Review: The Porch at Schenley
The Porch at Schenley offers homemade food in a welcoming atmosphere at Oakland’s beautifully renovated Schenley Plaza.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
I have spent countless hours eating kiosk food under the big tent in Schenley Plaza. So I’m gratified to have a place where I can get high-quality food and still enjoy a view of the urban landscape, fountain and colorful carousel. The Porch at Schenley is a final piece of the plaza’s decade-long revitalization project. Created by Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, it is the first full-service restaurant in the area. Mark Broadhurst, director of concept development, wanted The Porch to have an “at-home” feel, so he called upon international design firm WD Partners, known for its environmental sensitivity, to create the building’s green design.
The restaurant blends beautifully into its environment, with a careful selection of materials (stone, wood, glass and metal), colors (slate, warm wood tones and pale grays) and signage. It meets LEED silver standards for several reasons: more than 50 percent of the building is made of glass; recycled materials were used in construction; and, most interestingly, it has a green rooftop that will serve as the restaurant’s garden.
The dining format at The Porch is flexible: You can grab breakfast sandwiches (some of which feature homemade English muffins and pastries) with Coffee Tree Roasters coffee as well as lunch and dinner at a takeout window. In the middle of the day, you can order lunch inside the restaurant at the cashier’s post, then take a number and head to your table while you wait for your food to be delivered. The Porch becomes a full-service restaurant in the evening, when its upbeat waitstaff will serve you dinner.
The Porch’s interior is clean and uncluttered, maybe even a bit stark, with a high white ceiling and an abundance of natural light. When warm weather hits, the staff opens the garage doors, allowing the restaurant to spill out onto the plaza and become a part of the action. And executive chef Kevin Hermann plans to present outdoor pig roasts and barbecues in the summer.
Hermann, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and native of Kansas City, designed the menu to have a Mediterranean feel — not just in flavors but in the way he cooks (using food that’s fresh and in season), making everything from scratch. For example, The Porch receives a hindquarter of bull from Cunningham Meats (via the Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance) every week; the meat is ground in-house and used in the restaurant’s burgers.
To start things off, I tried a number of the salads. My favorite was definitely the classic Caesar ($8), which featured romaine lettuce, freshly grated Parmesan, homemade dressing and croutons; the helping of white anchovies that topped the salad ($3 extra) made it even better. Most of the other salads were a bit busy, having too many competing components.
Next up is “This & That,” small items to share as starters or sides. Options range from the roasted Tuscan potatoes served with curried ketchup ($3) to the very popular cornbread in a skillet ($5) to the shrimp and grits ($9), featuring three sautéed shrimp served with braised kale on a bed of creamy polenta.
My personal favorites can be found in the menu’s “Rotisserie” section. The duck meal ($20) stars tender and flavorful slow-cured duck confit, made of moulard legs, and is served with a (too sweet) parsnip and potato galette, terrific (almost crispy) mushrooms and dollops of foie gras — all over a sherry reduction. Another great choice is the “Porchetta” ($21), a Cunningham Meats pork that is marinated for seven days before it’s cooked on the rotisserie for three to four hours; it’s served with a butternut-squash and potato “risotto” (sausage and a port reduction).
Pizzas are popular here — and it’s no wonder: Hermann spent six months working on the crust, which is nicely salted and puffy. The pies are neatly served on fresh parchment with small piles of accompaniments (such as Parmesan and oregano). Of the ones I tried, my favorite was the simple Margherita ($11) with basil and homemade mozzarella; however, I didn’t care for the Bianca ($13), topped with cloyingly sweet fig jam, goat cheese, mozzarella, an excess of raw arugula (enough for a salad) and a drizzle of truffle oil.
If you want to try a pizza, The Porch offers half-price pies weekdays after 9:30 p.m., a nice little perk for those visiting at night.
On the whole, the desserts were not stellar. The special apple crisp ($6) was so spiced as to be inedible. And sadly, the bread pudding ($5) was served at room temperature and lacked flavor. The saving grace, however, was the delicious cookie plate ($4), featuring assorted homemade cookies — rather fitting for The Porch’s menu and feel.
At The Porch at Schenley, you can relax, have a nice home-cooked meal and watch the world go by.
221 Schenley Drive, Oakland • 412/687-6724, theporchatschenley.com
Kevin Hermann, Executive Chef | The Porch at Schenley
What’s happening in the local food scene?
Pittsburgh has the creativity of New York City and the feeling of home from Kansas City. In the past year, the additions to the food scene have been tremendous, with the Cure, Root 174 and Meat & Potatoes all opening up with such high-quality food and creativity.
What trends are you seeing in the way Pittsburghers are approaching food?
I see a lot of Mediterranean flavors in food. And a lot of chefs are really showing their personalities in their menus. When I was coming up with our menu, everyone told me that “this is a blue-collar town — no one’s gonna get it.” I’m here to help people learn. A lot of chefs are sticking their necks out, making everything from scratch and really putting unique thought into their food. It’s taken the last year-and-a-half or so for [diners] to really get into it — to be adventurous and try new things. I think there is a huge movement of forward-thinking eaters here.
What advice do you have for home cooks?
The thing I always emphasize is to make things more than once. Just because it didn’t work out the first time doesn’t mean you can’t fix it.
Name one utensil that all home cooks should buy.
Knives are a good investment. My first knife was a Wüsthof, and I still have it 12 years later. You should have a nice chef knife and a paring knife. Keep them sharp because the most dangerous thing in a kitchen is a dull knife. To sharpen them, use a whetstone and a sharpening steel.
Name one ingredient that everyone needs.
You should always have a nice olive oil for finishing. You can cook with a lower-cost olive oil, but you should keep a nice one for drizzling on salad, meat or pasta.
Any cookbook recommendations?
I keep a copy of The Silver Spoon in my kitchen. I also keep a copy of the Culinary Institute of America’s handbook, The Professional Chef. If a cook has a question — I love teaching, and I hope someday to end up teaching at the CIA — it’s awesome to be able to give someone that book and have them read it.