DINING: North End Barbecue brings local farm flavors to Nora

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Dining - A&E

I’ll confess that when it comes to barbecue, I’m not picky.              

Oh, I’ll reject a rib that’s too fatty or one drowned in overly salty sauce. But that doesn’t happen often, because terrible barbecue joints usually don’t survive. And truly exceptional, I’d-drive-for-hours-to-taste-those-baby-backs operations are vanishingly rare. Most other establishments fit in the great, gray middle. And that’s just fine with me.

Of course, this isn’t the sort of talk hardcore foodies want to hear from a dining columnist. But I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment. And I think it will explain why I’m not damning with faint praise when I say my meal at Nora’s newest restaurant, The North End Barbecue & Moonshine (1250 E. 86th St., 614-7427), was just fine.

ae-northend-02-15col.jpg Plates? Who needs them? Meat is simply served at the North End. (IBJ Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

It started with Hand Battered Onion Rings ($7), consisting of thin discs of breaded, deep-fried onion lightly (extremely lightly) drizzled in the house-made remoulade. A good start, but my two guests and I wouldn’t have chomped through them so quickly if we’d known we could have gotten more of the delicious topping sauce on the side. All we had to do was ask.

The main event, of course, was the meat. The mounds and mounds of meat. The Carolina Pulled Pork ($10) was, like our other entrees, scooped onto brown paper and delivered to the table on a large metal baking sheet, accompanied by sides in bowls. Ours was tender and smoky but a tad dry, which is of course where the sauces come in. Here you get a choice of four house-made varieties, all delivered to your table in squirt bottles with their names Sharpied on the outside. They range from a family-friendly, tomato-and-molasses-based Kansas City variety to a vinegar-intensive Carolina style to a spicy Texas version. Our group opted to go rogue, concocting a spicy/sweet hybrid by mixing the peppery Texas red with the sweet KC sauce.

The Memphis Baby Back ribs ($19.95 for a half rack) came to the table hot and tender and suitably meaty. We had no complaints about the cuts, which is high praise indeed from friends who pretty much always complain about ribs—too tough, too fatty, not fatty enough—you get the picture. North End’s were right down the pipe, preparation-wise.

Plainly named, The Sandwich ($14) rounded out our lunch list. Piled high with brisket and crowned with sliced, smoked sausage, it proved both delightfully tender and toothsome. The sausage hovered right on the border of Too Salty Land, but other than that, no complaints. It came with one side, so we opted for the hand-cut fries, which were defined by a smattering of chopped jalapeno on top rather than the much-ballyhooed bone marrow butter in which they were doused.

Other sides included the Hoppin’ John, a peas-and-rice combo popular in the South, which proved both distinct and delicious. However, we expected more from the Skillet Cornbread, which wasn’t crispy around the edges. Where’s the defining crunch that comes from pouring the batter into a searing-hot skillet?

But that’s a minor quibble. I’d happily eat here again if I happened to be in the neighborhood—although not if I had to drive past two other equally satisfying places to reach it.

Then again, those other establishments probably don’t support local farms. And they likely serve beef, pork, chicken and turkey raised on antibiotics, hormones or GMO feed. So even if the taste isn’t dramatically superior, at least the pedigree is.

And those other places aren’t likely to have private dining rooms for meetings and parties. Or an intoxicating (literally) range of beverages, including the Spicy Texas Mule ($6) and the Moonshine Punch ($6). Yes, North End Barbecue & Moonshine really does serve its very own moonshine.•

—Lou Harry


  • Not Impressed
    I was really looking forward to trying North End because I love Late Harvest and think Ryan Nelson is quite talented in the kitchen. The hostess had a major attitude which immediately turned me off and debated on whether or not to go some place else. I wasn't too hungry and got the salad with pulled pork. It would have been nice of the server to ask if I wanted any of the sauces to try when he brought my salad out instead of waiting until I was almost done. My friend had the pulled pork sandwich and wasn't that impressed. You can get better barbecue elsewhere for a better price. Probably won't be back until service gets better.
  • Lousy service
    We ate in the bar recently and service was lousy. The staff was overwhelmed and rude.
  • Food fantastic, atmosphere welcoming...not a bad thing to say
    We recently spent an evening dining and drinking at The North End for a group of guys night out (10 of us). We were initially supposed to have the private room reserved but opted for the bar seating. The folks around us were all friendly and seemed to be enjoying their meals/drinks. The place was certainly lively during the dinner rush but you couldn't tell it was hectic because the staff were quick and helpful, the kitchen was timely in their service, and the bartenders were attentive. We sampled some apps and everyone ordered a different entrée (talk about variety). The onion rings were solid, the oysters were great, but the salmon dip was by far the best app! I heard multiple comments about how good the cornbread was (I opted for the fries and mac n cheese) as well as the mac n cheese (w/ rib jam, yummy). The St. Louis ribs were dry rubbed with a basic salt-pepper which is a traditional rub/tenderizer according to the chef, and they were made even better once the sauces got involved! I've eaten at quite a few bbq joints and love when I see hot links on the menu (which is rare in Indy for some reason) and they did not disappoint. What topped it off for me was the dessert...the Sugar Cream pie will knock you on your butt (if you can finish it all). The chef said it was a secret family recipe from his grandmother, which is a nice story! We got to speak with the manager and chef, who were both very humble and thanked us several times for our patronage. Well done all around and kudos to the kitchen staff!!
  • Desserts NOT GOOD
    We waited a few weeks to try them out until they got their feet wet. There were 4 of us. The onion rings were too thick, too undercooked and VERY greasy! We all liked our meat choices. The corn bread was the best side, the other sides not so tasty. We tried all three desserts offered and they were horrible!! The sugar cream pie was not even close and one bite was too much for me! The pecan pie in a jar w/ice cream was just pecan w/molasses and ice cream. The banana cream ?? was a bowl of undercooked soupy banana pudding, two little slices of banana w/vanilla wafers on the edge. Even though they are close by, we will continue to make the trip to City BBQ in Carmel!!!
  • smoke ring but not smoky
    I just dined there last night with friends, and none of us were impressed. Like you, had we known we could have had more of the remoulade for the onion rings, we would have loved it. My companion actually requested ketchup half-way through the rings ... which would have been an excellent opportunity for our server to suggest more remoulade. Instead, he delivered about 1 TBSP of ketchup to the table in a silver bowl on a plate. The rings were tasty but pretty thick and a little crunchy (the onion as well as the coating). My husband had a cup of the chili, which was probably the best thing on the table last night. I had the brisket plate which was tender and moist but utterly lacking in flavor. There was a small visible smoke ring but zero "crust" on the exterior. It took a lot of sauce to make it tasty. My husband had the pulled pork and St Louis rib combo (at 6 pm they had already run out of baby back ribs). His pork was very dry and bland. The ribs were a good quality cut but cooked to the point that the meat fell off the bone and was falling apart ... not nearly the "competition style" promised us by the waiter. And as far as dry rub on the ribs, all we could taste was pepper and salt. The sides of fries, cornbread and collard greens were good. Our cornbread was crispy on the edges, the marrow in the fries gave them a beefy flavor, and the greens were just ok. I also like the idea of supporting a place using local and non-GMO products. But until the quality and flavor match the price, I'll continue to get my BBQ at City Barbecue.

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