To understand The Porch, you need to understand the legend of Steve Stodghill. Stodghill is the humble Batman fanboy turned top fuel litigator who got rich investing in Mark Cuban's Broadcast.com. He rubs elbows with George Clooney, Jerry Hall and Elizabeth Hurley. Stodghill is the superconducting super-collider of the Dallas social grid. He plays with Hollywood. He has a paunch. Menu staples are named after him.
Here's the evolution of one dish: Tristan Simon, founder of Consilient Restaurants, The Porch's corporate owner, committed to dedicating a piece of The Porch menu to Stodghill some two years ago. Stodghill is, after all, an investor in Simon's swelling restaurant firm.
Technicalities intervened. There were construction delays and cost overruns. The Porch, which attempted to bloom in the old Barley House, was supposed to be a simple retrofit, but the more Simon and his hired minions plumbed and probed, the more The Barley House proved to be a shanty. He was forced to raze the structure, bust up the slab and start over. Hence, Simon was badly beaten to dedicating a menu item to Stodghill by Trece, just over Central Expressway and down the street. There you'll find the Stodgarita, 45 dollars' worth of lush formulated with Herradura Seleccion Suprema, fresh lime juice, organic agave nectar and a touch of Red Bull.
Peel 'n' eat shrimp $12
Red pepper hummus $8
Steamed mussels $12
Fried chicken Cobb $14
Stodg burger $14
Mustard crusted salmon $17
Fish and chips $15
Baby back ribs $19
Peach cobbler $7
Simon's counterpunch: the Stodg burger. The Stodg is overstuffed and fleshy. It's a big lick of tomato slices, onion, ground beef and melted cheddar. Plus a fried egg, over easy. The yolk breaks and runs.
But it doesn't end there. The undersides of the bun are wiped with foie butter. Foie butter? Put simply, foie butter is ham-fisted degeneracy—a compound butter with its fats multiplied in a slick of pureed, seared duck liver. Mingle this with meat and tomato juices and you've composed a concerto of ooze that muddies the fingers, puts a dirty gloss on the lips and utterly corrupts the chin. This is not your father's heart attack.
"He's kind of a premium decadent guy that everybody loves, and I think this is a premium decadent burger that everybody's gonna love," Simon says.
Yes, but with all of this gilding of vulgarity the beef struggles to hold up. This composition might be better served with top-notch prime or even ground Kobe. Stodg would approve.
Stodg sets the tone for The Porch, which is essentially a short sketch in tortured elegance, a vignette of well-composed food brutalized with a tavern vibe.
Smoked red pepper hummus comes with a neat row of pita bread slices. They're aggressively charred, warm and of perfect stiffness for gathering great swaths of slightly runny hummus bumped with feta, brightened with lemon and richened with smoke.
There are tasty pieces of crisp garlic bread for sopping up the heady runoff from the Hefeweizen steamed mussels. It's an addictive broth of wine, saffron, smoked paprika and tomato. The mussels are tiny things, but flawless in flavor. The broth reeks of smoke. Heads of garlic are fumigated along with beef for the chopped brisket sliders—the best-selling dish in the place—in The Porch's custom-built, fire engine-red smoker that constantly smolders split hickory.
Smoke is a big part of The Porch's milieu. You can smell hickory fumes all the way out to the valet stand. The reek muscles up as you enter the dining room, a sight-line-conscious space with red leather banquettes and seats, mahogany plank floors strategically stained and roughened to connote earthen wear, and ash trim brushed with black paint and wiped into a soulful dusk. The bar is surfaced in riveted aluminum subjected to baked-on pigment treatments that simulate zinc.
Music spills from speakers suspended from the ceiling, and though The Porch is nothing if not vital and energetic, it almost never crushes conversation or makes you demented with its din. That's because The Porch is a highly engineered space with angles and vertical surfaces positioned both for sight and sound dynamics coupled with a ceiling covered in acoustic baffles.
Simon insists he never sets out to mold a great restaurant. That's not possible, he says. Instead, his quest is to open a great rough draft that can be easily edited into a tour de force. Will he succeed?
The Porch has a great contemporary American tavern chassis. Yet it's damn hard to shake the feeling that it's an exercise in focused calculation. You can almost feel the spreadsheets unfurling. The Porch is technically and hyperactively proficient in its quest for urbane tavern ethos. There's little room for the chance or quirks or messiness that make for personality. It needs some roughing up along the edges, some non-faux shabby. Now that The Barley House has been scraped from the earth, The Porch feels somehow disconnected from its past—any past. You yearn for a hostess stand or wine rack sculpted from Barley House detritus.
This is why The Porch menu is so important. This is where the shabby part of the urbane milieu rests. It has a thick beef and bean chili with Fritos. It has Green Goddess dressing on the Caesar. Green Goddess is the Liza Minnelli of '70s salad couture.
The Porch squeezes all of its juices fresh: lime, lemon, orange, pineapple and berries. You'll find them in cocktails such as the blackberry smash. You'll find them in the lemonade.
The lemonade is tepid. All of the searing citrus has been teased out with sugar. Maybe this is why we found a fly floating amongst the cubes. Thus, we stumble onto one of the hazards of dining on The Porch patio, a canopied spread that overlooks the Harleys and fire engines and diesel fumes of Henderson Avenue. Hanging from the metal poles supporting the canopy are conical plastic bags filled with water. Resting in the bag cone is a shiny penny. The pennies confuse the flies, our server tells us, wreaking havoc upon their compound eyes. They fly off. In theory.
In squadrons, they lighted on our dry, wonderfully chewy smoked baby rib slab, lacquered in house-made barbecue sauce. They dive-bombed our obese peel 'n' eat shrimp boiled in a heady brew of Old Bay, salt, red wine vinegar, lots of bay leaf, pepper and Tabasco. They must have liked how roiled with flavor these shrimp are. We did. Speckled in herbs and ruddied in Tabasco tint, the shrimp are accompanied by two damp tightly rolled dish towels—screw the towelettes—to assuage unsightly dribbles and smears.
The best thing about the lightly crisp and clean pilsner tempura'd fish and chips is that they come with a huge ramekin of tangy-sweet dill tartar sauce so you don't have to keep ordering a succession of tartar dabs in bottle-caps. There's the deliciously moist and rich mustard-crusted fillet of salmon, but aside from that, Porch fare is decidedly unserious. The buttermilk fried chicken Cobb salad is heaps of chopped tomato, piles of cut avocado and mounds of crispy Nueske's bacon, plus blue cheese crumbles in bulk. It's all oomph and little ah, what with the chicken being dry and spongy.
Yet the pie-crust-topped peach cobbler that bleeds as red as rhubarb and puckers the lips with the tartness of cherries has all of the complex sweet runny notes of fresh peaches. More damp towels please. Big ones. There's paunch to protect. 2912 N. Henderson Ave., 214-828-2916. Open 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 5 p.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday. $$-$$$.
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