Imagine sitting on a porch in Charleston, S.C., sipping a cocktail while preparing for a classic comfort food dinner only found in Charleston.
That’s the concept for Porch & Swing at Irvine’s Centerview office complex near John Wayne Airport, part of the Irvine Concourse mixed-use campus.
Founded by Charleston native Andrew Parish, Porch & Swing presents an homage to the Lowcountry (a cultural region along South Carolina’s coast) with an ever-changing menu by Executive Chef Alan Sanz that showcases the versatility of Southern cuisine.
Parish had a 15-year career in Southern California’s craft cocktail scene, consulting and shaking drinks for celebrities and making bank in the process. But, as Parish explains, “it’s every bartender’s dream to open something,” but he wasn’t sure what that something was.
He opened a French café in Solano Beach, followed by a bar in Mission Viejo, but he returned to his roots and opened Porch & Swing in April 2020 amid the height of the pandemic’s mandated shutdowns.
“It was a mental struggle opening the restaurant,” Parish said. “We had worked on it for two years—we found a great location with 85% occupancy in the office buildings around us, and condos were going up across the street. That was salivating for us, and then COVID-19 hit, and we had to open with takeout, which is something we never wanted to do. When you have good quality ingredients and it’s hot, that’s the best time to have it. Otherwise, you drive home and it’s lukewarm. How do you make people come back? That was a big challenge.”
Because of his prime office building location, Parish had expected to have a heavy lunch crowd, but with many offices not up to full capacity, Parish says his dinner service is shining while his lunch service has room for improvement.
Doing the Charleston
Another challenge Parish had was helping people understand that southern cuisine does not mean barbecue and beans.
“I wanted to bring the flavors of Charleston, and the décor,” Parish said. “We got used bricks from the East Coast that gives the restaurant its vibe, and I wanted to bring a chef from the East Coast but I could not find anyone who could do what we wanted to do.”
Chef Justin Werner from Playground in Santa Ana came to the rescue.
“He helped us through that first year, then went back to Playground,” Parish said. Werner’s replacement did not last long, but then Parish found Chef Sanz.
“He did a wonderful tasting for us and blew it out of the water. He had the techniques we were looking for, all the imaginative skills. He was the needle in the haystack we were looking for.”
Sanz has cooked in kitchens around the globe, including Boragó in Chile, Parcela in Mexico City, Epicure in France, and Mugaritz in Spain. His time spent with chefs at those restaurants and others is reflected in his dishes, which Parish says offer a foray into global techniques and expert application of bold flavors.
Each month, Sanz unveils a curated dinner menu consisting of only a few appetizers, entrées, and desserts—each uniquely bold, inventive and soulful.
Crafted with a true farm-to-table approach, the menus often focus on one or two peak-of-season ingredients to highlight their seasonality and versatility.
In addition to the ever-changing dinner menus, a three-course prix-fixe menu is offered during lunch, and tasting menus (ranging from $75 to $125) with optional wine pairings are offered during dinner.
While the lunch and dinner menus change monthly, guests can return for a recurring selection of Porch & Swing classics during the final week of each month.
“It’s fun, but changing a menu every month is not an easy task,” Parish noted. “It’s actually two menus each month—three weeks and then a week of classics, so you really have to be on your toes. Our ordering has to be good, with food costs hitting the mark. I’m happy with what we are doing.”
The dishes, Parish explained, are complex, “but not at the level where it looks pretty and lacks taste. We are pretty enough but have a lot of flavor. We’re not overlooking quality. Everything has meaning to the dish.”
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At a recent dinner at Porch & Swing, I discovered that the dishes are indeed meaningful.
We started with cornbread, but not a run-of-the-mill cornbread.
“For the cornbread I call a vendor in South Carolina and place an order for 75 to 100 pounds of milled corn,” said founder Andrew Parish. “They ship it to us so it’s always fresh.
It’s a single origin blue corn from South Carolina. People think we use food coloring, but it is blue corn. And our butter is always changing; last week we had lavender honey and pepper.”
Other dishes on the tasting menu: hummus with prawns and foie gras, scallops with carrots and miso, oysters with elk and quail egg, goat cheese tortellini with squash blossom and wild boar, duck with celery root and grapes, and several more dishes including dessert, although by that time we were full.
And, as expected, the Porch & Swing bar program is outstanding, thanks to Parish, who said he had been collecting whiskeys and other spirits for five years before opening his restaurant. His cocktail list is fun and often unexpected—I had a peach tea infused Old Fashioned (made with tea imported from Charleston), which put my palate in a southern mood.
Porch & Swing: 2010 Main St., Ste. 170, Irvine, (888) 573-4407, porchandswing.com