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Midtown Gets a Taste of Southern Comfort
Restaurants often are borne from dreams nurtured for years by hopeful people who have diligently planned and refined their concept before finally bringing it to fruition.
And then there are restaurants such as The Porch Restaurant and Bar, opened in December by three ambitious partners who found themselves with an appealing commercial space but who lacked a concept.
John Lopez and Jerry Mitchell, the owners of downtown’s Capitol Garage, originally planned to open a gastropub with chef Jon Clemons. But as negotiations for the space they wanted dragged on, they cast about for new digs. When the building occupied by Celestin’s on K Street became available, they pounced.
The only problem: The space was too small for their gastropub concept. After some discussion about what was missing in Sacramento, they decided to focus on Lowcountry cuisine, the distinctive fare associated with the South Carolina coast.
Inspired by a meal they had enjoyed in Portland at a popular Southern restaurant called Screen Door, they took a weeklong eating trip to Charleston, S.C., and came home convinced they could duplicate the cuisine in Sacramento. Clemons built the menu on a core of Lowcountry staples—shrimp po’ boy, crab cakes (made from Atlantic blue crab, not local Dungeness), buttermilk fried chicken and fried green tomatoes—plus a number of Southern inspired dishes that will rotate in and out based on seasonal appropriateness and ingredient availability.
For the fried chicken, Clemons chose to make the meat—not the crust—the star. The dish is labor intensive, to say the least: Clemons starts with highquality free-range chicken, to which he applies a dry salt rub that stays on the meat for 24 hours. The chicken is then washed and parboiled in chicken stock to infuse the meat with flavor. Then, it’s marinated for 12 to 24 hours in buttermilk, tossed in seasoned flour, deep-fried and finished off in the oven.
The result of all this effort and time are savory, moist chicken pieces with a delicate, sweetish crust that slips quickly off the meat. The chicken is served with a dense, crusty buttermilk biscuit, tasty collard greens with an enticing hint of sweetness, and a pile of Yukon mashed potatoes that are so creamy and buttery, it’s hard to distinguish them from the sausage-flecked gravy smothering them.
Portions are huge, and butter and cream are used with abandon. The shrimp po’ boy is so enormous, I was forced to deconstruct it before eating it. I tried the shrimp and grits topped with blue crab gravy twice, and both times I was overwhelmed by the creaminess of the dish. Sautéed bell peppers and mushrooms atop the grits did provide some relief from the mouth-coating richness, but I was unable to eat much of it on either occasion. I also couldn’t get through the sautéed broccoli and greens that accompanied many of the entrées—they were drenched in butter.
Noteworthy dishes included fat cornmeal fried shrimp enlivened with pickled onions and applewood bacon, and a succulent house-smoked New York steak. A fragrant pan-fried trout was delicious and enticingly flaky, and skillfully blackened catfish was served with a zesty lobster Cajun cream sauce.
Most of the desserts were disappointing. A lemon curd pie, cradled in a crust so hard I had to hit it with my fork to split it, was gummy and unpleasantly thick; a spongy banana bread pudding, crowned by a scoop of grainy vanilla ice cream, didn’t taste of bananas. The marshmallow-scattered sweet potato pie—an iconic Southern dish—was virtually flavorless, and the red velvet brownie was dense and uninspiring. The one bright spot on the dessert menu: a fetching, tangy black-bottom crème brûlée embellished with fresh, plump blackberries.
To create The Porch, Celestin’s old space received a lovely transformation. It’s now one big, airy room with beautiful wood floors and wood tables, fresh flowers sprouting out of jelly jars, and faux windows against one wall that appear to look out onto lush Southern scenes. Colors are subdued, and drapes framing the windows add a touch of elegance. In the back of the room is a private dining space with a table that seats 12 to 14—a delightful option for a big family dinner or office lunch.
The lively bar is separated from the dining area by a glass divider, and on busy evenings the restaurant is so loud, it’s likely that you’ll have to shout. And on all four of my visits, the food came out exasperatingly slow— something the restaurant will need to remedy. However, The Porch appears to have gotten off to a rollicking start. The place is hopping. If you’ve got a hankering for Lowcountry roastedpeanut slaw, skillet cornbread or she-crab soup, it’s worth stopping by.
1815 K St., Sacramento
Hours: Open Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.– 9:30 p.m., Friday–Saturday 11 a.m.– 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m.