Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Red's Porch

There's a new kid in town, one certainly worth paying a visit to.

You know the non-descript Citibank building on South Lamar, between Enterprise Rent a Car and Chris' Little Chicago hot dog trailer? The back side of the bank building used to be a State Farm Insurance training facility, but has been empty for quite some time. Red's Porch, named for the owner's red 1964 Lincoln convertible, has renovated the spot, giving it a great modern, yet retro feel, and added on a huge upstairs porch with great views of the greenbelt below. (You could actually see water running! I think our drought is over.)

I got an invitation to attend a tasting; there were a couple of dates and times, and I RSVPd and said I was bringing two guests. What I expected was a casual buffet-style tasting, with a bit of explanation about the dishes. What we got was a private tasting with two other people and the undivided attention from the owner, Davis Tucker, the man behind North by Northwest up by the Arboretum. All of the staff couldn't have been nicer, and while Davis gave us background info & stories on many of the dishes, he honestly wanted feedback on what we were trying. They consider their food "1/2 Tex Mex, 1/2 Cajun, 1/2 Southern" (that's a lot of halfs), or as Davis said "It's just food I really like to eat!" No harm in that! And so on the whole, I am happy to proclaim the food was great! Some of the mixed drinks missed their mark a little bit, but there's a ton of stuff on tap. What follows is the play by play of our tastings.

First, a miniature version of their Porch Rita, with Sauza Hornitos, Grand Marnier, oj and sweet & sour. Nice, not too sweet. Would certainly be good on a hot day. Blue cheese stuffed green olives and chili cheese fries followed. Olives were milder, with a great crust, and not greasy; served with marinara. The chili (no beans!) on the fries was tasty, a very dark brown color, with a bit of cumin taste, but not overpowering. On the menu, it said the fries are tossed in parmesan before getting the cheese & chili treatment; we didn't taste any parm, and asked Davis about it. He confirmed that they were not done with parm (though if you order fries from the sides menu, those are), and he would get it corrected for the final version of the menu. They are still undergoing some tweaking, and also because of that, they don't have the menu online yet. He said give them a week or two.
Round two was the South Austin Red Sangria, my favorite of the cocktails. It just goes down easy. Might be nice to offer a pitcher of sangria on the menu... just sayin'! The veggie enchiladas came with, a good blend of grilled zucchini, mushrooms, & onions with a spicy chile de arbol cream sauce, that I think would go well with a lot of things! Beans (refried or charro) and rice accompany all the Tex Mex dishes; they brought us the charro beans, and I have to say, they taste like what my grandmother in Las Cruces, NM (and subsequently my mom and aunts) used to make. The pintos are stewed with a ham hock (ooops, don't tell the vegetarians, hee hee!), and take on almost a creamy consistency. Davis said that's how he used to have them growing up in south Texas.
Next up was the Diablo -- Basil Hayden's bourbon (which I found out is small-batch bourbon made by the Jim Beam family), amaretto, cranberry juice, a splash of Maine Root Ginger Beer, and raspberries. I didn't get a ginger beer taste, and unfortunately, this one tasted like cough syrup to me. One of the men at our table who is a bourbon fan, commented "It's a girly touch to a man's drink." Sorry! The Smokey Goat burger though, was fantastic! Served on a sourdough bun, this nice fat burger had house-smoked bacon (the magic word!), tiny, crispy fried onions, and goat cheese. And served with fries. This was one of my favorites.
But, it's a toss up between the burger and the chicken fried ribeye. With bacon cream gravy (again, bacon!). The batter for this was crisp and flavorful, and fried perfectly. They come with a side of smashed potatoes, which have the lightest hint of horseradish. Apparently the same gravy is on their homemade biscuits too.... next time... (Sorry, the picture doesn't do it justice at all!)
Not that we weren't satiated already, but the last cocktail was the Eleanor Rigby, made with their own fig & vanilla infused Tito's vodka, Mathilde cassis, and oj. Davis said that Rigby's was a liquor store in London, and he's a fan of the Beatles, so it all fits as a cocktail name. The Tito's was very smooth, and very vanilla-y; didn't really pick up on the fig, and not sure I got the cassis flavor either. It kind of reminded me of sipping on an orange creamsicle. But, it did seem to go with the dessert course, which was one of everything on the menu! Kahlua pecan pie, peach cobbler, chocolate bread pudding, banana pudding, and.... fried Snickers. I could tell it was a premade pie shell, but surprisingly, it had a nice taste & flakiness you usually don't get with those. The Snickers are coated in a funnel cake batter, and could have been a touch crispier on the outside, but great semi-melted pieces of Snickers on the inside. Davis did say they are tweaking that one a bit.
Then, he took us on a tour out back and upstairs. There's a 27' silver trailer off the side patio, which is available for private functions. The patio is currently tented, and the back of it is where the trailer sits. Adjacent are the stairs to the upstairs porch, which is about 95% finished from the looks of it. By the time we went up, it was getting dark, and it had been windy all day, but you do get a great view to the west over the greenbelt. A full bar is available up there too, and they are going to put some sides up on the porch so it won't be so drafty.
Leaving around 6:45 pm, it was nice to see the place filling up, with families, happy hour folk, and other diners. They've made great use of the existing architecture; as it was an inspection garage for State Farm, they've kept (and no doubt updated) the garage doors, which in warmer times, can easily be thrown open, leading to the patio. One wall back in the lounge area is covered with slicks from old board games. The place may seat close to 300 when in full swing, but it doesn't feel vast, it's got a very comfortable feel. So combined with great food and an experienced owner, it should lead to good times in the neighborhood.