Traditional Charleston, SC style cuisine served in a hi-tech Irvine environment might seem an unusual recipe for success. Yet Andrew Parish’s Porch & Swing, situated among gleaming high-rise buildings with an expansive patio, is a culinary tour de force. On a recent Saturday evening, patrons there, filling up every table inside (with social distancing) and on the patio, eagerly dined on a variety of Southern-inspired creations.
These delicacies include Skillet Cornbread, a warm, slightly sweet, textured dish, made from blue cornmeal and honey butter, served in a small cast iron skillet. Ride or Die Salad, combining apple, pickled cranberry, hazelnuts and quinoa, is offered, along with Pan Roasted Cauliflower with pickled shallots. Also on the menu are Grandma’s Style Potato Gratin, a creamy creation flavored with roasted garlic, and Burrata & Farmers Market Rhubarb. These menu items are so meticulously prepared, with harmonious combinations of flavors, consistencies and colors, that dining at Porch & Swing becomes a gastronomic adventure.
Yet these appetizers – as divine as they are – are previews of coming attractions. A signature entrée, Black Tiger Shrimp, balances plump flavorful shrimp with tahini, celery root and Brussels sprouts. Piquillo Pepper Cavatelli & Baby Octopus is deftly prepared with flavorful, tender octopus, enhanced with Swiss chard, castelvetrano olives and marcona almonds.
Another Lowcountry offering, and a mainstay of the restaurant, is the tender Roasted Pork Jowl with spicy pepper jam and creamy grits, the latter imported from Charleston. Other entrées are Local Flounder with potato purée, asparagus and sorrel, along with several beef dishes. Desserts, including vanilla-flavored Bread Pudding, Pineapple Curd and sorbets complete the meals.
Accompanying the exotic fare are several cocktails, including Mint Julep and The Mule, made with whiskey, sugar and mint. These and other cocktails are created by Parish who was a mixologist to the stars (in Los Angeles) before becoming a restaurant owner. Wines served at the restaurant are from international destinations including Argentina, Armenia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and California locales.
Dovetailing with Porch & Swing’s Southern-inspired offerings is the restaurant’s ambiance. The décor, echoing the gaslight district of Charleston where Parish grew up, harmonizes seamlessly with the hi-tech Irvine environment, replete with a reflecting pool and fountain. The wooden floors and tiles, contemporary lighting, lightly colored wooden tables and chairs of various heights, and butcher block serving areas, echo the down-home Charleston style, while complementing the modernist ambiance of the expansive space. Several photos of downtown Charleston adorn the walls. And the restaurant’s casual atmosphere encourages family-style dining. At one table, the night I dined there, six close friends eagerly passed their dishes around to each other, so that all could sample the varieties of tastes and inventive combinations.
Speaking with Parish reveals that he is a passionate purveyor of Lowcountry dishes from his hometown of Charleston, as he learned cooking from his grandmother and mother, a professional Southern chef. He adds that Charleston is a food mecca hosting several restaurants with James Beard award-winning chefs. While Parish is not a chef, he inspires his master chef Justin Werner and suggests dishes to him.
Werner, a New York native, began exploring gourmet food in his early adulthood in this country and throughout Europe. During his adventures here and abroad, he learned about some of the world’s most inventive and varied gourmet cuisines, while exploring the use of organic, recently harvested vegetables and herbs.
Werner has worked in Noma in Copenhagen, named by some food experts as the “Best Restaurant in the World,” in Tom Colicchio’s Craft in New York and L.A., Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York, and as chef at Santa Ana’s Playground DTSA.
Parish, who has worked as a mixologist and café and restaurant owner in Southern California for more than a decade, met Werner a few years ago. The pair were a natural fit, as soon after they met, Parish inspired Werner to use his culinary training to create recipes combining Lowcountry influences with his world-class expertise for their upcoming Porch and Swing.
Running the restaurant’s expansive kitchen, Werner is a food artist, creating dishes that enthrall diners, that invite them to return to Porch & Swing, and to tell their friends and families about this amazing restaurant.
The restaurant’s success – as it opened just last April in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic – is a testament to its high-quality food, excellent service and imaginative yet relaxed ambiance.
Porch & Swing, 2010 Main St., Irvine, (949) 418-7988. Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Tue.-Thur., 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat., 5 p.m-10 p.m. porchandswing.com