“Do I want to just try to prove a point to them and lose sales over it?,” he says. “Or do I want to just take a big swallow and say, ‘OK, well, I'm going to get this change in the works so we can give people and meet their expectations just a little better.’”
Small menu, no problem
Swad calls the food at Porch Swing, “polished comfort food.” The restaurant was designed to be a place where Swad would like to dine himself. He wanted a space that had a nice, crisp, new environment, where the food was inviting and the menu understandable.
“Polished comfort food … refers to not only just the food, but also the environment,” Swad says. “We put a lot of equity into the interior. In many ways it was the same type of worry you would put into fine dining. But it's not fine dining. We wanted people to walk in and have that ‘Wow, this is nice’ moment. I thought if we could combine that moment with food that they were sort of already familiar with and executing these old favorites to a little bit higher level. I thought we'd have a shot.”
Porch Swing’s menu only consists of eight entrees: two beef items, two poultry items, two fish items, and two pork items. The symmetry was pure accident, Swad says. And although the menu might seem simple to some, there’s a lot that goes into those eight offerings. The Porch Swing kitchen prepares 55 recipes from scratch to create those options. From gravy and tartar sauce to condiments, everything is made in house.
“You'd be surprised you can cover quite a bit of people's desires when you really sit down and you balance out the menu,” Swad says. “I think our guests are noticing the difference. I mean, it's extremely high quality food, but it's familiar food and we try to execute it at the highest level possible.”
Small details—like frying the chicken fried steak in beef fat instead of vegetable oil—pay off with bold flavor throughout the menu. And although these details are not outlined specifically, Swad says customers are vocal about how they can taste a difference.
The kitchen is split in half to cater to two different preparations techniques: slow cooking and frying. On the slow cooking side, cooks prepare dishes like St. Louis-style ribs and roasted pork loin. Nothing is cooked above 225 degrees on that side, Swad says.
“The offset to that is it takes a long time when you're cooking something at such a low temperature,” he says. “But there are tremendous benefits to that when it comes to flavor.”
Swad doesn’t see any major menu developments and wants to keep it small, but he isn’t oblivious to making changes when necessary. Brisket served with Porch Swing’s Red Rover gravy is being tested on Sundays to see if the classic Texan dish has a chance at going full time.
Swad, however, is confident another option—a roasted half chicken—will become menu item No. 9. At a quick glance, the menu might seem heavily focused on fried food even though there are other non-fried options. Swad sees the roasted chicken as another “healthier” choice.
“It has a broad customer base, people want to get chicken, but will say, ‘we're just not looking for fried chicken,’” Swad says.
When considering new items to be added to the menu, Swad is also thinking about the burden another entree might put on his employees. If he can serve a new item in an efficient and timely manner during a Saturday night rush at the 280-seat restaurant then it passes the test.