The culinary industry is full of career changers. But how often do you hear about someone going back into the kitchen after becoming an attorney? Meet Katie Birmingham, chef/owner of Noon Midtown (1080 Peachtree St., 404-496-4891, www.noonmidtown.com). After seven years in the kitchens of high-profile Atlanta restaurants such as Bacchanalia and Seeger’s, Birmingham started practicing law. But her passion to return to the industry was rekindled when she and her husband encountered restaurants selling simple sandwiches made with premium ingredients during their honeymoon in Italy. Birmingham recognized the lack of such spots in Midtown and set out to build a place of her own inspired by her trip. Two years later, Noon Midtown opened its doors.
Noon surprises with its up-market industrial finishes married with earthy woods in a space flooded with natural light. And nifty touches like the brushed metal letters of the alphabet you take to your table after ordering at the counter and commercial cookie sheets in lieu of plates speak to Birmingham’s attention to detail.
Noon’s decision to serve only breakfast and lunch seems to be working in its favor judging by how packed the surprisingly large dining room has been. The list of breakfast items is small, but the sight of Allan Benton’s lauded smoked country bacon in a scrambled egg breakfast sandwich stacked with Monterey Jack cheese and scallion pesto is all the proof you need that Birmingham knows what discerning Atlantans love.
Sandwiches — both “cool” and “warm” — dominate the lunch menu, although a handful of salads, soups and sides are also available. Pole-caught tuna salad is not your average mayo, celery and canned tuna concoction. Instead, the diced pieces of potato, chopped Nicoise olives, perfectly crunchy greens beans, red onion, olive oil and lemon are more of a deconstructed Nicoise salad on soft country bread. But you can get the bread slathered with the restaurant’s homemade mayo if you miss the creaminess. The Prosciutto Baguette borrows a bit of inspiration from the classic sandwiches sold in France. The prosciutto, butter and Parmesan are a lovely combination, but the baguette is a little too rough on the roof of the mouth and the interior lacks the requisite airiness.
Selections from the warm section are hit or miss. The pastrami on dark rye with Swiss cheese and mustard is too fatty and greasy — especially when taken to go. And the meatloaf sandwich loaded with Benton’s bacon, Tillamook cheddar and tomato jam might be a bit on the sweet side for some people’s tastes. But the "panino" creations are consistently pleasing. The creamy earthiness of roasted eggplant against fresh goat cheese, sun-dried tomato pesto and balsamic glaze is perfectly juxtaposed against the crackly pieces of pressed ciabatta speckled with char. The dense chewiness of the mozzarella, roasted red peppers and basil pesto in the Peperonata Panino has a sinful pizza-like quality without the guilt.
The chilled side salads are a little lackluster and limp, but the store stocks an impressive wall of gourmet chips. And a cup of Noon’s ever-changing soup of the day — especially the bright tomato with a hint of fresh tarragon — is a pleasant accompaniment to the sandwiches on even the hottest of days. The selection of beverages is anything but an afterthought; the restaurant serves an exhaustive list of choices from coffee drinks made with Counter Culture coffee to Rishi organic teas to Boylan’s sodas to Arden’s Garden juices.
The only downside to Noon is that a meal can get little costly if you have a large appetite. But a few extra dollars is chump change for such quality and passion in a sea of middling Midtown lunch options.