I’ve spent a little time lately in Downtown Mobile, Alabama seeing for myself what all the food buzz is about. The entire downtown area has been somewhat transformed by a younger generation seeking to restore and revitalize. But my interest in the local food scene was more specific: I wondered who the chefs and restaurants were that are not just promoting themselves – but serving local ingredients and championing local farms. One name kept coming up in my research: Chris Rainosek, owner of The Noble South.
Rainosek is an interesting guy. A family man, “Noble” is his son’s middle name. However, if I were to label Chris Rainosek and his operation on first meeting, I would choose a similar word for him, too: honorable, generous, respectable. In a word: noble.
He spent years in Colorado attending culinary school then working for various eateries there including Nordstrom’s group of specialty restaurants. He says that Colorado was a wonderful mecca of culinary delight, but his heart was in the South. And so, he eventually made his way back to south Alabama to put his skills and ambition to good use.
He reminded me: food doesn’t come from trucks and supermarkets, it comes from the ground, the water, the woods.”
In 2014, Rainosek opened The Noble South where he seeks to bring the best Deep South ingredients to his tables and to make farmers the real heroes – creating a new awareness for a new generation. He reminded me: food doesn’t come from trucks and supermarkets, it come from the ground, the water, the woods. Hard work, sweat and dedication yields quite an incredible bounty in Rainosek’s backyard on the outskirts of Mobile, and he intends to tell their story when they shine on his plates.
A Happy, Historic Place
The Noble South is on Dauphin Street just steps from Bienville Square in a historic building dated to 1894. The building has housed many types of businesses over the decades. I couldn’t help but ask about the impressive ceiling height that draws the eye up naturally toward the beautiful stained glass long the top of the back wall.
Rumored to be the result of savvy tax evasion, the second floor was removed years ago by an owner looking to avoid paying taxes on the added square footage. Years and many owners later, what’s left sets the stage for a stunning dining experience.
Mix in old brick walls, whitewashed, and a glass-fronted building, and the dramatic stage is complete. During the day, the restaurant is flooded with light. It’s a bright, cheery place, one I can’t wait to enjoy during a brunch, as I imagine it’s absolutely perfect.
Real, simple food…
First things first. Rainosek doesn’t skimp on his support of local farms starting with a bar that’s stocked with fresh herbs from local Herb and Pepper Farm alongside a noteworthy collection of premium wines and spirits.
There is a purity in the culinary creativity at The Noble South. The food is real and simple. The ingredients are the stars.
Here’s the tale of two ingredients from two places with two very different stories.
The Grouper. It took me straight to the salty Gulf water in every bite. Every element of the dish transported me to the Alabama waterfront with my toes in the sand, tasting the ocean. The locally harvested mustard greens atop the fish were crisp. The cabbage was seasoned just a bit with sea salt shining through the slightly charred edges. The fish was crisp on the edges as if it baked in the very sun I was basking in at that moment if only in my mind. The beurre blanc was light and complementary to the fish with tasty bits of grapefruit and tangelos popping through with a bright burst of flavor like a sea spray. Everything on the plate seemed to be there to tell the story of the main character: the sensuous wild-caught Grouper.
Everything on the plate seemed to be there to tell the story of the main character: the sensuous wild-caught Grouper.”
But this a tale of two ingredients, so soon I was on an adventure in the woods.
Rabbit Dumplings. I took a bite and showed up at an old cabin in the woods next to a stew pot over a fire. Today’s harvest is rabbit. The wild, gamey flavor of the rabbit is owned with the addition of a rabbit and pork sausage, making a sort of slightly salty, thick stew. Local foraging has turned up colorful carrots and sweet spring peas that bring a sweet, comfortable balance to the dish. The tender gnocchi-like dumplings are the crowned jewels; formed from an earthy wheat flour, they warm your soul and make you want to curl up next to the fire.
Rainosek captures the story of his ingredients so well in this dish, paying homage to their origins from the woods spanning three states. Earthy vegetables from Silverhill, Alabama with rabbit from Rabbit Man Farms in Sandy Hook, Mississippi play a fiddle tune on the plate.
Earthy vegetables from Silverhill, Alabama with rabbit from Rabbit Man Farms in Sandy Hook, Mississippi play a fiddle tune on the plate.”
Friends, it’s time to visit south Alabama.
The Downtown Mobile, Alabama area has so much to offer served straight from the waters, farms and woods of their rich local geography. Plan a trip to appreciate first hand the culinary journeys served up by Chef Chris Rainosek.
>> For another great Downtown Mobile dining experience and champion of local farms, check out our story on Alex Perry’s new Japanese / American restaurant, Saisho.