After parking on a highway ramp beside a rubble-strewn lot at the very north end of Hoboken, we crossed the street, entered Porter Collins, and found ourselves in a different, upscale, world. Indeed, upscale is what veteran Hoboken restaurateurs Anthony David Pino and his wife, Liz Pino, were shooting for in transforming an auto-repair garage and a carpenter’s shop into this high-ceilinged, 5,000-square-foot restaurant, which opened in March.
The Pinos, who own Anthony David’s, Bin 14 and a catering company, are hoping Porter Collins will anchor the revival of this area just south of the Lincoln Tunnel entrance plaza. Pino calls the area “an open canvas.”
The name is made up. “Porter Collins is our Don Draper,” Pino says. A jazz trio plays in the main dining room on Wednesday and Saturday nights and in the barroom on Sunday. The interiors are eclectic, and so is the menu. Options range from a burger with hand-cut fries to a $70 raw-bar platter.
“We wanted to make sure that people got the perception we’re an everyday place,” says Pino, who created the menu executed by veteran Pino Hospitality chef Justin Antiorio.
It includes several nods to the past. Caesar salad, (at the time) prepared tableside, had a balanced lemon-anchovy dressing. Creamy clam dip with house-made potato chips was fresh and delicious.
The bluepoint oysters in an oysters Rockefeller, however, were subsumed under the cheesy spinach topping into one bland, undifferentiated mass. The wedge salad, in a smoky blue-cheese dressing, substituted a quarter head of bibb lettuce for the traditional iceberg wedge. This provided more lettuce flavor but sacrificed the essential crunchy snap.
Hot peppers gave needed kick to a surprisingly bland raclette flatbread topped with sautéed wild mushrooms, scrambled eggs and farmhouse cheese.
Two of the better appetizers were chorizo and paprika-enhanced charred octopus and beef carpaccio with a delicious purée of tuna, garlic, hot peppers, tomato paste and sour cream.
Despite Pino’s Italian roots, there was only one pasta when we visited, excellent pappardelle in a tasty lamb ragù given a Greek twist with roasted eggplant and mint. Lemony asparagus-and-shrimp risotto was also a winner, studded with large shrimp and thinly sliced asparagus.
A well-seasoned flat iron steak, smoky from the wood grill, was missing any hint of horseradish flavor in the horseradish demi-glace the menu described. A wood-grilled Berkshire pork chop, served with sweet potato and crisp sautéed greens, had been given a handsome char at the expense of the meat being slightly overcooked.
As for basics, the Porter burger, a mix of short rib, chuck and brisket, was satisfying, though the hand-cut fries were undercooked. Classic roast chicken, with a bird from Bell & Evans, was the best entrée we sampled. Under its crisp skin, redolent of thyme, rosemary and lemon, the meat was juicy and flavorful.
Rabbit, braised with cipollini onions, peppers and mushrooms, was tender and meaty, but gained little flavor from those vegetables and overall lacked panache.
Desserts tended toward the usual suspects. Flourless chocolate cake was nice, if not particularly compelling; crème brûlée had a proper, crackly, caramelized-sugar crust; an apple tart had a tough crust.
The best dessert we tried was bananas Foster bread pudding, a moist, dense square of brandy-soaked challah interspersed with bananas and served with a generous scoop of Ciao Bella caramel ice cream on the side.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $12-$18; raw bar, $6-$70; entrées, $17-$32; desserts, $10
Ambience:Stylish supper club.
Wine list:Full bar, cocktails, rolling Scotch cart