The Porch fills niche in Winston’s West End
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Considering that the Porch Kitchen & Cantina opened last week, it’s impressive how laid back the atmosphere is as the lunch rush hits. Things move at the appropriate speed at the new Tex- Mex restaurant, which jives with the environment of the West End Mill Works complex around it and owner Claire Calvin’s calm, personable demeanor.
Calvin, a Houston native, was drawn to the location because of its community-oriented and relaxed, eclectic feel, something she emulated with the Porch. The lively color palate on the walls, unfinished wood tables and a mural around the pick-up window evoke the Southwest, the focus of the restaurant that unabashedly expands the genre with experimental items like a Texas banh mi sandwich, Chinese chicken salad and veggie sliders that incorporate ingredients like zucchini and quinoa.
Half of the menu drills down to the basics — a taco plate, a burrito, tostadas, chili, nachos, a fajita and a torta — but Calvin also hopes the menu will subtly introduce people to inventive, nontraditional dishes, too.
Calvin made her first professional foray into food three years ago — before that she worked as a teacher and a lawyer. After stints living around the country, Calvin and her family moved here so her husband could take a job with Baptist Hospital.
It’s easy to guess that she still feels a strong affinity for Texas — if the food isn’t a give away, the metal pendant of the Lone Star State around her neck says it all. The Porch will provide an opportunity to keep growing roots here while drawing on her home state’s famous cuisine.
As the force behind the three-year-old Dinners on the Porch concept that took hold in Winston-Salem, fusions between Mexican, Asian or Indian dishes are well within Calvin’s wheelhouse. But given the restaurant’s billing, it felt most appropriate for me to delve into a borderland staple on a first visit. A server says the banh mi is her favorite, adding that the Chinese chicken and nachos are popular, but I hone in on her recommendation of the $9 “Tostadas Teddy.”
The tostadas — hard corn tortillas heaped with a mélange of ingredients — are coated with an initial layer of refried beans that act as a foundational mortar. The dual mounds of food, which could be split between two people as a light afternoon fare, are savory and balanced. I attempt to take my time to draw out my enjoyment.
The smoked chipotle chicken isn’t overpowering — instead its flavor blends well with the melted cheese. Some bites are almost reminiscent of a bacon flavor, an element readily embrace.
The cool sour cream and guacamole level out the gentle chipotle spice, but I still readily add red salsa to the dish to give it a bite. More beans and corn decorate the lettuce in the center.
There are two primary approaches to a tostada: picking the whole creation up or mixing it together with a fork. Fortunately the tortilla remains firm (at some places the shell winds up being flabby and is better broken and mixed in), and I employ a hybrid approach, spearing bites off the top before lifting neater piles on the tortilla to my face.
The friendly staff is warm and attentive — a compliment I don’t hand out casually — keeping up with diners even though the Porch offers counter service. Water is refilled to what sounds like a Mumford & Sons soundtrack, and customers take up positions at some of the 10 tables and the long bar. It’s busy, but not slammed, and nobody seems to be in a rush to leave.
Patrons can expect more changes in the coming months, including a patio in the spring and a developing drink menu. The list includes a trough of $4 beers near the cash register as well as mixed drinks — handmade margaritas, Mexican martinis, Bloody Mary’s — making it a possible first stop before moving next door to Hoots Roller Bar, Calvin suggests.
It’s easy for a Greensboro native to be jealous of the recent hip growth near Winston-Salem’s West End, including the Porch, but it’s also an encouraging reminder that the Triad may be on the upswing. Let’s hope.
The Porch Kitchen & Cantina: 336.893.8361. 840 Mill Works St., Winston-Salem. Find the menu and more info at dinnersontheporch.com.
MA Cares will be at Deep Roots Market in downtown Greensboro (600 N. Eugene St.) and two Food Lion locations in Greensboro (2217 Fleming Road, 4709 Lawndale Drive) soliciting food donations for a food drive to benefit the Servant Center Food Pantry on Saturday. The nonprofit will also accept food donations at Market America, located at 1302 Pleasant Ridge Road in Greensboro. !