An avocado toast for the purist.
It’s great to see Porter, the new coffee and sandwich shop at the former Milwaukee Road Depot on West Washington Avenue, crowded with customers. The area has languished since Crandall’s (and then a succession of failed restaurants) tried to make a go of it in the dramatic, high-ceilinged lobby back in the 1990s. Over the decades bike shops have had more success there.
Porter is just the first element in an ambitious reimagining of the baggage area at the former depot, overseen by Gilbert Altschul (Grampa’s Pizzeria, Gib’s Bar). It will be followed by public market-style vendor stalls and a taco eatery called Bandit. In the meantime, though, the people are finding Porter despite an out-of-sight, out-of-mind location. Sandwich boards point customers around an unobvious corner to its actual door.
That people are flocking here is all the more surprising since this is not a “settle in, snuggle up and relax” kind of coffee shop. There are no couches or overstuffed chairs. There’s a large-ish square table ringed with backless stools where it’s easier to set up solo, hunched over a laptop, than it is to have a leisurely face-to-face with a friend. There are more stools set up along a narrow ledge — this faces a wall and seems designed more for a quick toss-back of your single-origin espresso than a long stay. Overflow seating in a breezeway between Porter and the Motorless Motion bike shop has a few cafe tables and smells of the rubber of bike tires. What better hipster cred?
Coffee beans are from Counter Culture, and there are decent pour-overs in three sizes. Sweet matcha and chai lattes are about as frou-frou as the drinks get; Porter is more of a cortado kinda place.
The breakfast menu is streamlined, starring a liege waffle, three versions of portable eggs (the Porter Pocket, an egg sandwich and the breakfast bocadillo) and avocado toast, plus a yogurt parfait. The avocado toast features big slices of just-ripe avocado, a generous squeeze of fresh lemon and salt, with beauty-heart radishes fanned out across the top for a pop of color and a bit more texture. It’s pretty, but the rustic bread is dry and needs something to integrate it with the toppings. The $2 ’nduja add-on might do the trick. Yet avocado toast is the simplest of dishes (and as such an odd subject for a trend), so for avocado toast purists, this is an unwavering exemplar of the style.
The Porter Pocket belies its small size — it’s rich and buttery, like a spanokopita stuffed with bacon and scrambled eggs instead of spinach and feta. The generous amount of the crumbly, meaty bacon makes this a heavy little breakfast.
The two-egg-omelet bocadillo (a Spanish-inspired sandwich), on an excellent baguette, was filled with thin egg, a smear of raclette and a layer of arugula, but not a lot of flavor got out from under the baguette.
Lunch is popular, too. Although the shop’s Facebook page shows a pile of pre-made sandwiches wrapped in brown butcher paper, most sandwiches will be made fresh in the spacious open kitchen.
The Heritage Ham is almost a great sandwich — with Dan Fox’s richly smoked ham at the heart of it, it doesn’t need a lot of adornment. The sweet-ish challah roll would be a brilliant counterpoint to the salty ham had it not been for the overapplication of a vinegary Spanish (yellow) mustard, which both overpowered the meat/bread flavor matchup and made the bun fall apart.
The soppressata panini, on a crisp sesame baguette, was almost perfect, though the artichoke tapenade coupled with the soppressata (from Underground Meats) creates a salt overload — fuses blown. There’s better balance in the roast beef sandwich (pickled red onions and horseradish mayo are the standout accoutrements here) and the veggie sandwich (a fennel aioli and plenty of arugula play against salt-roasted tomatoes and artichokes).
Sandwiches run $8-$9; half of any sandwich with a cup of the housemade minestrone is $8 and is a very popular option.
Or come for happy hour. Wine, bottles of beer, hot toddies and even Pok Pok sodas are on special, and new menu items might be in rehearsal.
Porter has just revamped its original menu, which had been divided into breakfast and lunch, to just “Eats,” with any item available during open hours. The one salad has disappeared; more grab-and-go items are promised. Smart changes.
640 W. Washington Ave., 608-720-1110 n portermsn.co, 7 am-7 pm daily, $4-$9