracted. A recent Thursday rush hour met us with smiles and a warm offer to “text when a table is available.” Yet there was no need, as the lounge—two leather chairs and an end table—opened up and allowed for a perusal of the card-cataloged drink menu.
Most high-end restaurants that maintain a “no reservations” policy do so because they are that good. The Noble may be one of the few to do so because it is that small. Such intimacy means that a lone waitress pulling a solo performance makes sense. She struggled a bit to keep things flowing—namely the water—and she unfortunately committed the single greatest sin in The A.V. Club Bible: neglecting to offer seconds on a yawningly empty cocktail glass.
The A.V. Club’s food: Due to the walloping Mad Men flavor of the evening (and because of the breath benefits of cocktail onions) the Sage Gibson ($9) seemed the obvious kick-start to happy hour. But it was the Bloody Bandito ($8.50)—tequila, mescal, fresh jalapeño, house-made bloody mix—that had us wishing for a longer wait for a table. Noting that the latter was a star of the brunch menu for Monday underscored that this was indeed a Roger Sterling kind of joint.
The trio of spreads with house-baked bread ($5.95) opened the solids portion of the night. Black bean, bell pepper cream cheese, and curry lentil were respectively beany, taco-y, and like a delicious dip-form microcosm of an Indian buffet. The Shrimp ’n’ Grits ($7.95) were kicked up a notch by a sizzling Sriracha aioli, but the red pepper grit cake left some creaminess to be desired. (The menu wasn’t mistaken in listing the grilled shrimp in singular form. He appeared a bit lonely.)
The Noble’s only two concrete entrees—Rosemary Chicken Flat Bread ($10.95) and Balsamic Portobella Flat Bread ($10.95)—seemed like a mere formality in prelude to the litany of daily-changing specials. Upon being rebuked of our first choice—a 10-ounce pork chop ($19) with angel hair pasta and mushroom cream sauce (they had just run out)—we settled on the duck ($20) in ponzu sauce with kale and sobu noodles. The lovingly seared edges weren’t quite enough to mask the bird’s inherent greasy fattiness, though a few choice bites came close to hitting the desired amalgamation of charred and creamy. The Asian-braised brisket ($16) was full of robust meatiness and soy-ful tenderness. Feeling like our bit of bovine had had a considerable residency in the slow-cooker, it was even possible to give the steak knife a night off.
The verdict: A solid addition to the dining domain where menus are recited as spoken word. But for that old Milwaukee charm—and big, consistent flavor—we’ll still head down the block to The Philly Way.