Chef Nick Badovinus’ Menu at The Porch features Upscale Comfort Food

MANWICH: Triple-layer tuna sandwich with a side of couscous.
photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Dean fearing wins a lot of awards, appears in national magazines and on network TV, and has recently opened Fearing’s, a swanky, fancy-pants restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. At the moment, Fearing is undoubtedly the most well-known chef in Dallas.

Nick Badovinus is simply the hardest-working.

Badovinus carries the title of corporate chef for Consilient Restaurants’ uber-cool haunts Cuba Libre, Fireside Pies, Hibiscus, and its newest rollout, The Porch. He is, however, anything but corporate. And while his name doesn’t adorn any one of the restaurants, his fingerprints—usually dripping with mac and cheese—are all over them.

From the outside, it looks like Badovinus has it all. He’s hip, hands-on, and dedicated. He’s a high-energy chef who can preach poetically, philosophically, and endlessly about his concepts, his food, or his struggles as a perfectionist without once coming off as anything other than completely genuine.

His passion for the restaurant business, famous for sucking the creativity from talented cooks, overcomes seemingly unsolvable challenges. Listen to Badovinus rap about his food and his restaurants and you will be a believer. And that’s before you ever taste that mac and cheese.

He and his partner-in-dine, Consilient czar Tristan Simon, have identified the psyche of young, successful urban professionals, grabbed them by their iPhones, and given them Henderson Avenue—a haven to hang out, be cool, and text among friends in a variety of “social gathering places” and price points. Or, as Badovinus says, “We created some synergy with Hibiscus, Pies, and Cuba guests.”

Those guests span the Dallas demographic. On a recent late-summer night’s eve, The Porch was packed with twentysomethings in tiny dresses, thirtysomething couples with small kids in high chairs, 40ish guys checking out the twentysomethings, and the well-heeled, over-50 set decked out in designer finery.

Golden boy chef Nick Badovinus.
photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

From the elevated seats in the noisy bar, it’s easy to watch Badovinus work the crowded dining room. The sea of customers parts as he passes. Man laws allow guys to feel validated when “Baddy” wraps them in a bear hug. Hot chicks poof their bangs and tuck nervously at the hem of their miniskirts when he approaches. It’s the aughts, dude. We’re happening. That’s what I’m talking about.

Talking is something Baddy does best. And fast. Recently I called him for a chat, and after one question, he launched into a rockin’ soliloquy. A half hour later, I had enough juicy quotes to fill a whole new section in Bartlett’s.

Dig on this: “By accident, mac and cheese has become my medium. It’s how I communicate with people. It’s really simple, really good, really dirty, ya know.”

Yes, my thighs know all too well. 

As if the creamy goodness of his Hibiscus version isn’t enough temptation to sin, Baddy has upped the ante—and calorie count—at The Porch. He buys maple-cured Boar’s Head ham and cold smokes it for two hours before chopping it into mouth-sized cubes. Then he whips up a basic white cheddar base with milk and cream cheese before adding the ultimate blast of cheese nirvana, French Port-Salut. Once the sauce hits the ham, it’s rushed to the table, where your mouth explodes with rich contrasts—sharp white cheddar slams against smoky, sweet swine, while the buttery smooth scent of Port-Salut resonates through your olfactory senses. Ditto for the hummus, bold with smoked red peppers and served with flatbread fresh off the grill. “It’s got some smoky, kind of roughneck, porch-y taste that makes you feel good,” Badovinus says. “It’s like you can take your pants off and bathe in it,” he says breathlessly. “God, I love the dichotomy of this menu.”

Me, too. There is something for everyone at The Porch, especially if you have a fondness for flavors past. Like Sloppy Joes, green goddess dressing, or pimento cheese. But Baddy doesn’t cook Grandma style; his playful versions of nostalgic noshes capture the essence of Granny’s flavor profile and bumps it upscale a notch. Or 10.

Take the neat little sloppy Joes offered as a recent special, please. Ground tenderloin, chuck, and short rib trimmings swim in tomato sauce spiced with onion, garlic, tomato, and “a secret combo of convenience products” and spill out of three two-bite buns. It’s like I’ve gone home. It’s Sunday night in the not-too-distant past, and I’m putting off my homework to fill my plate again.

FABULOUS FOOD: Braised short rib stroganoff on pappardelle noodles; fried Port-Salut triangles.
photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

The same feeling envelops your soul after a plate of beef stroganoff. Instead of the traditional beef tips, Badovinus substitutes chunks of melt-in-your-mouth short ribs braised in red wine veal stock, caramelized onions, carrots, garlic, and shallots, tossed on a bowlful of homemade brown-buttered pappardelle noodles, and topped with fresh Parmesan.

Not all was perfect. After three tries, I ruled out Baddy’s attempt at oven-roasted chicken. Once it was dry, then it was under-cooked, and the last version was bland.

The bar is not just for eyeing the hotties. Some serious research was done on the cocktails, and, you have to figure, some old family favorites went into creating the drink menu. At The Porch, you can step out of martini madness and into, say, a Crazy Aunt Mimi’s lemonade, a raucous blend of Ketel One Citroen with cranberry and lemon juice. Or a Blackberry Smash, a manly favorite featuring Jim Beam rye whisky, homemade simple syrup, fresh blackberries, and ginger ale.

Do yourself a favor, though: skip your third drink and die happy. The deviled chocolate pudding parfait is worth every calorie. Who doesn’t love the combination of sweet, salty, chocolate, and nuts? And the creamy custard topped with whipped cream and a broken Hershey’s bar makes your current deal with the diet devil seem like such a forgivable sin.

Did I mention the tempura Port-Salut? Of course not, because I always save the best for last. Badovinus has taken his (and my) go-to cheese and elevated it to star status. Not only does he melt it on a freshly ground chuck burger patty, he fries up triangular slices of it as an appetizer. As in Pilsner-tempura battered and deli­cately browned in hot grease, seasoned with sea salt and parsley. One dip of the tangy cheese in roasted red pepper tomato marinara and you, like me, will be hooked.

And we have the self-assessed nasty kitchen bad boy to thank for yet another food addiction. “I believe so powerfully in the romanticism and escapist opportunities of creating food,” Badovinus says.

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. 2912 N. Henderson Ave. 214-828-2916. $$-$$$.


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