Teddy Valentine Witherington Goes on Safari in the Southern Mission and Finds Himself on The Front Porch
As an avid reader of this column, you will remember that two weeks ago my dear friend and bon viveur Stephen and I sallied forth hoping to squeeze in for supper at The Front Porch, only to be admonished that the establishment did not take bookings for parties of less than five and that there was no room at the inn. Undeterred, we returned last Thursday at the slightly earlier (for us) hour of 7:25 pm, and were brightly informed with refreshing modesty of how lucky we were that a table for two was available.
Counting ourselves fortunate indeed to be among the chosen few (for this establishment is by any standards on the small side), we seated ourselves at a somewhat cramped table and drank in the atmosphere. To say that the lighting is dim would be an understatement, and Stephen and I had difficulty making out anything, including the menu, which appeared to have been knocked out on an antediluvian Remington in exceedingly small and blurred type. We asked for a flashlight, which our server provided in a manner that suggested that he was accustomed to such requests.
The menu choices, though mildly intriguing, were few, and so I had plenty of time to adjust my eyes to the darkness and try and make out the dĂ©cor. I was reliably informed by Stephen that the tin ceiling and black and red vinyl flooring was authentic white trash. The only thing missing was a fanâ€“which was a pity, as the temperature was a little on the cozy side. While the menu seemed to reflect the Southern theme, there were some deviations which gave me pause enough to question our server as to what cuisine, exactly, was on offer. Although not obvious from the menu, the fare on offer is Caribbean soul food, inspired by dishes from Antigua and Barbados. Iâ€™m glad I asked.
The noise level was just a few notches short of a din, and I had trouble hearing our server. The background music had a southern flavor, even though for me it was inaudible.
We started with the tuna tartar topped with flying fish roe and scallions served with crisp green plantain chips ($8.50). I can either take it or leave it when it comes to plantain, and I generally leave it, but in this case I enthusiastically took it. The chips were deliciously crisp and the scallions together with some citrus hints and the saltiness of the roe melded into gorgeous mouthfuls.
For the main course we went for â€śmiss ollieâ€™s organic fried chicken with two sidesâ€ť ($29.50). This comes in a big (popcorn) bucket and to the best of my recollection there were eight pieces involved. A smaller helping of two pieces for the single diner is available at $11. Regrettably, the chicken, although succulent and tasty, had been fried a little to fiercely and swiftly, resulting in overcooked outsides and undercooked insides. On the plus side, the chicken pieces had been marinated in lime, salt, thyme and other scrumptious spices, resulting in delightful floral flavors. Honestly, Iâ€™ve had better (and cheaper) fried chicken and, should I return, I would probe elsewhere on the menu-â€“perhaps in the direction of the Dungeness crab and sweet white corn grit porridge ($11.50) â€“ for something a little more memorable.
Our sides consisted of black-eyed peas and collard greens with â€śporch pork bellyâ€ť and caraway coleslaw. I deferred to Stephenâ€™s judgment on these, he being a self-confessed Southern Belle. He gave a definite thumbs up. With so much fried chicken sticking to our ribs, we didnâ€™t have room for dessert, but the fried chocolate sandwich sounded like a lot of fun.
Our server, though harried, was friendly and eager to please, and the Chef, Sarah Kinnon, was a delight. For all the noise and murk, this place does radiate a friendly neighborhood glow and attracts a 20-somethinng crowd of pseudo white trash. The percentage of gay boys and artsy looking Mission fags increased the later the hour got. My advice would be that you really shouldnâ€™t dress up if you are coming here.
I almost missed my footing when I went on safari for the restroom in the gloom at the rear of the restaurant. Sitting on the throne, males are confronted with a rather disturbing picture of John Wayne in true grit posture, presumably to encourage a swift evacuation.
The Front Porch can be discovered at 65a 29th Street between Mission and San Jose and is open for dinner nightly from 5:30-10:30 pm. For reservations call (415) 695-7800. There is a website too at www.thefrontporchsf.com