I am willing to travel far for good food. That said, the last thing my two travel companions and I expected to find in a strip mall on the highway, on the outskirts of Austin, across from a Walgreens was a barebones, home-style shop with some of the greatest sandwiches we've ever eaten.
The Noble Pig, a three-month old shop, has a cozy, welcoming interior, dark wood benches and a simple, clean-cut décor. The short menu is written on the wall above a glass counter that contains spiced chocolate pudding, homemade sausages and 'fresh pickles'. Pickles are made with raw vegetables covered with a hot brine instead of being cooked in one (to better keep their crunch). Next to the counter is a large glass bowl filled with huge rounds of homemade white and wheat bread (baked almost daily).
"What do you recommend?" we asked Chef John Bates, a veteran of two popular Austin restaurants, Asti and Wink, who opened the shop with Brandon Martinez."My favorite is the smoked duck pastrami," noted Chef Bates. Done. Next? "The Thai Chicken is also a favorite." Done and done.
We added the namesake, The Noble Pig, a spicy ham, pulled pork, provolone and bacon sandwich, along with a pulled pork special of the day (there were three of us, but we were hungry).
The sandwiches arrived one-by-one on cafeteria-like trays covered with brown wax paper, accompanied by those fresh pickles and crunchy, ruffled chips. The first bite of the duck was an explosion of texture and flavor, at just the right temperature. The bread, lightly toasted and buttered, was soft and thick, but not overpowering. (John studied with Vietnamese and Thai bakers to hone his bread-making skills.) The duck was tender and soft with a hint of smokiness balanced by a silky pickle and crunchy raw strips of green and red cabbage.
To make the smoked duck pastrami sandwich, the duck is deboned, rubbed with a pastrami cure, then tied back together and smoked over pecans. It's then finished in the oven and cooled in the fridge. The whole process takes about 48 hours.
For the chef, it's "the subtleties that make a difference" and he has carefully chosen and balanced each ingredient in his sandwiches. Though I got a lot of heat for ordering the Thai Chicken ("You come to somewhere called The Noble Pig and you order chicken?"), it was the second best sandwich that we had. (As well seasoned as the pork, but with the added brightness of cilantro).
The Noble Pig is out of the way, and if you get lost for 30 minutes (as we did) it might seem like too much effort just for a sandwich. But after eating that smoked duck pastrami sandwich we don't regret it. You won't either.
The Noble Pig, 11815 620 N. Suite 4 Austin, TX
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