Review - Porter Gastropub
This was my wife Michelle and my first time visiting Porter Gastropub, so we were not looking for a perfect streamlined experience as they have only been open a few short weeks. More importantly we were looking to check out the overall vibe of the place (it’s design, ambiance, menu, beer list, that kind of stuff) and get a feel for what they are trying to accomplish. Aside from Swift’s Attic and Hopfields who loosely call themselves gastro pubs; Austin, especially South Austin is missing a strong example of this restaurant format. In Seattle we had been to both Spur and Quinn’s which exemplified the style perfectly; stylish dimly lit, forced-dramatic lighting, solid beer list with an emphasis on both local and Belgian offerings paired with a menu of upscale yet approachable bar food. Porter isn’t perfect but it definitely showed a lot of potential.
Tonight we were planning on picking up groceries and cooking at home, yet made plans to go out instead after being enticed by Porter’s afternoon Facebook post mentioning their Oxtail Croquettes and Curry Fried Chicken. We arrived around 7 to a mostly filled restaurant and were seated right away at one of two communal tables with a long table with wide benches that held 4 or 5 people comfortably on each side. We are used to eating communally at Bangers, Barley Swine, Hopfields and the like but felt this setup was a bit weird considering the environment. As the night progressed, the restaurant filled up completely and people were seated on both sides of us making it a bit awkward to get in and out of our space on the bench without interrupting our neighbors. The space was smaller than we expected it to be, with a long and thin layout with two big communal tables, a couple free standing tables and a handful of booths in the dining room with stools at the bar and a table rail along the windows in the bar area. It was no problem when we came in, but we noticed numerous parties struggled to move through the busy bar area following the hostess once the bar filled in later during our visit.
I started with a Kwak and was excited to see it come served in its traditional branded glassware, somewhere between a hefeweizen glass, Erlenmeyer flask and a test tube holder. The beer hit the spot and whet my appetizer for our meal. Michelle and I split an order of the aforementioned oxtail croquettes, thai chili chicken wings, a single pork belly slider and a side of frites. Overall, the food was pretty decent despite some odd plating considerations and inconsistent seasoning. The croquettes, fries and slider all arrived quickly with the wings coming a few moments later. We were surprised to find everything but wings were served very casually in wax lined brown, cardboard containers like the ones you get served on out of a food trailer or that you might find your corn dog served in at the State Fair. Meanwhile the wings arrived on a beautifully hand crafted ceramic plate made locally by Little e Pottery. The wings came to the table uncut with each of the 3 wings in their “natural” state with the wingette, drumette and wing tip all attached. It wasn’t that big of a deal being a hands-on carnivorous kind of guy, but my wife found it a bit uncomfortable eventually asking me to precut her wing for her. The group of girls next to us shared our initial shock when their order of wings arrived, but quickly got past it and dug right in.
The pork belly slider turned out to be the standout of the meal despite its humble service vessel with its really soft bun, fatty perfectly cooked pork belly and kumquat mostarda. The oxtail croquettes were very good as well with the succulent oxtail enrobbed in its crunchy fried crust. The oxtail had a slightly boozy wine aftertaste when eaten by themselves (assumingly from the liquid it was braised in) but really harmonized nicely with the luscious dijonaisse accompaniment. The wings were tasty and cooked well, but were a bit salty. Perhaps that is why they were served alongside a side of thai chili sauce, although the wings were tasty enough to not actually need a dipping sauce. The fries suffered from the opposite fate coming to the table lukewarm, only slightly crispy and under seasoned. They were palatable with the addition of a little salt and a dip into the accompanying curried ketchup.
Although this visit was far from perfect I saw enough potential and attention to detail to come back or recommend Porter to friends. I look forward to returning either solo, with a buddy or again with Michelle to dig deeper into their revolving beer list and try their house made charcuterie, fish and chips and curry fried chicken. I look forward to seeing how Porter grows and evolves.