EAT­ING MY WORDS

Porch Light Latin Kitchen wields an enor­mous pork chop

GA Voice - - Art Reviews | Entertainment - By CLIFF BOSTOCK Cliff Bostock, PhD, is a long­time At­lanta food critic and for­mer psy­chother­a­pist who now prac­tices life coach­ing for cre­ative types; 404-518-4415.

“Who the hell is do­ing the cook­ing?” I asked my­self sev­eral times dur­ing a visit to Porch Light Latin Kitchen (300 Vil­lage Green Cir­cle, Smyrna. 678-309-9858, porch­light­latinkitchen.com).

It’s cer­tainly not be­cause the food wasn’t good. But owner/chef Alex Gomez seemed to be spend­ing more time in the nar­row din­ing room than the kitchen. He went from ta­ble to ta­ble, oc­ca­sion­ally erupt­ing in laugh­ter. To­ward the end of our meal, he even took a seat at our ta­ble. I’d heard this from nu­mer­ous friends, but was nonethe­less sur­prised that I ac­tu­ally en­joyed his com­pany. Be­lieve me. That’s novel.

Over the years, I’ve had many chefs who knew me – Gomez didn’t – plop in a chair and prat­tle with­out mov­ing for what seemed like end­less pe­ri­ods of time. Friends would glare at me, kick me un­der the ta­ble, and go to the re­stroom, even­tu­ally sur­ren­der­ing to their role as a silent au­di­ence un­til I rudely in­ter­rupted the chef by say­ing, “Hey, my food is get­ting cold!” or “Whoa! Look at the time!”

Gomez’s food is as good as his com­pany. The main in­flu­ence is his Puerto Ri­can back­ground, and his dishes will re­mind food­ies of Hec­tor San­ti­ago’s at the de­funct and much­missed Pura Vida. For ex­am­ple, Gomez serves mo­fongo, one of my fa­vorite dishes any­where. His is made of mashed yuca rather than the tra­di­tional green plan­tains, giv­ing it a milder taste. The earthy globe is sur­rounded by hunks of duck con­fit and sits in a pool of mush­room broth.

Share the mo­fongo with a few other starters like just freakin’ amaz­ing sliced em­panadas. Their crunchy shell is filled with con­trast­ing, vel­vety “av­o­cado aioli” and braised pork cheek. Even the queso fun­dido ex­ceeds the usual wa­tery stuff around town. It ac­tu­ally tastes like cheese and gets its hot notes from ra­jas – diced, grilled poblano pep­pers. The one starter I didn’t like so much was the conch frit­ters. The five hush­puppy-look­ing frit­ters were far more bread­ing than conch. A chay­ote slaw and a poblano-spiked re­moulade did boost the fla­vor ap­peal.

My en­trée, the pork chop, was by far the most im­pres­sive at the ta­ble. The cut is called a “can can” and con­sists of a curv­ing mass that wraps from the loin to the belly. You get the lean meat of the chop, plus long lay­ers of fatty meat and pure fat turned crispy on the outer edge. I couldn’t even approach eat­ing the whole thing af­ter so many ap­pe­tiz­ers and – warn­ing – it didn’t re­heat well at home.

Most of the other en­trees are a bit more pro­saic but com­pelling.

There are also four street-food type dishes – sand­wiches, tacos, and a bur­rito. These are all $12 and un­der, while en­trees will set you back $20-$25. Of course, you do have the op­tion of or­der­ing a whole suck­ling pig two days in advance. We con­sid­ered it, but couldn’t bring our­selves to look a mur­dered baby pig in the eye. What else? There are a few groovy sides and condi­ments, and tra­di­tional desserts like tres leches. I couldn’t even con­sider try­ing one.

Fi­nally, an­other warn­ing: Make a reser­va­tion for din­ner or lunch. If you are not fa­mil­iar with the me­trop­o­lis of Smyrna, give your­self plenty of time to find the place. It’s in some kind of maze-like shop­ping de­vel­op­ment that we en­cir­cled mul­ti­ple times be­fore spot­ting it.

(Photo by Cliff Bostock)

Porch Light Latin Kitchen’s “can can” cut pork chop is a fa­vorite with lean meat and a crispy outer edge.

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