Noble Pig Café
19222 Mack Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms
Restaurant accessible, restroom under construction
most sandwiches: $8.75;
Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
I too have often thought of the pig as noble; Brandon and Parinda Kahlich’s well-named new barbecue joint strikes the right note of respect for that multitalented animal. So many of its parts can be made, with a little human intervention, into such superior treats: sausage, bacon, cheeks, bellies, hams, chops, various things to do with shoulders and loins, and, of course, ribs. (Maybe chitlins not so much.) Shelves in the tiny restaurant exhibit ceramic pigs from a number of cultures — and above them shine a couple of crowns.
Apparently pigs enjoy still another virtue: Their snouts are hardy. An old sign in the restaurant touts Detroit-made overalls that “wear like a pig’s nose.” (Google it and learn some cool history.) So a menu based on the noble pig has a lot going for it already, even without snouts, and chef Brandon Kahlich concocts sauces that do the meat proud.
The pork options are ribs, pulled pork, andouille and a Triple Q sandwich made of ham, pulled pork and bacon or sausage, not overpriced at $9.25. Chicken comes as a half or whole bird, or wings. Beef short ribs, Scottish salmon, crab cakes, tuna salad and turkey BLT sandwiches, and a brisket-and-sirloin burger round out the meat offerings.
The baby-back ribs were my favorites among this porcine largesse, improbably tender and imbued with such a myriad of rich flavors they hardly need saucing. Kahlich serves his sauces the right way, on the table, but will mop the meat with sauce in the oven if customers insist. All the meats are smoked over apple and hickory, the pulled pork for 16 hours, the ribs for eight.
The beef short rib seemed a bit drier than the pig ribs, but only in comparison, a fault easily remedied with one of the four squirt-bottle sauces. My favorite is the Carolina Gold, mustard-based. I’ve never been a fan of traditional Carolina Vinegar, designed for pulled pork — too vinegary for me — though Carolinians swear by it, and Kahlich says it cuts the fattiness of the meat (which is fine if you want less fat flavor). Detroit Bone is deep and rich, sweet and spicy, with a light kick, and Sweet n’ Spicy is, well, that too, a Memphis-style tomato-based concoction. No secret ingredients, the chef swears, only slow cooking and a couple days’ resting to develop the flavors.
Noble Pig’s chewy andouille, from Dearborn Sausage, is a princely effort, quite large, and served with Creolaise sauce (Hollandaise plus Creole mustard). I found the crab cake sandwich less interesting, the cakes maybe a bit overdone. In any case, when choosing the bread for your sandwich, don’t order Texas toast (which also comes with your meal); no matter how thick or large the slice, it’s still untoasted white bread. Other choices are Kaiser, sourdough and a forgettable grinder roll.
What about sides, two to an order or $2.25 apiece? Kahlich has omitted greens from the repertoire, but the rest range from ennh to credible to marvelous. Stars are silky and buttery mashed potatoes and not-down-home mac-and-cheese, the latter made with New York sharp cheddar and tart, nutty Gruyère, and swimmingly cheesy. $9.95 will get you a quart of this or any other side.
I found onion rings forgettable and house-made potato chips too greasy. Cheddar cornbread didn’t taste of cheddar but was instead sweet and cakelike. Biscuits — a delight not always found on a restaurant’s list of sides — were fine but suffered from being carried out (see below). French fries are unaccountably called “frites” (in a barbecue joint!), but do taste of the advertised rosemary. Spicy slaw had a mild kick but was not crisp enough for my tastes. Other sides are barbecued beans and potato salad.
One of the best things we sampled at Noble Pig was a cup of gumbo, a generous blend of spicy, complex tastes, laden with okra and andouille. We also loved the house-made peppermint ice cream and raspberry sorbet.
I haven’t even mentioned a whole other page of the Noble Pig menu: nine ambitious pizzas plus build-your-own. We tried only the Carbonara — bacon, sweet roasted onion, garlic and chicken — and loved it; who wouldn’t, with that ingredient list? Pizzas feature fancy components such as Kobe beef and garlic aioli, and the Four-Meat includes four kinds of pig.
The most grievous fault of Noble Pig is that it’s mainly carryout, for now. There’s room for five two-person tables, but management doesn’t use them on Friday and Saturday nights. That should change after a planned expansion is complete. If not, the Kahliches may be limiting themselves to a GP clientele. Noble Pig serves no alcohol.