“Noble are the people who respect their savage passions for good food, libation, conversation and music.”
— Noble Savage Tavern
I wouldn’t call myself a barfly, but I have and still do spend a lot of time downtown — especially in my line of work — but I’ve somehow managed to visit The Noble Savage Tavern an embarrassingly scant few times, and for the life of me I can’t imagine why. On this Tuesday night, at the recommendation of many of my friends, the deal was sealed: my stomping grounds have definitely been expanded to include this regular watering hole; that is to say that this 1996 relic of modern anachronism gained a couple new patrons in myself and fellow comedian David Allen.
It certainly feels like a tavern pulled from the pages of your favorite high-fantasy story, with huge stained wood accents and rustic aesthetic in the main room, and the atmosphere will back it up. Our server’s name was Trey, and he was enthusiastic to make sure we were comfortable, held a fun conversation with us while taking our drink orders, and was clearly well-practiced in the recitation of this week’s specials, the first of which was exactly what I was excited to try: a buffalo burger on a black sesame bun, served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and dijon mustard.
It would seem that I came at just the perfect week, as this particular special was a rarity. They do not usually run specialty burgers, but generally sandwich specials that I might otherwise not have been able to comfortably fit in my Burger Tour, delicious as I’m sure they are. A fortunate happenstance this evening however, that I was able to cross this oft-recommended venue from my list while getting to eat something uniquely delicious. (Noble Savage Tavern’s other daily and weekly specials, including fish dishes and weekly appetizers are posted regularly to their Facebook page.)
We barely had time to get our beer before Trey delivered my burger to the table. I had asked for it to be cooked medium rare, and they weren’t terribly busy at this point in the night, so this hungry burger-lover was pleasantly surprised at the minimal wait time.
Despite being served with a generous side of coleslaw and potato fries, and with the open-faced burger’s modest dollop of dijon mustard on proud display, the first thing that I noticed was the black sesame toasted bun. The seeds’ distinctive dry aroma was what gave them away at first, but the curious twist’s mostly aesthetic purpose shone through when closed my burger to see the speckled bun.
Among other details of note was the volume of red onion on this burger; those that know me would expect me to be excited to see so much of my favorite burger topping, and you would be right — I do love what red onions bring to the common flavors of a burger, especially a good mustard — but those of you who are sensitive to sharp flavors may do well to ask for less than the prescribed amount. This was an inordinate amount of onion.
The thick roma tomato slices were the darkest red I think I’ve ever seen on a sandwich like this, and I was grateful to have such a huge leaf of lettuce to wrap them in, else they’d probably leak out when I took a bite.
Before we get to the burger, let’s shift the paradigm and talk about the coleslaw:
I normally don’t like coleslaw. There, I said it. It’s mostly because I dislike mayonnaise. However, I do understand that slaws are an odd comfort food, especially in the south; one that is made differently nearly everywhere that you go, which is why when I am presented with coleslaw made by someone in such a way that I have never had before, I at least give it a fair chance. What I tasted was not like any coleslaw that I have ever had. The amalgam of greens had an acerbic bite, and though the recipe ingredients are apparently a closely guarded secret (trust me, I asked), I was able to discern some of the flavors and discover the obvious ones — worcestershire sauce, quick-pickled jalapeno and red bell peppers, onions, garlic, soy sauce… it tasted exactly like kimchi. This was kimchi. It was sweet and acrid, oily, crisp, and on top of it all, there was an ample variety of bright colors from the different vegetables included. It was actually pretty, a sentiment I never thought that I’d hold for coleslaw.
I could wait no longer, and so the burger was hemisected, as I am wont to do (especially because it yields some indulgent photo opportunities). I had actually managed a few bites before I noticed something strange about the way that I was enjoying this burger:
There was no cheese. Even while eating, I could not recall being offered one by Trey. Normally this would be annoying — I love cheese, after all — but with this particular combination of flavors, not just the bite of the onion or the unexpected meaty sweetness of the roma tomatoes, but particularly those of the other team players on my plate, the coleslaw and fries, I am certain that the exclusion of cheese as an option was intentional. This simple burger was never meant to be eaten with cheese. I was eating this simple burger exactly the way that its designer had intended for it to be eaten.
I actually felt that the fries on the side were mostly unnecessary. They fit the idiom expected as a typical burger compliment, and though they were undeniably tasty, the meal’s other unique inclusions and signatures were already defying my burger meal expectations; just as Abby Singer’s Bistro and Fully Stacked had done earlier in this series, Noble Savage Tavern was making me question my own burger assumptions. The paradigm had indeed been shifted.
To put it as succinctly as possible, this very simple burger (if one made from buffalo can be called such) was only the protagonist in the kabuki performance that was plated by its creator, a clear gastronomic artist.
The Buffalo Burger will only be available this week, so get it while you still can. Even if you manage to miss it, I can confidently say that after this experience I would trust Noble Savage Tavern to craft a burger worth writing about any week of the year.