Before it even opened, the buzz was all about Port Fonda. Aside from being one of the most exciting-sounding restaurants to open in more than a year, Chef/owner Patrick Ryan has an impressive pedigree. He worked with Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill in Chicago, one of the country’s most highly acclaimed Mexican restaurants, and Ryan’s Port Fonda food truck experience received the only four star review by the Kansas City Star to be bestowed in recent memory.
The truck has been sidelined for now so Ryan can concentrate on getting his brick-and-mortar restaurant up and running.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but based on the awesome and memorable fare Ryan served up in the food truck, my first couple of visits were underwhelming (though he has since gone on to excite every time). Everything I sampled was very good, but there was nothing I just had to have again, except for the awesome chips and salsa. The carnitas tacos were good, but nothing special. Same goes for the Sopa Port Fonda. In fairness, I stayed away from the dishes I loved in the truck, preferring to focus on Patrick’s newer creations.
I persevered because I love Patrick’s food, and my next and all subsequent forays were much more in line with what I had anticipated and hoped for…creative as all get out, and every bite of every dish was mouth-watering.
The grilled sweet corn, one of my favorite dishes in the truck, is incredible. Epazote, cotija, habañero mayonnaise, chile, and lime top the bowl of corn (which has been taken off the cobb), so this is a much more complex and substantial dish than one may think at first glance.
If I didn’t make a meal out of the corn, I certainly could out of the chilaquiles. What makes these chilaquiles better than all others I have had (including in Mexico) is that the thick tortillas have been bathed but not soaked in salsa verde, so the tortillas retain some crunch and aren’t a mushy mess. The stack would have stood on its own without the fried egg, but of course the combination of fried egg, salsa, chorizo verde, crema, cilantro and lime really sends this dish into the stratosphere.
There are several other starters and salads, including tempura fried vegetables with the same spicy mayo that graces the corn dish, pig tails in a hot sauce, and a Rancho Gordo bean salad that can be had with or without a fried egg on top.
Tacos are reasonable priced, at 2 for $6 or $7 and, if you’ve never had a fried oyster taco, Port Fonda is the place to give it a whirl. Tortas seem to be a popular item, especially the sandwich with fried pork loin.
The flasks of green and red hot sauce on each table to use to your heart’s content is a nice touch.
If you are willing to forgo one of the interesting cocktails and stick to beer, Port Fonda offers a sweet deal called the 2 x 4. It’s a 24 ounce can of Tecate for $3. While my husband was unhappy with the $8 guacamole for a small ice cream scoop, he was over the moon about the cost of that can of beer.
Many dishes on the menu are cazuelitas, so defined because they come in a casserole dish. They range from queso fundido (melted cheese dip), which could be considered an appetizer, to wood-roasted mussels or braised octopus, grilled shrimp with green peanut mole and the Panza, which we devoured: rich pork belly with salsa negro, Rancho Gordo beans and pickled tomatillo. It was decadent, but scooping all of the ingredients into a warm corn tortilla was heaven.
I’ve also been to Port Fonda for brunch when the menu is abbreviated and obviously more breakfast focused.
In addition to the chilaquiles, which I must get every time I go to Port Fonda, we also ordered the Tostada de Carnitas and the Burnt Ends, with pork belly, Rancho Gordo beans, grilled green onions, a fried egg and chorizo hollandaise. Pork belly is by definition fatty, but this hunk was shy on meat. Nevertheless, wrapping all the ingredients into another one of those warm tortillas made for a satisfying treat.
Going on a Saturday or Sunday morning has the decided advantage of not being as loud. And the music was more to my liking with tunes from the 70′s(at least the day we were there). Typically the music is thumping, despite putting baffling under the tables and an intention by management to lower the volume in response to complaints from all ages. Though I’m not into the hard rock that blasts through later in the evening, Patrick’s symphony of flavors will keep me going back. I just wouldn’t suggest going with a big group when you have to resort to shouting, or on an occasion that calls for serious conversation.
I’m definitely on board now and in full agreement with those who think Port Fonda is the most intoxicating restaurant in town right now.