The Noshery 4994 Lowell Boulevard 720-524-3893
Walking into The Noshery, a bakery and cafe that opened across the street from Regis University this summer, you'd never guess that owner Andrea Knight wanted to be a ski racer when she was a kid. Walls are the shade of blue associated with little boys' nurseries. Music is restful, just right for the soundtrack of a French film. Aside from the white wainscoting and a collage of doors hung on the back wall, decor is minimal, giving the space a sense of calm appreciated by students who pop in, books and highlighters in hand, to stoke up on caffeine and prepare for class.
See also: Behind the Scenes at the Noshery
It's hardly the pumped-up, adrenaline-fueled atmosphere you'd expect from someone whose early passion was for tearing up the slopes. But it's just what Knight, who came to baking after suffering a competition-ending injury as a teen, envisioned for her first place. "It's always been a dream of mine to have a little cafe and bakery," says Knight, who has a way of peppering her sentences with "awesome," hinting at the positivity that must have helped her through the transition from skiing to food. "It's a collaboration of all the different places I've worked."
Those places include D Bar, where she was sous-chef, and Wooden Spoon, where she served as pastry chef. She also spent time at Whole Foods, which is where she crossed paths with Mike Alvarez, a fellow graduate of Johnson & Wales University. Knight and Alvarez collaborate on the menu for the Noshery, but when it comes to execution, there's a clear division of labor: She handles all the pastry -- including the delectable scones, coffee cake, brownies, tarts and cookies stashed in the cases below the counter where you order, plus biscuits and bread for the sandwiches -- and leaves the line to him. And by him, I mean just Alvarez. The operation is as bare-bones as the walls, so if you like that soup or sandwich you ordered off the menu scrawled on a chalkboard, you know whom to thank for it.
In keeping with the simplistic decor, the fare at the Noshery isn't fancy. Indeed, many of the baked goods look like something an experienced home cook could make. Hoping they'd taste as good as homemade, I impulsively ordered a slice of coffee cake to share with a friend as we drank coffee and waited for our meal to arrive. I'm glad I did, because the cake had an irresistible berry swirl and a dusting of cinnamon and sugar -- and besides, the kitchen took a while with the rest of our order, which isn't surprising, since Alvarez mans the line solo. When our food finally came out, though, it was well worth the wait.
Fried eggs were served with two biscuits drenched in sausage gravy and pork green chile, thick with pulled pork and heavy on cumin. Even under the smother, the tall biscuits had the crisp edges and flaky insides that only a pastry chef -- or a Southerner -- could pull off. (Freezing the butter first helps.) Just as good were fat waffles nestled on a bed of fresh blueberries and raspberry compote. We ignored the maple syrup, preferring to dip pieces of hot, crackly waffle into a dollop of smooth whipped cream. The dish was sweet in the way that breakfast should be, without crossing over into dessert: The vanilla-bean cream was lightly sweetened, as was a fruit compote with a hint of lemon, and the batter itself was more balanced than most, without the heavy-handed addition of vanilla and sugar, and no butter or eggs at all.
I found the same refreshing balance everywhere I turned: in a lemon tart with lightly sweetened toasted merengue peaks; in plain, Greek-style yogurt with housemade granola that relied as much on dried cherries as maple syrup for sweetness; and even in that sweet but not overly sugary berry coffee cake. "It's not that we're trying to be some sort of healthy bakery," says Knight. "It's just nice to taste the flavor of the food rather than straight sugar."
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The cafe options at the Noshery are limited: a handful of breakfast dishes, some sandwiches, plus one soup, one salad, antipasta and a playful macaroni and cheese, with noodles in cheddar Mornay and a crust of panko mixed with crushed cheese puffs. But with both breakfast and lunch offered from open to close -- which is currently 4 p.m., though dinner may be added in the next few months now that the eatery's liquor license has been approved -- the menu feels larger than it is.
The heart of the lunch menu is sandwiches -- five in all, not including the egg sandwiches, or "sammis," listed as breakfast. All arrive with a side of fresh fruit, chips or housemade, non-mayo pasta salad. And all come on the same brioche, which Knight makes in-house and shapes into rolls and torpedoes. If given the choice, I'd choose a baguette or ciabatta to lend more heft and texture to some of the sandwiches, but I appreciate why Knight chose this bread -- the only one she's currently making, though she hopes to add whole wheat soon. Like the soft sandwich bread of old, it's a fine foil for anything Alvarez wants to stick inside -- as good with turkey as with eggs -- and it freezes well, allowing her to make it a day or two in advance and pull it out the night before she uses it rather than having to show up at 3 a.m. to start it, an unsustainable feat for such a lean start-up.
Sandwiches come with set toppings, so don't expect to pick your deli meat, cheese and accoutrements from a list of twenty options. Indeed, don't expect to pick deli meat at all. Here, the turkey sandwich is made with brined, house-roasted turkey, with Havarti, sprouts, cucumbers and tomato pesto. Chicken salad features poached chicken tossed with fennel, Granny Smith apples, almonds and mayonnaise. Flank steak is marinated overnight in chimichurri, then sliced thin and layered with roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella in a sandwich that delivers everything you want between bread: a little bite, a little richness and enough acid to dazzle the palate. Just as hard to put down is the prosciutto, with arugula, Brie and a thin smear of cherry compote. Like the flank steak, it brings together many different elements -- salty, sweet and peppery -- in a winsome combination. None of the sandwiches were overstuffed, and while that worked well for stronger flavors like the flank steak and prosciutto with Brie, the milder chicken-salad sandwich tasted mostly like bread.
On my visits, I looked in vain for a half sandwich or half salad and cup of soup combination. It wasn't there; Knight later told me that such a combo is in the works. But when I tasted the baked-potato soup, thick with cream and loaded with bacon, I was happy to have a whole bowl before me. And I wasn't the only one wowed by Alvarez's scratch-made soup. "You've got to get the potato soup," a man at a nearby table said to a friend who had just come in. "It's so good." His sigh was audible, dramatic even, when he learned it was gone. (I'd taken the last bowl.) "I worked for a chef who said, 'You can always tell a chef by his soup,'" says Alvarez, who changes the soup depending on what's in season and what he has on hand, leading to such combinations as curry-chickpea and heirloom tomato-basil. I wasn't nearly as fond of the arugula-grain salad I got instead of soup another time; a tabbouleh-like medley of cucumbers, tomatoes and bulgur, it needed more parsley, lemon and mint.
The Noshery has already become the kind of place that every neighborhood needs: a friendly, unpretentious spot for grabbing a bite, meeting friends, settling in with a computer and coffee. And once Goldspot Brewing Company opens next door, it will become an even better place for hanging out: Knight hopes to offer some of the brewery's beers, which is a great idea -- although it might put a damper on the studying.
Select menu items at The Noshery: Biscuits & gravy $7.50 Homestyle waffles $7 Yogurt and granola $5 Flank steak sandwich $8.75 Chicken-salad sandwich $8 Prosciutto sandwich $8.75 Turkey sandwich $7.75 Arugula-grain salad $6.50 Soup of the day, bowl $5.50 Coffee cake $3 Lemon merengue tart $4.50
The Noshery is open 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Get more information at nosherycafe.com.