I have a miserable sense of vision when it comes to remodeling and design. Show me a fixer-upper and I won't be able to look past the pet-stained carpets, poop-brown paneling and rust-ringed tub. That's precisely why I never pictured myself hanging out at Noble Beast Brewing. When owner Shaun Yasaki first showed me the property, it had all the charm of an auto mechanic's garage that works only on Pintos, Chevettes and PT Cruisers. The 5,000-square-foot shell was dark, dank and devoid of even the faintest hint of appeal. Worse, it sits on the edge of downtown in a locale few have reason to visit.
It's amazing what a little creativity — and likely heaps of cash — can do to a space.
New glass-paneled garage doors were added to both the front and rear of the building, bringing in tons of daylight, as do a glassy new vestibule and refurbished skylight high above the brewery floor. On fine days the old brick warehouse feels more like an open-air beer hall than an auto shop, save for the vintage three-cylinder Kawasaki — aka the Widow Maker —suspended from the rafters above the bar. That biker theme extends to the bespoke beer deckels decorated with a hand-drawn image of a retro helmet and goggles.
That attention to detail can be traced throughout the entire operation, a characteristic that likely surprises none who at all know Yasaki. From the hand-painted, gold-leaf lettered signage on the entryway of the building to the humorous safety hazard signage affixed to the men's room bathroom stall, there's eye candy around every bend.
Craft beer fans know Yasaki from his days manning the brewhouse at Platform Beer, where he helped develop that brewery's flagship brands. The name Noble Beast, as he explains it, is a reference to the style of beers he likes to brew. Noble, classic styles from Germany and Belgium are countered by more beastly modern American styles. He works from a 10-barrel Portland Kettle Works brewhouse positioned squarely in the middle of the space, and his technical prowess is on display in glasses of sparkling clean Kolsch ($5), Düsseldorf-style Altbier ($5), and wheaty Bavarin Hefeweizen ($5). Of the six house beers on tap, four were session-level in terms of alcohol, a welcome trend.
Given the brewery's off-the-beaten-path setting on Lakeside, just east of downtown, it is an island in terms of restaurants. That's why it was a very wise move to install a kitchen and turn out food good enough to prevent hungry guests from leaving. Chef James Redford, who spent the past four years working with Ben Bebenroth, has put together a solid little menu that goes well above the call of duty. The 15-item roster has a great mix of snack foods, salads and sandwiches, all of which rise above standard pub grub in terms of quality and execution.
A large paper boat of popcorn ($4) is tossed with barbecue seasoning, garnished with bacon and drizzled with a bright, herby aioli. For the nachos ($6), a small sheet pan is layered with basic corn chips, pork carnitas, radish, fresh cilantro, cheese sauce and a citrusy lime crema. The kitchen does a tasty version of a large, soft Bavarian pretzel ($7) served warm with sides of cheese sauce and honey beer mustard. Our favorite items in the snack category, though, turned out to be a sensational kielbasa corndog ($7) on a stick, paired with kraut and honey mustard, and the wings. A half-dozen wings ($8), available in flavors like classic Buffalo, miso-honey, and spicy sesame arbol, come with crunchy pickled celery and creamy celery seed mayo.
In the light and seasonal department, the kitchen offers a spring bean salad ($8) with white beans, asparagus and arugula tossed in a beer vinaigrette. The Three Little Pigs sandwich ($12) comprises good country ham, smoked ham and bacon stuffed between a sliced, grilled baguette with cheddar and punchy pickled beets. A messy, meaty meatball sub ($12) is loaded with cheese curds, marinara and summery basil puree. Do get the zesty fries when given the choice.
The system for everything — water, beer, food, cleanup — is strictly self-serve. Guests walk up to the bar to place their orders, and names are announced over a loudspeaker when the food is ready for pickup at the open kitchen.
Not only is Noble Beast a place, I soon discovered, that I enjoy spending time at, it appears that many others do as well. During a pair of recent mid-week visits there was a scramble for seats on the main floor, compelling guests to sit on the elevated section in the rear. That's actually a great vantage point, it turns out, to enjoy the raw beauty of the entire space.
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