All right, I'll admit it. I have preconceived notions when entering Nine North Fourth. It looks dang similar to the previous occupants, with the same flooring you will remember not-so-fondly from 4th Street Cafe, and that odd and rickety phone booth still in the back stuffed with items that should be in storage. 4th Street Cafe made my arm hair rise — it was never clean, the service was terrible and the coffee cups were those off-white ones that appeared to have years of grime attached. Tony's, a more recent occupant of the location, was somewhat better. Both seemed like filler, shoved into the spot to take up space and provide yet another lackluster meal for those who work downtown.
I expected more of the same from this new tenant, Nine North Fourth. So when I am served flawlessly scrambled eggs folded with tomatoes and cheddar ($3.25) next to house-baked biscuits, I am positively flummoxed. My awe only grows with pancakes stacked three high, a light but filling addition to the breakfast of eggs, grits and bacon ($7.95). The grits are a textural standout prolific with sharp white cheddar.
For lunch, a turkey sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise ($8.50) strikes me as seasonal and I go for it. The taste is spot on with a chunky zing from the crushed berries. Dessert of caramelized tart peaches accomplishes a tough balance — satiating my need for something sweet but not putting me in a coma when I head back to work. I start to see a pattern. Nine North Fourth is planning on being more than just a space holder.
Dinner is of the same caliber. There are a few glitches, but they're easily fixable. Call before you go as I find a closed restaurant on more than once. The menu is minimalistic and chalkboard. Curiously, plastic plates are interspersed with glass tableware, marginally cheapening the experience. Wine is offered only by the glass and options are severely limited. A few by the bottle would certainly be welcome.
Pasta carbonara ($17) is a front-runner at dinner among the five dishes currently offered. Delicately creamy and enhanced with lamb pancetta (how can you go wrong?), the pasta dish is easily sharable. It spotlights Belmont Butchery's lamb “ham” admirably. I do have a moment where I want more of the salty meat. As I type, I am still having that moment. Flatiron steak ($19), served chef's temperature — medium rare — has a hint of lime and meshes well with its side of fluffy unadorned mashed potatoes. Oversalted spinach is the only disappointment.
Capably cooked sliced pork loin ($17) is matched with crushed Yukon gold potatoes and baby bok choy brandishing a sweet tang from red-onion marmalade. Fat gnocchi ($17), also served with lamb bacon, is a plush comforting dish augmented with salty Parmesan. A few bites in and I search for a couple more cheese shreds to add to the gnocchi to cut the creaminess slightly.
Dessert is made in-house. I go seasonal yet again and choose pumpkin pie ($7). Heavy on nutmeg, it is lush, the large piece a fitting finale to a competently created meal. With some minor tweaks to service and details, Nine North Fourth may make what was a boring location a new go-to.
Nine North Fourth ($-$$)
9 N. Fourth St.
Weekday breakfast and lunch: 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Friday and Saturday dinner: 6 p.m.-late