The year 2006 was a good one for the S.F. scene, marking the debuts of Nopa, Dosa, and Coi, along with some since-closed places like Ame. Although its prices are roughly in line with its South Indian peer, The Front Porch doesn’t always get included on lists of excellent restaurants that opened that year. Maybe that’s because in lieu of Dosa’s elegant decor, The Front Porch’s wall art looks like racks of cassettes.
Then again, 2016 was a tough year for the dining world all around, yet other restaurant in The Front Porch’s cohort endured a five-alarm fire practically next door. So I went to check it out to see if the “Southern Mission hospitality” was still kicking.
It is. The rise of fast casual and the proliferation of fried chicken — which aren’t necessarily unrelated trends — could arguably have undercut The Front Porch entirely. But not even the enduring appeal and corner location of Good Frikin’ Chicken just down the block has put a dent in things.
Let it be known that, in spite of rustic Southern ethos, there are a couple of vegan dishes here, none of which reads like an afterthought. But we didn’t go that route, opting instead to open with blue crab hush puppies and a chicken liver pâté that was iron-rich and smooth, cut with green tomato relish and Creole mustard. It’s a fine combination of Louisiana cooking looped back through its French antecedent.
A plate of blackened catfish was plenty spicy, with fat, fresh-seeming green beans — no joke in December — and a robust oiliness that added to the down-home appeal. The “Porch-etta” — a messy-looking tower of pork belly and loin roast, with sage-pecan rice dressing and lacinato kale, drizzled with salsa verde — had a nice depth, its broth-like sauce imparting enough bite to the kale to keep the meat from dominating.
But of course, fried chicken is the star. The four pieces arrive with ham-hock collards and a scoop of garlic mashed potatoes into which a reservoir of gravy has been ladled, and it’s only $18.50. (The 10-piece bucket, stunningly, is only $29 — and, for what it’s worth, comes studded with popcorn. Think about that the next time you’re confronted with a single, $31 chicken breast.) The breading looks a little like armored plating, but that has two advantages, locking in moisture and keeping things fresh enough that nuking your leftovers a couple days later doesn’t result in soggy skin.
Perhaps exceeding even fried chicken’s ubiquity is macaroni and cheese; it’s everywhere. The Front Porch’s macs are Velveeta shells, and the resulting casserole is thick and cheesy in its cast-iron skillet, but could have benefited from a little salt, or some kind of crust or breading, or maybe a smoky heat that you’d get from Hatch chilies.
Then there are the cocktails. The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (mezcal, Aperol, yellow Chartreuse, lime, and grapefruit bitters) is more bitter-tart than smoky per se, but makes for a bracing aperitif. For a low-alcohol cocktail, which I’m growing increasingly impatient with, the My Sherry Amor was quite solid. A mix of Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth, Cannella cinnamon liqueur, Amontillado, and housemade bergamot bitters, it’s acidic and peppery, as opposed to limp and quiet. But if you’re filling your stomach with freshly fried things, you could do worse than to order a Donkey D’s Hot-Ass Margarita, which salts the rim and infuses the tequila with jalapeño for a donkey-like kick. And to build on My Sherry Amor’s cinnamon, some pear upside-down cake with cinnamon ice cream and rum caramel. It looks like a brownie sundae, but boy, it’s not.
So there you have it. This is the stuff people used to call a “heart attack on a plate” back when everybody was devouring carbs in a doomed effort to stay healthy. The Front Porch stays in the game not because it’s wowing anybody with heretofore undiscovered ingredients, but because it’s doing what it’s done well from the start.
The Front Porch, 65 29th St., 415-695-7800 or thefrontporchsf.com