It's a good thing the Noble Smokesman has signs in the right-of-way on Lancaster Road. If they didn't, you might drive right past it and never know it was there. That would be a mistake, because this lunch-only barbecue restaurant in a nondescript office park is a best-kept-secret for those who work in the area. The Noble Smokesman is only open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., so unless you work from home or in the area, catching a meal here might be a bit of a challenge. Inside, the restaurant operates much like any fast-casual spot. Order at the counter, pick up down the line a bit, grab your utensils and drink and take a seat.
I visited twice, and it was a good thing I did.
At my first lunch, I chose a sandwich combo for $9.99, which included a Hog Hunter sandwich ($6.99, when ordered à la carte), plus a side, drink and "mini cake." I chose the smoked cheddar mac & cheese as my side, and was intrigued as the server mixed the corkscrew pasta and cheese sauce à la minute before placing it on my tray. It's a good idea: This method helps to prevent the pasta from absorbing the sauce over time and losing its texture. But the execution and flavor were both lacking; the cheese sauce was far too runny to cling to the pasta as it should, and I detected no "smoked cheddar" notes.
The sandwich was equally mundane. The pulled pork was so fatty it was practically devoid of texture, and the apple-fennel slaw was in desperate need of some lemon juice or vinegar to cut through that pork fat. The menu description said it would be topped with pickled onions, but there were none.
I couldn't help but order an extra side of the "Championship Beans" ($2.99), and they were the highlight of my first lunch – a saucy, addictive mélange of red kidney beans, black beans and the traditional navy beans, with lots of cubed ham for texture. If those beans have, in fact, won championship trophies, they were well-deserved.
As I dined alone on that first lunch, I decided a second visit was necessary to get a full survey of the menu. I ordered all three of the smoked tacos ($3.99 each), each filled with a different smoked meat and paired with its own toppings. What you really want to hear about at a barbecue joint is the meat, so I took care to pull out a morsel from each taco: the Noble Taco (brisket), the Island Hog (pulled pork) and the Birdhouse Taco (chicken). I liked them all. Each one of the meats, including the pulled pork that was so disappointing the day before, was delicious — all juicy and tender with the requisite balance of smoke and meat flavors.
The Birdhouse was my favorite taco, with smoked tomatillo salsa, pickled onions, cilantro cream and a generous sprinkling of queso fresco atop the flour tortilla. The brisket-filled Noble Taco features crunchy Napa cabbage, pickled pico de gallo and queso fresco. The Island Hog is a good choice for fans of salty-smoky-sweet combinations, as it's stuffed with diced mango, pickled pineapple salsa, cabbage and that cilantro-lime crema.
I also took the opportunity to try another side, and chose the potato salad with sherry-dill vinaigrette. The petite red potatoes were halved, making some of the bigger ones harder to stuff into one's mouth, but they were cooked properly and tossed with red onion and red bell pepper for some crunch, and covered with just the right amount of dressing, spiked with whole-grain mustard and fresh dill, which sang through it all. I'll be trying to re-create that one at home.
The double-layered mini cakes ($1.99) I mentioned before were an adorable highlight – each about an inch high and an inch and a half wide, they are a wonderful one-bite sweet treat, delicately piped with the kind of frosting and decorations you'd find on a full-size cake. There are those, too, and generous slices ($4.99) of carrot, Key lime, coconut, birthday or red-velvet cake are a true Southern-style ending.
The Noble Smokesman does a bustling lunch business, and that's good since they only serve the one meal. But because of that, execution is paramount, and there were a few mishaps that made me think their food was better suited for Instagramming than for actual eating. I'm glad my second visit disproved that position.