When Jim Noble smells smoke, he thinks of home.
The Charlotte restaurateur has been eating barbecue all his life and cooking it just as long. His dad was a traveling furniture salesman, and Noble remembers riding around North Carolina with him. In almost every town they stopped, they would go to a barbecue restaurant.
He said it’s always been his dream to open his own barbecue restaurant, and now that dream is coming true. His fifth restaurant, Noble Smoke, had its soft opening Friday.
A long journey
Four flags hang on a wall within the 10,797-square-foot, rustic building that houses the restaurant — United States, France, North Carolina and Texas. Each tells a part of his story.
“I’m American, so that first flag’s always gotta fly,” Noble said.
Noble got his first smoker 30 years ago, but he wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a chef. He studied industrial engineering at North Carolina State University, but everything changed when he took his first bite of French food.
A friend introduced Noble to French wine, then he became fascinated by baking French bread. At that point, he was getting hooked. He remembers making chicken fricassee from Julia Child’s cookbook after college and then having to take a moment.
“I had never had food like that before,” he said. “The French waste no flavor.”
His change of course was immediate.
That passion brought him to Napa Valley in 1982, where he studied French cooking techniques to bring back home to High Point. He opened his first restaurant the next year.
Over the years, he opened The King’s Kitchen, Copain’s Gatherings and two locations for Rooster’s, all in Charlotte. He also opened A Noble Grille in Winston-Salem.
He started getting serious about opening a barbecue restaurant around 2008, but he kept getting delayed.
A new tradition
Joe Kindred is a former intern for Noble who has since made a name for himself as the chef and co-owner of Kindred in Davidson and Hello, Sailor in Cornelius. He remembers going all across the state with Noble and stopping at barbecue places along the way.
“It seemed like he was always in pursuit,” Kindred said. “If we were going to travel somewhere, he would make it so that we could stop somewhere on the way or drive and get barbecue.”
Kindred said he’s just happy that Noble’s lifelong dream has “finally come to fruition.”
In hindsight, Noble is actually thankful it took so long — that extra time allowed him to discover another passion. In addition to serving traditional North Carolina pork, Noble Smoke will feature Texas-style brisket.
“Some people are purist, they don’t think anything other than pork is barbecue,” he said.
Pork and Texas-style brisket
While Noble said pork will always be his favorite because he grew up eating it, he also really loves Texas-style brisket. He struggled to find a local place that cooked it properly, so he went to Texas in 2016 to learn how to do it himself.
North Carolina-style and Texas-style barbecue are cooked using two different types of pits, and Noble Smoke’s 1,800-square-foot smokehouse will have a few of both. The menu will include pork, brisket, turkey, chicken and fish, along with traditional sides such as mac and cheese and healthy options, including white-acre field peas from local farms.
Noble said he picked the location, at 2216 Freedom Drive, for its central location within the city.
Everything in the restaurant will honor those who came before him, he said. The smokehouse pits are named after different members of his family that encouraged him along the way, and the restaurant will feature a Legends Counter, where 23 seats will have a plaque on them with a different name of an iconic barbecue chef. These seats will border the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant.
All these people helped him love barbecue, and he said he noticed over the years in culinary circles and magazines that barbecue goes in and out of style. Right now, it’s hip again, he said.
“But I would do this if it wasn’t hip,” he said.
Noble Smoke will serve a limited menu over the next two weeks until its grand opening July 25.