Restaurant Review

At Porch & Proper, Two Stephen Starr Veterans Find a Porch of Their Own

Casey and Jason Simkins, veterans of the Stephen Starr restaurant group, have finally achieved their dream of opening their own restaurant.

Crispy rice cakes with Jersey scallops, fermented chili mayo and jalapeño. Photo by Michael Persico

Wanting to open a place of their own after nearly a decade working for Stephen Starr in and around Philly—she tending bar, he in management—Casey and Jason Simkins opened Porch & Proper in Collingswood in August. They looked on both sides of the Delaware River. But as Jason explains, “Philadelphia has so much to offer, and we wanted to land where we could stand out and bring something different.”

The building they found, formerly the Indian restaurant IndeBlue, “just felt right the first time we toured it.”

Named for its pretty front veranda strung with lights, where tables are set out in warm weather, the 50-seat Porch & Proper is chef-driven, like Collingswood BYOs such as Zeppoli, across the street, and Hearthside, about a mile away.

With their executive chef, Ryan McQuillan (formerly of Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania), the Simkinses have quickly cultivated an avid following.

Our Bread, listed as a snack, is a good way to begin. The plush, pull-apart loaf is speckled with everything-bagel spices and Cape May sea salt that balances the richness. Apply the tangy cultured butter liberally, but avoid the apple jam, which tastes overwhelmingly of thyme.

Also strong was the sourdough focaccia laid across a big bowl of cioppino, the stew featuring perfectly cooked mackerel, tuna, squid and clams in a robust tomato-seafood broth. Silky lobster bisque, poured tableside over a pillow of lobster-and-shrimp mousse, was further elevated by crunchy, briny sea beans and truffle cream. A snappy, refreshing salad tangled shaved kohlrabi and apples with cashews, mint, and Cherry Grove’s cave-aged Havilah cheese in a white balsamic vinaigrette.

A whole roasted sweet potato in its fire-charred skin came with curried lentils, cool yogurt sauce and big fronds of shiso, the Japanese herb that tastes like a cross between mint and basil, with notes of cinnamon. It made a dynamic entrée: sweet, spicy, tangy and herbal.

Interior of Porch & Proper. Photo by Michael Persico

Maratelli rice from Blue Moon Acres in Pennington was cooked with mirin and rice-wine vinegar, formed into little cakes, dusted in rice flour, and fried into chewy-crisp pedestals for scallop crudo warmed with fermented chili mayo. Inventive and packed with flavor, this crudo on rice cake was the best dish I sampled on McQuillan’s menu.

Strip steak, cut from a whole strip loin, was grilled perfectly and came with lovely risotto with roasted mushrooms and pickled sunchokes—the latter, a crunchy, sour intrusion. Grilled chicken featured moist meat but rubbery skin and a piripiri pepper sauce with a slimy consistency.

The two pastas I tried—sourdough tonarelli cacio e pepe and ravioli filled with smoked ricotta—were problematic. The sourdough tonarelli had a wonderful chew and pleasant twang, but the cacio e pepe sauce was clumpy and greasy, the potent Szechuan peppercorns overbearing. The ravioli had an interesting beet-verjus sauce kissed with hazelnuts and tarragon, but the pasta was leaden.

Gougeres (choux pastry puffs) were crisp and airy, though the mushroom duxelles filling was a bit gritty and the truffle zabaglione rather timid.

For dessert, beignets have become commonplace, though they’re hard to argue with when done well (as at Hearthside). Porch & Proper’s apple cider beignets were superb—puffy, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with maple milk jam for dipping.

Smart, friendly service smoothed the wrinkles in my visits. If chatty servers rub you the wrong way, be prepared. For me, talkative staff is fine when enthusiasm is backed by knowledge; at P&P, that definitely seems the case. If the kitchen tightens the loose ends, Porch & Proper has the potential to become one of Camden County’s best restaurants.