There's no actual porch at The Front Porch, the Southern-inspired eatery in Bernal Heights known for its deep-fried... lots of things. Instead, you are greeted on the sidewalk to an outdoor dining setup unlike one we've ever seen: a line of benches facing a trellis, which covers a handful of small tables among a mishmash of houseplants, rocking chairs and strung lights. It may take you a few minutes to notice that the whole space is a converted driveway and garage, cozied up next to a seemingly residential staircase.
The eclectic abundance is inviting, and it all feels somewhat neighborly -- if your neighbor is the kind of person who parks salvaged chairs outside her house to relax in and sip iced tea (or a Bloody Mary). It's during brunch service (10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) that the makeshift "porch" really shines, particularly on a sunny day when the indoor area of stuffed leather booths and low ceilings seems far too dim.
The brunch menu is similar to the dinner one, with Cajun and Creole classics from New Orleans guiding the theme. A few breakfast and lunch additions bring a morning slant to the line-up, such as the Country Breakfast ($9) with eggs, biscuits and your choice of meat, or the Po'Boy ($15), a homey sandwich filled with cornmeal-crusted shrimp, oysters or flounder.
The restaurant is known for its fried chicken, so it's no surprise the Chicken & Waffles ($15) kicks off the list of "porch favorites." And this version is definitely worth a try. Two pieces of crispy battered and fried chicken sit on top of a a sweet potato waffle, all served with a side of maple syrup and a scoop of soft, sweet butter. The chicken has great texture, moist and tender, but it's the waffles that really stand out here, flavored with autumn spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger. The result is a well-crafted contrast between simple, savory chicken and sweet, spicy waffles, without a hint of the bready blandness this dish often delivers.
The Shrimp and Grits ($14) are a staple on the brunch and dinner menus, and for rich, hearty flavor, this is your pick. The shrimp are nestled, tails attached, in a puddle of impossibly creamy grits laced with green garlic and bacon. A wild mushroom truffle ragout takes center stage, luxurious and aromatic -- and potent.
For both a starter and a dessert, the beignets ($4) seem to be the most popular item, served in a down-home paper bag. The Fried Okra with Jalapeno Aioli ($5) is another Southern favorite with a gourmet twist, fried whole instead of the bite-sized pieces we're used to. No doubt: these are greasy. But the aioli packs a welcome punch of crisp spice.
Coffee, both regular hot and iced, is brewed with chicory, just like they do it at New Orleans' famous Cafe du Monde. For those sticking with typical brunch beverages, The Front Porch offers the regular suspects to choose from, like a mimosa ($6) or Bloody Mary ($8) -- and even a couple of surprises, such as red beer with spicy tomato juice ($6).
The restaurant's small tables are meant for groups of two or three (especially on the coveted porch), so larger parties can expect to wait a while. Luckily, you can grab some coffee inside and park on one of those hospitable benches. What are porches for, if not to pass some downtime?
Olivia Ware works for Williams-Sonoma, where she contributes to the company blog, The Blender.