Calling the Side Porch Café a little neighborhood spot underrepresents both its size and its location. Tucked into a residential corner in Cincinnati’s Mount Lookout Neighborhood, it looks less like a commercial building (there’s no sign) and more like someone’s house. And home-y describes both the cuisine and the atmosphere. Walk up to the—you guessed it: side porch—and grab one of the small tables.
The chef takes advantage of the Side Porch Café’s diminutive size (just a couple of seats; reservations are not taken) to turn out well-crafted seasonal food. In fact, the concept of the place would be entirely lost in a huge dining room. The menu is concentrated on local ingredients, simply done. The entrée list is anything but lengthy; on two recent visits, I tried the daily specials and came away convinced that was the best option for the evening.
On one occasion, my dining compadre and I started with a cheese board that included regional products including Piper’s Pyramid, a paprika-dusted goat cheese from southern Indiana’s Capriole dairy, and a brisk cheddar from local farmer’s market favorite Blue Jacket. Pungent Point Reyes blue from California rounded out the assortment, which was accompanied by crisp homemade crackers, thin slices of Blue Oven’s fruit bread and toasted walnuts.
We both opted for the daily special: a well-made risotto with house-smoked chicken, smoked onions, peas and fresh tarragon. I typically shy away from ordering risotto in restaurants, because too often I find the consistency way off base. Here, though, the Arborio grains were nicely al dente, and the dish was creamy, not watery. The smoked onion was an unexpected and welcome touch, adding an extra depth of flavor.
Another night, we were hungry for the basics, and happened to hit the Side Porch Café on its weekly Monday Burger Night. My burger, piled with balsamic-caramelized sweet onion and blue cheese, was grilled to juicy perfection. The chef must have a light touch with the ground beef: it was nicely textured and well-seasoned. The restaurant maintains its own small garden space, so the lettuce and tomato on the sandwiches were picked earlier in the day.
The Side Porch boasts a wine selection that far outstrips its size, with an impressive vertical of Georges de la Tour Cabernet Sauvignon if you’re feeling spendy, and easy-drinking house wines like Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc if you’re not. On warm evenings, the wine guy will likely recommend something different like New Age White, a bright, floral wine with the tiniest bit of effervescence, or a rosé like A to Z from Oregon.
Settle in for a pleasant meal in comfortable surroundings, with a mix of mismatched antiques, modern powder-coated tables, wicker seating and plenty of candlelight. A bonus, or not, depending on your love for or aversion to dogs: the place is canine-friendly, and the staff will gladly provide a bowl of water and a biscuit for your four-legged friend.
The Side Porch Café is only open seasonally, and will close by the end of October when evening temperatures chill. Get there while you can.