Chris Ryan

Lunchtime. You've got 30 minutes, a couple bucks, and a feeling of emptiness. It's not the crippling, emotional emptiness that you've grown accustomed to—it's hunger. Something must be done.

This is the ballad of the lunchtime café. Those nondescript little places open from 7 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday, saving the blank-eyed proletariat from corndogs and hummus. Throw in some coffee and a server who's easy on the eyes, and these places are ready to save your midday. Some do it better than others.

Serving the working masses of inner Southeast, Nosh is one such lunch spot. Like a bright yellow daisy tattoo on the hairy bottom of a long-haul trucker, it glimmers in the industrial decay at the end of SE 7th. Large, whimsical flowers fill the front window and the entrance is graced by a definition of the word "nosh," just in case you were wondering. However, the interior of Nosh is fairly utilitarian and stripped down, with just a handful of tables and a coffee bar where you place your order.

Nosh is fixated on lunch. The menu is a mixed offering of sandwiches and salads with a few breakfast items thrown in. It's obvious this little café would like to provide creative, fresh, hearty meals to its clientele, but the result is a bit uneven.

On one visit, the Nosh club sandwich was just about perfect. All of the ingredients were well balanced. The bread and bacon had just the right crispness and give. The veggies had a fresh crunch and the whole package was substantial, yet surprisingly light. On the side, a chunky potato salad did the trick, though it lacked some zing.

On the other hand, the meatball grinder was a disappointment. It was certainly big enough to curb a large appetite, but beneath the warm melt of cheese and marinara, the large meatballs had a strange and off-putting loamy texture. I prefer meatballs that have some quality of meatiness; these gave too easily against my teeth, as if they'd been over-processed before being formed. Combining this sandwich with an almost oily macaroni salad did not give me much hope for the rest of the menu. Even the soups were a hit-or-miss affair.

Luckily, the spinach salad, dressed with just the right amount of vinaigrette, was very good, with small mounds of boiled egg, bacon, and shavings of parmesan cheese. Accompanied by a tasty hunk of bread, it was big enough to satisfy. But Nosh surely lives up to its name with the Southwest beef sandwich. Roast beef, sliced thin, is layered on a hoagie roll and topped with a mild green chile pepper (split in half), a slice of pepper jack cheese, and horseradish. Once baked in the oven, the juices from the softening chile mingle with the beef, creating a wonderful flavor throughout, marked by a subtle nasal heat from the horseradish. Like all of Nosh's offerings, this sandwich is definitely filling, but lacks the heaviness that can turn an afternoon into a painful slog through slumberland.

Little lunch places like Nosh deserve more respect, especially when they are trying to provide a meal that is beyond the norm. And though some items on Nosh's menu may not satisfy, the bulk of their offerings are a good answer to the question, "What the hell do I want for lunch?"