Saturday, October 25, 2008
The Porch Public House
The Porch Public House
1658 E Miles, Hayden Lake, 772-7711
Perhaps it was a little late in the season, but when I pulled up to the Porch Public House that sunny noontime Friday, I was mildly surprised to see that the place wasn’t already percolating with golfers and other random Hayden Lakers. Tucked away in a primarily residential area, the restaurant sits directly across the street from Avondale Golf Course so I expected to see at least a few of the pleated-pants crowd debarking from their climate controlled carts. Instead, the large lot behind the Porch was completely vacated, causing me to circle around the building a few times looking for signs of life. Are they even open?
It was my dad’s birthday and I was bearing the gift of lunch, so I suggested we meet at the Porch, which sits only a few short putts away from his house. “You think they’re open yet?” he asked, eyeballing the empty lot as we approached the door with some trepidation, half-expecting it to be locked. Thankfully for our grumbly tummies, it wasn’t. “Sit wherever you like” said our host, motioning toward the empty dining room. He grabbed a couple of menus and followed us to a bright corner table.
Our solitude wouldn’t last very long. People began drifting in like autumn leaves on a cool breeze and by mid-meal, the joint was filled with chatty lunch-goers, a network of neighborhood folks who likely make the Porch a regular ritual. Since opening a few years back, it’s become one of the area’s most beloved and classy gathering places. Co-owners John Grollmus, Brad Fosseen and Jeff Meagher are also the masterminds behind such other regional favorites as Coeur d’Alene’s Moon Time, as well as Spokane’s The Elk and Two Seven Public House. The atmosphere of the refurbished Hayden diner is warm and welcoming, rustic like an old cabin in the woods, but with a certain intangible quality of independent coolness that also makes the Porch’s sister restaurants so popular and return-worthy.
Honestly, I was so busy chit-chatting and catching up with my dad that the usual snarky details about décor and ambience went mostly unnoticed. I’d take that as a good sign actually; if the experience had been anything less than subliminal, surely I would be reporting the grim details. “Public house” must be the long form of “pub” and The Porch frequently conjures up the classic Britishness that term brings to mind, especially in the cozy, dimly-lit bar area. I can imagine spending an afternoon there, getting very well acquainted with some pints of ale before plopping into one of the comfy chairs in the well-stocked corner library.
Our host/waiter was brief, efficient and non-invasive, which I much prefer over to the insincere pomposity in effect at so many chain restaurants these days. Picture Jennifer Aniston in “Office Space,” waitressing at Chotchkie's, forced by the mega-corporation to plaster on a fake smile and show her enthusiasm with endless “flare” on her vest. There’s none of that kind of phony baloney attitude at The Porch. Creative originality reigns with fresh food put together and presented by people who actually seem to have a passion for what they do. There’s no perceptible theme to the menu at the Porch other than “everything looks so darn good I can’t even decide!” It seems like the chefs bounce between the four related pubs; the menus are so similar and the astoundingly consistent quality of the fare is the same as well.
We didn’t feel the need for an appetizer, although the “Ploughman’s Plate” with grilled sausages, potato cakes smothered in smoked cheddar and bacon, and both stone ground and sweet hot mustard could serve as a meal in itself. The famous Moon Burger sits at the top of the list of original sandwiches and burgers that have become the small chain’s trademark. One of North Idaho’s best hunks of beef on a bun, it’s a huge hand formed patty, char-grilled and topped with melted cheddar and caramelized onions. Both the Grilled Lamb Sandwich with its drizzle of cool tsatsiki sauce and the Anasazi Bean Burger are ridiculously addictive, the latter’s nutty flavor actually causes one to forget that cows even exist. With a meat-free cheeseburger that good, who needs any stinking gaseous bovines?
What the Porch menu lacks in volume is made up for by the wild variety of the available specialties. Hard to choose between a grilled New York Steak covered in peppercorn sauce, a breaded, pan-seared Idaho Ruby Red Trout with lemon cream and parsley, or some Marinated Pork Soft Tacos topped with mango pineapple smoked jalapeno salsa and fresh cilantro. My hungry eyes immediately spotted the Thai dish “Swimming Angels” on the menu and right away I began twitching and salivating. I have an intense thing for Peanut Sauce, cravings that render me helpless in the wee hours of the night. I’m in love with its initial hearty, sweet flavor and eventual spicy power, and it’s fully delicious as presented here, over thin, tender white chicken pieces, fresh spinach leaves and white rice. The Porch serves it up as great as any Thai place I’ve been if not better.
My dad was similarly satisfied with his sensible Turkey Sandwich, and I thought about ordering him a birthday Moon Unit. I’m completely sure he’d have rejected the molten brownie/chocolate syrup/ice cream concoction for fear of veering too far off the health kick he’s been so successful with recently and it would have been me stuck eating the decadent dessert, god forbid. I certainly didn’t inherit his fine sense of willpower.