With a view of the greenbelt, a relaxing atmosphere, fashionable bar offerings, and above-average food, this new South Lamar restaurant has all the makings for success
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., March 26, 2010
Red's Porch3508 S. Lamar, 440-7337
Sunday-Friday, 11am-12mid; Saturday, 11am-1am
Red's Porch is the newest venture by local restaurateur Davis Tucker, the man behind North by Northwest Restaurant & Brewery. Setting his sights on South Austin, Tucker decided to locate Red's Porch in an overlooked pocket of greenery just off South Lamar, behind a low-profile Citibank branch. If it weren't for the red-and-white, diner-style sign near the street, one would never guess that there was a restaurant in the back lot – and it's far enough back from Lamar to render the sound of traffic inaudible. It is a wonderful surprise to feel oneself so immediately plunged into peace and quiet. Red's Porch boasts a "greenbelt view" (although you have to go up to the second story to actually view it), but what makes the location so special isn't the sight of the greenbelt as much as its silent, breezy proximity.
The restaurant is built for the enjoyment of the open air: The walls of the restaurant are able to lift up like garage doors and expose the entire bar and dining room to the beautiful spring weather. Wings of patio seating fan out on either side, and there are picnic tables under the trees in the play area across the parking lot as well. Upstairs, the shady main porch is as large as the entire restaurant below, and its lofty height promises cool breezes off the greenbelt even after spring has passed.
In sync with this relaxing atmosphere, Red's Porch has a high-concept cocktail menu, an extensive margarita menu, a well-chosen wine list, and extraordinary beer offerings. Indeed, the cocktails are as up to the minute as it gets, featuring infusions, genuinely fresh juices, and premium labels. The beers – 25 varieties of draft and 37 varieties of cans and bottles – were obviously selected by a connoisseur. Though the food menu is thoughtful and reasonably well executed, the main draws are clearly the sun, the quiet, the breeze, and the bar.
I would classify the food as "upscale bar food": burgers, wings, Tex-Mex, big sandwiches, spicy appetizers, and so on, but made from premium ingredients, with care. The chips and salsa ($3.95) features good quality chips, and the salsa is pleasant – the sort where tomato flavor is dominant and the heat isn't immediately discernible. The queso ($5.95) is fairly standard, smooth and thick, holding roasted peppers and onions in gooey suspension. The smoked chicken corn chowder ($6.25) is rich and flavorful. Red's Porch also makes a Southern-style all-beef chili ($6.25) that, as far as I can tell, is served to prove that chili is a respectable dish and everyone else is making it wrong. Red's then raises the bar on chili-cheese fries ($7.95) by using this marvelous chili on them, making these fries one of the standouts of the menu. This appetizer is a real crowd-pleaser. (Responsible adults who knew they had entrées coming still couldn't resist polishing them off.) The onion rings ($4.95), served hot and fresh with a house-made chipotle ketchup, are another winner. Outstanding and probably the best I've had in months. Made with large rings of beer-battered fresh onion, they have all of the onion flavor one could wish for and a delightful, crunchy shell that neither obscures nor overpowers. The fried olives ($6.95) are hand-stuffed with blue cheese and served with marinara sauce, and though perfectly good, they tended to be ignored in favor of the other, less briny appetizers.
The entrées at Red's are large, and that goes double for the burgers, which are all made with half-pound patties and served with an order of french fries. The popular Border Burger ($8.95) is dressed with cilantro mayonnaise, fiery roasted serrano peppers, and jack cheese, with the traditional lettuce, tomato, and pickles on the side. The hamburger buns are big, fresh, and soft and fully capable of holding these gigantic burgers together. (Equally gigantic veggie burgers are available, and for $1.50, you can upgrade to a grass-fed all-natural beef patty.)
The chicken-fried rib eye ($10.95) is undoubtedly the best deal on the menu. Most of us have grown used to the cheapest possible cuts of beef inside our chicken-fried steaks, and it is a marvel how much this staple is improved by using a rib eye. The Smashed Potatoes are thin-skinned red potatoes, with the skins left in the mash, and the gravy is subtle and creamy. The result is a chicken-fried-steak dinner that is neither overly fatty nor heavy, a real accomplishment.
The Mexican offerings at Red's Porch are firmly in the "modern" Tex-Mex category, with tacos and enchiladas prevailing. The chicken ahumado enchiladas ($8.95), made with smoked chicken, jack cheese, and grilled onions smothered with tomatillo sauce, are surprisingly good. The charro beans that accompany them are made according to a family recipe and are complex, spicy, and satisfying.
Between the greenbelt view, the relaxing atmosphere, the fashionable bar offerings, and the much-better-than-average food, Red's Porch has all the makings of another success story for Davis Tucker.