Great New Places to Eat
There’s a saying that when one door closes, another one opens. Last year was tough on local eateries, but some very exciting restaurant doors have opened in the past few months, including one inspired by a food truck, another by a 56-foot-long bunny, and others by cuisines ranging from French to Mongolian and Indian to Southern (grits, anyone?). So feast your eyes on our favorite new spots, and you’ll see why we think the food scene is looking very sunny-side up.
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The Porch Bar & Restaurant - There are worse ways to start a restaurant. When owners Jerry Mitchell, John Lopez and Jon Clemons were trying to nail down the food style for their midtown restaurant that would become The Porch Restaurant and Bar, they took a trip—to eat.
They spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina, going to big-name restaurants, popping into small joints, trying out bars, and getting a read on the region’s particular style of Southern cooking. “We just ate and drank for seven days solid,” Mitchell says. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life.”
One place they wandered into was a watering hole in downtown Charleston called Squeeze, where the cocktails by bartender Brian Peters blew them away. “Every one was amazing,” says Mitchell. “We said, ‘We gotta hire you to design our cocktails.’ He ended up creating, like, 50 different cocktails for us.”
When the trio left Charleston, they had a plan: They would do Lowcountry cuisine in the place they’d recently bought on K Street.
Mitchell and his partners also own Capitol Garage in midtown (Clemons is the executive chef at both establishments), and the story of their Charleston food odyssey goes back almost two years when they began searching for a second concept. They’d considered a micro-pub, but thought it might be too similar to the Garage. Then last fall, Phoebe and Patrick Celestin retired from running Celestin’s Island Eats and Cajun Cuisine after 28 years, and Mitchell and company took over the spot. But they still didn’t have a concept.
“We didn’t want to copy anything they’d done,” Mitchell says. “We would not have been able to live up to it. The three of us racked our brains. We wanted hearty, comfortable food, but we also wanted a nicer atmosphere. Then our chef started researching Lowcountry cuisine.”
Lowcountry food is centered around South Carolina and Georgia along the Atlantic coast. It often features seafood and has strong streaks of New Orleans and Cajun cooking, but keeps many Southern basics. Mitchell, Clemons and Lopez were intrigued. “So we decided to go there,” says Mitchell. “We fell in love with the food.”
The Porch opened last December and the result is an original cuisine for the Sacramento region, with homey mainstays like the slightly sweet, crispy cornbread and buttermilk fried chicken—a substantial plate with mashed potatoes, sausage gravy, soft collard greens, a flaky biscuit and chicken with a snappy black pepper crust and meat so juicy it’s almost thirst quenching. Then Clemons adds some twists. His luscious shrimp po’ boy sandwich includes avocado for a California imprint. The fried green tomatoes, which are delicate enough for any white-tablecloth institution, come with a nontraditional sidekick of mixed green salad with goat cheese and a red-pepper vinaigrette.
The cocktail list rotates through those recipes Peters created, and includes inventive—and themed—drinks like the Southern Sunday with bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup and fresh egg whites; the Southern Mule with peach-flavored vodka, ginger beer, lime simple syrup, muddled basil and blackberries; as well as, appropriately, the Charleston, which is made of vodka, Madeira wine, sweet tea, lemonade and mint syrup.
That’s the mix of The Porch. Its polished wood floors and tables, and old-South fixtures and curtains combine with a relaxed openness, mason jars as water glasses, and—of course—a front porch with gas lamps, so it plays well for both casual eating and a special night out. The surprise has been how many people come in for a taste of home.
“There are a serious number of transplants in California from the South,” Mitchell says. “We’re even getting people from the Bay Area who say they can’t find anything like us.”