South Austin neighborhood spot debuts strong
Neighborhood restaurant and bar Porter Ale House & Gastropub has found success in its first year of business despite competing in a crowded and rapidly growing industry.
Porter co-owners Neil Joiner, Joe Bixel and Trevor Lane combined to create Porter, which was immediately well-received as evident by the nightly lines of customers since debuting in early 2014.
"When we first opened, I don't think we realized how excited people would be," Joiner said.
Joiner and Bixel first met in New York City while working in the kitchen together at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park and next at the Waldorf Astoria New York. Joiner was the first to relocate to Central Texas, eventually helping Bixel land a job at the nearby Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort.
Shortly after talking about opening a restaurant, the two added Lane to their team. About a year later, the trio beat out six other restaurants bidding for a 3,000-square-foot space on the first floor of The Tree apartments, a new mixed-use development on South First Street.
"We wanted to be a neighborhood restaurant first and foremost," Joiner said. "That's why we sought this location—there's something about these nearby neighborhoods."
The ownership team never rests, Bixel said, having tweaked the menu since Porter opened. Porter also has daily drink and food specials to test more experimental options without displacing menu favorites.
"Some of the wackier ideas we've had I never thought in a million years people would order, but it's worked out well," Joiner said.
One such idea, a modernized take on European favorite pierogies, has become so popular it was named the best pierogi in Texas by the Austin Polish Society, Bixel said. Porter hopes to work with a distributor and Whole Foods Market to allow customers to purchase frozen pierogies through the Austin-based grocer.
Porter will also be featured Jan. 21 on a new Bravo Network television show called "America's Best New Restaurant" after the show reached out to the restaurant earlier this year. Bixel called it humbling to be considered among the hottest 16 new restaurants in America. He credits the ownership team's work ethic for the attention gained.
"We like challenging ourselves a lot because it gives our jobs more meaningful purpose," Bixel said. "We're constantly thinking about the next thing we should be working on."
The ownership team is working on its second restaurant, a Japanese concept expected to open in 2015. A location has not yet been confirmed, Bixel said, although the team is looking to stay close to Porter.
Classic bar fare is transformed to create Porter's large plates. Curry fried chicken thighs ($18) are served atop sweet potato waffles with a maple vinaigrette and cinnamon butter. Other large plates include spaghetti and meatballs, Chatham Cod Fish N Chips and the Silence of the Lamb Burger with tzatziki, grilled red onion, feta and chickpea fries.
Among the most popular small plates is My Pieroghetive ($10), a Polish pierogi dish made using yukon potatoes and farmer's cheese. The meal is served with dill sour cream and a beet horseradish sauce. Other small plates include black mussels, parmesan risotto balls and beer cheese fondue. Porter also serves a kale salad and roasted beet salad for lighter meals.
Co-owners Neil Joiner and Joe Bixel estimate there are as many as 10 regulars who frequent their establishment, which draws its name from the Johnny Cash song "Hey Porter." Porter's bar tap includes 28 beers, two wines and two rotating craft cocktails. The establishment also regularly hosts pint nights, offering discounted local craft beers. There is also a craft cocktail menu with drinks ranging between $8 and $10.
Porter Ale House & Gastropub, 3715 S. First St., Ste. A, 512-291-6299, www.porteraustin.com, Bar hours: Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Sat.–Sun. 10:30 a.m.–midnight, Lunch hours: Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Dinner hours: 5–10:30 p.m., Brunch hours: Sat.–Sun. 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.