Tookie's and Stomp's aren't the only Clear Lake-area spots I visited recently. I finally made it out to Nobi Public House last weekend, after near-comically exaggerated exhortations of "How have you not been yet?!" from my beer-loving friends.
How indeed? Nobi is smashing. If it were closer to my house, it would be my local in a hot second. The unassuming pub in a run down strip mall next to a nail salon off Nasa Road 1 and Highway 3 contains a wealth of everything I love in one convenient spot: friendly and knowledgeable service, comfortable seats, a welcoming dining/drinking room, a selection of craft beer -- both in bottle and on draft -- to rival that of Petrol Station and Vietnamese food.
Vietnamese food. And craft beer. In one place. In other words: pretty close to my idea of heaven. (Just add in the ability to watch any event in history like you were choosing a movie off Netflix and I'm all set.)
Because a fair number of people have asked me this question, let me state for the record: No, Nobi is not affiliated with Nabi, the Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant that opened and closed in Montrose last year.
Instead, Nobi is the organic outgrowth of two long-time Clear Lake businesses: Nobi Asian Grill and the Shell station at the corner of FM 528 and Blackhawk. This gas station is well-known in the Bay Area craft beer community as a one-stop shop for craft beer and wine and is possibly also the only Shell station in Houston with its own Twitter account.
The two businesses are owned by brothers Andy and Charles Nguyen respectively, who finally combined forces to create an establishment that their customers had been asking for for many years -- verbally and non-verbally; it was common habit for patron's of Charles's gas station to purchase beers and take them next door to Andy's restaurant.
Now, you can get both under one roof, and more. In addition to the 200 craft beers that Nobi stocks, there's a growler fill station, a cask system and a full-on nitro system in place. And there were even some beers on this last visit that I'd never spotted in a Houston bar even once.
I was lucky to arrive at Nobi on a rare quiet afternoon. My friend Cortney, a regular who'd accompanied me that afternoon, assured me that this was highly unusual. I exploited this opportunity for all it was worth and quizzed the bartenders backwards and forwards about the interesting beers on tap, tasting through Petrus Red and Ska Euphoria IPA to Rogue Old Crustacean and Troubadour Imperial Stout from Brouwerij De Musketiers.
The bartenders' knowledge of their products didn't disappoint, with one in particular leading me to a great New Zealand beer called Moa. It's from a traditionally wine-heavy area in New Zealand and even looks a bit like sparkling wine in its classy, cork-topped bottle (Moa does actually make a sparkling cider, but it wasn't available that day). In keeping with this, the Moa Imperial Stout I tried is aged in Pinot Noir barrels that imparted a light tannic note to the otherwise heavy-bodied, chocolate-and-coffee-bomb beer. In other words, it was just lovely.
Nobi has drawn an assortment of talent from all over the area: hardcore beer nerds man the bar alongside former bar staff from places like Boondoggles who are just learning about craft beer. It's a smart combination that allows each to learn from the other: The nerds have the knowledge and the high-volume industry vets have the speed to deal with the crushing waves of beer drinkers who ended up crowding the bar later that afternoon.
"This is more like it," Cortney laughed.
By that time, thankfully, we'd already ordered our food from Nobi's food menu: a nicely smoke-scented stir-fried noodle dish topped with chicken, beef, pork and shrimp that one server said was her all-time favorite and something simply called "Pork Fries."
The Pork Fries are one of the more interesting examples of Nobi's passion for exuberantly silly Vietnamese fusion dishes like an Asian-style hot dog topped with a fried egg. The fries are covered with chargrilled Vietnamese pork -- and another fried egg -- but also an array of American and even Tex-Mex ingredients, too: pickled jalapeños, diced white onions, salsa and "stadium cheese" (their words, not mine). Leave the salsa off -- in this context, it tasted like reverb sounds -- and you've got one of the guiltiest pub grub pleasures in the greater Houston area.
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Next time, I'm trying that Nobi dog, though. And a banh mi. And more of those smokey noodles. If I arrive early enough in the day and stay long enough, I can have both lunch and dinner at Nobi -- right?
Clear Lake, you win this round. In fact, I think that with Nobi in place, you win several rounds. I feel like Houston just drew four "Skip" cards in a row in Uno. Nobi is that great.