Port Fonda. And Good Lord Almighty, we were so glad we did.
my favorite examples of grassroots-gone-wild. Founded by chef Patrick Ryan and started in an Airstream trailer that was frequently parked in the lot next to the Reiger Hotel restaurant, Port Fonda's popularity has soared and as we were about to discover, for damn good reason. This joint was fairly jumpin' itself when we got there and seemingly far more hipster than the BK (at least until we came in, that is). The awesomely eccentric decor is the first to catch you eye upon entering. Mexican wrestlers; a drawn buffalo on the wall with real arrows chasing it; a makeshift chandelier of work lamps. I found myself browsing every inch of the place for its crazy-creative touches like the hooks under the bar that were actually jumper-cable clamps. Our centrally located wooden and steel table was gorgeous and was stamped with the type of wood it was. This was the mark of another local grassroots business by the name of the Utilitarian Workshop that apparently had a hand in much of the decor and they specialize in reclaimed materials. The care that was put into the decor is equally matched by the care in service and the menu as well. Carl and Deb and I were eager to try the impressive-looking Bloody Maria Bar. This set-up wasn't just a peruse-the-ingredients matter, though. This build-your-own Bloody Maria Experience begins with our server carefully walking us through Maria's menu. First, we choose our tequila options such as Milagro Silver or "panza-washed El Ultimo Blanco" or possibly Mezcal or even a blend of both. Then, you choose the type of salt you want on the rim of your glass...traditional, chile-infused or the inventive chicharrone salt; made from crushed housemade fried pork rinds. Finally, we are released to the bar itself; a mini-Shangri-la of hot sauces and condiments gathered to build the perfect Maria. Once there, I admittedly became lost in a haze of happy overkill. A dash of habanero hot sauce here, a slice of pickled garlic here, a dusting of celery salt, a pepperoncini unceremoniously dropped in. Yes, I even went for a crispy bacon slice and let me tell you, bacon was just meant to marinate in a wicked Bloody Maria. Also selected were the fiery housemade Bloody Mix with a bit of the in-house salsa verde added as well. I was blissfully overwhelmed already and I hadn't even started with the food.
As for that monumental fare, allow me to backtrack to those aforementioned chicharrones. The Bloody Maria bar is book-ended with baskets of this fried goodness a.k.a. the house-fried pork rinds with chile, lime and salt. Many moons ago, my friend Connie and I would end a few evenings of knocking back brews and singing karaoke at a hometown haunt called the Hill by tearing open bags of pork rinds and liberally dousing them with hot sauce. Strangely, this smoky setting was the only place I ever ate this...maybe they just tasted best with a beer buzz. Here I was all these years later finding this as a house specialty and they were no less than spectacular...no buzz necessary (but not discouraged). Next up were boundless bowls of thick, housemade chips that we dipped in a spicy Salsa Rojo and a bright Salsa Verde as well as guacamole made from fresh avocados. My main course was a monstrous chile relleno filled with avocado, chihuahua cheese and refried beans and it was so marvelous I wanted to start from scratch and experience it all over again, bite by blissful bite. Layered with flavor and not just ingredients, I suddenly wanted to be there every Sunday and try every chile relleno special. Among the other dishes at the table were the chimichanga topped with fried egg and the Omelette Especial which included Green Dirt Farms bossa cheese, chorizo verde and poblano rojas with a side of crispy fried fingerling potatoes. We all reveled in the endless deliciousness.
review about Port Fonda. The pic at right is a pic the Star took of me and my friend Carl choosing our hot sauces with the utmost seriousness. The review itself is unsurprisingly glowing. I personally cant wait to go back. I can't say anything better about an eatery than this...I not only want to return to try everything else on the menu but Port Fonda is the kind of place where I could just hang and wile away an afternoon or evening; maybe as part of their Tecate Social Club. Now, I just need to do so before the wait at Port Fonda becomes an hour long itself because frankly, I think that's inevitable.