Nosh is one of Portland’s foremost burger and fry joints. The Congress St. restaurant’s initial fame came from their beef and potato prowess, but they have become known for their novelty food, serving up insane concoctions – still focused on meat and taters – that qualify as over-the-top, mutant meals that amaze and delight. I’d been craving a little of that circus sideshow food for a couple of weeks and headed there with Mrs. Portlandeater knowing that it was the perfect place to have my hunger summarily eliminated.
When we arrived, the “Seat Yourself” sign was out and there were a couple tables open, so we grabbed the one farthest from the entrance. A waitress quickly approached and my wife threw in an order of a Dark and Stormy to set the meal in the right direction. Though Nosh regularly changes their menu, it was the same one I remembered from the last time I had been there a few months before. There was, however, also a specials menu that I glanced at quickly and then slid over to my wife, knowing she would be interested in what was on it.
As she looked at the specials, I made my way down the list of burgers on the menu. I’d been slowly going through the list over time, trying new ones on most of my visits, so the remainder were under consideration that evening. I was reminded of the centerpiece of their specialty sandwiches – the NOSH patty. Made of ground beef chuck, beef brisket, all-natural pork shoulder, bacon, fresh garlic, and rosemary, the meat monster is one-of-a-kind and at the heart of my love for their burgers. I know some purists just want straight-up ground cow without anything to distract from it, but I couldn’t disagree more. The combination of ingredients in the well cooked meat create a magically juicy burger with flavor that just can’t be beat.
My burger decision was not going to be an easy one. With eight options, I ruled out the four I had eaten previously which did little to simplify my eventual selection. I strongly considered the Nosh Burger – NOSH patty, blue cheese spread, roast garlic balsamic sauce, smoked bacon, fried farm egg, grilled brioche bun – but had always avoided it previously, fearing that the blue cheese spread was more blue cheese than spread. I could handle a blue cheese dressing and the like, but not crumbles. Unfortunately, the other three that I hadn’t yet tried were simply not striking me as possibilities.
The waitress came to take our orders and after a little discussion with her, I did settle on the Nosh burger, thinking the worst that could happen was that I just didn’t like it. But with all the other added details besides the blue, I figured it couldn’t be that bad. My wife took my advice and went with the special I knew she wanted – Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese – plum tomatoes, garlic, fennel, rosemary, onion, basil, pecorino cheese, scallions. Then we threw in an order of Sea Salt and Pepper French Fries with chipotle mayo for dipping.
We sat waiting for our food and discussing the mundane aspects of our lives while slowly becoming more and more anxious about what would soon be coming our way. Before too long, it all arrived. My wife’s soup was topped with the cheese and scallions and flanked by criss-crossed, diagonally cut grilled cheese halves. My beast of a burger was dripping with egg yolk and the spread. Our pail of fries followed closely behind with little cups of the chipotle mayo and ketchup. It was a powerful presentation and I wasted no more time in getting to my meal.
I picked up my burger, grabbing the brioche between thumb and forefingers as yellow and white ooze dripped on the plate. As it approached the cavern between my lips, I squeezed hard on the large buns, resizing them to fit in my medium-sized mouth. Finally taking a bite as large as I could handle, I got the full sense of where this burger was headed. The burger itself was just as juicy as ever. The blue cheese spread was plentiful and the flavor outstanding – like a homemade blue cheese dressing but thicker and more tasty without any jarring, pungent blue cheese quality. The garlic balsamic and bacon rounded out the burger with the egg doing exactly what an egg does – adding even more “just cause it’s good that way” to the meat. There was nothing to be afraid of here, unless I was afraid of awesome.
It seemed that my wife liked her food since she stopped talking to me, opting instead only to communicate telepathically with the soup and sandwich. I continued my assault on the meat, occasionally reaching for a salt and pepper fry which was perfect with the smoky and slightly hot chipotle mayo. The fries of course went well with ketchup too, but ketchup is a little on the boring side when there’s another delicious house-made sauce to eat instead.
Once I got about half way through my burger, I took the eaten side to my plate, sloppily cleaning the mess that had dripped from it before and adding it back on to my food. Sure, it was sorta gross, but I just couldn’t leave anything behind. I worked hard to finish it all and I did, with a larger and larger smile coming to my face with every bite. As the Mrs. finished her soup, I took a bite of that because it seemed like a good idea. That creamy liquid was thick and well appointed with plenty of tastes and a solid offering of cheese, but most importantly, still offered lots of soothing tomato to remind me of grandma.
With our food mostly finished, I couldn’t forget about the last few fries and made those my own, probably overdoing the amount of mayo I put on them. It had been quite a meal and fearing for my health, I turned down the offer of dessert, instead choosing only a slightly elevated blood pressure and mild chance of heart disease. Our meal came to $39 before tip which seemed like short money for the relative joy I experienced from my time there.
So about that circus? What we had at Nosh was hardly the beginning of the freaky food they flaunt. The Slab Burger uses SLAB pizza as the buns. Their Nosh Mac N’ Stack uses two fried mac n’ cheese patties as the buns. The Burnt Trailer Queen uses two donuts. And there’s lots more including their famous fries which are available in sea salt and vinegar, bacon or buffalo dusted, and the sea salt and pepper I had. Everything at Nosh – even if it’s not a burger or fries – is fun to eat and unforgettable and they also have an outstanding beer list. For those reasons, they won my second ever Restaurant of the Year Award and I look forward to more of the same from them in the future. They never disappoint.
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