Sunday, January 24, 2010

Porta Via

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Porta Via
21 White Bridge Road

Sit next to the open kitchen. Watch the dough take a spin in the nimble hands of the chef. On to the next station, where toppings are applied quickly. See yet another chef slide the creation into the deep, bell shaped, wood fired oven with a long pizza paddle. That pizza is back out in a flash. The oven is that hot. The dough is that thin. The result: perfectly crispy crust, with just a little char here and there for flavor. It makes for one of the better pizzas in town. Porta Via is a newcomer with old roots; reborn after a stint many years ago in West Nashville. The good news is that the rest of the menu supports that pizza emphasis, making Porta Via a good bet for lunch or dinner.

You can taste the elemental pizza as the bread they serve in baskets. They toss an unadorned round of pizza dough into the oven, pull it out, and chop it up. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and fresh rosemary are the only accompaniments. You realize that the dough is not just crispy, but has a great taste. Of course the toppings are still critical and Porta Via serves the good stuff. The Quattro Stagioni features savory, herb sausage, roasted crimini mushrooms, earthy salami and Kalamata olives with a little vinegar bite. The result is a little crisp and a little chewy and with tons of flavor all around. Margherita is a classic example of pizza restraint at Porta Via. You won’t find the cheese and toppings piled on like a landscaping project. They respect Italian tradition by serving simple pies, with modest toppings. It allows every ingredient to sing.

Normally you might expect the rest of the menu to suffer, when so much hard work and tender care goes into making the pizza. For the most part that’s not the case at Porta Via. Start with the Crepe Florentine, it’s the ultimate comfort dish: light crepes, awash in a pesto cream bath and baked for some crispiness. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The appetizer arrives quickly enough to prevent the crepes from getting soggy.

Their signature pasta dish, the Porta Via, let’s you pick a pasta. We went with whole wheat linguine. While we got normal linguine, and that was a disappointment, it was light and carefully cooked. The bright tomato cream sauce has parmesan to thicken. Not great pasta or sauce by any means, but comforting. The Provencal Panini is a tangy Greek, feta salad stuffed into half of a warm French baguette. The warm chewy break snaps with the cold, tart salad. It’s a surprisingly fitting combination.

Veggie Eater: This makes for an enjoyable, if not perfect meal. Let’s start with the highlights. The tables near the kitchen allow a bird’s eye view of the process. In general, the staff and management appear to be having a good time. The restaurant has a fun, chic vibe, right down to the flat ware (really, check it out if you go). The big glasses of Yuengling beer are cheap. I love thin, crisp pizza, so this is my preferred version. The crust is allowed to take center stage, not drowned out by an excess of ingredients. And there are lots of fun ingredients to be had: arugula, egg, pine nuts, roasted onions, garlic, etc. That being said, I found my pizza, which was a make your own version consisting of arugula, garlic, and mushrooms, a bit stingy on the mushrooms. If I’m paying for the topping, I want to be able to see it. My other quibble was with the Caprese salad. Really, I should know better than to order a salad consisting of tomatoes and basil in December; it’s my own fault. But if a restaurant chooses to keep this item on the menu in winter, then I feel they have a responsibility to find edible tomatoes. These were the standard mealy, tasteless things we all buy at the grocery store because we believe we must have a tomato in December. Again, shame on me. The fresh milk mozz was refrigerator cold, so it lacked a bit in both flavor and texture. Last, but not least, I am not a big salter and I rarely reach for a shaker. However, I do believe salt has a place. Salt and a generous round of freshly ground pepper would have been appreciated. Alas, there were no shakers on the tables and no offer of a pepper mill.

Meat Eater: This is a bright, modern space with a warm feeling due to the open kitchen and friendly, bustling staff. It lives somewhere in the middle ground between casual and upscale. While we haven’t had room for gelato yet, it looks tempting. We paid $48 with tax and tip for two beers, two pizzas and an appetizer. The other visit was $38 with tax and tip for two beers, an appetizer, a sandwich and pasta.
Porta Via Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Ed King said...

I guess they've got a high rent to pay, but after two visits we felt that $48 was priced too high for lunch! I mean, those are Cantina Laredo prices!! You should've tried the gelato,'s pretty good. For my taste, I'll take a very large thin pepperoni & mushroom pizza from Pie In The Sky @ Cool Springs, add a salad & two Coke Zeros for $29 (tip not included). Once a week I've got to have that.

Eric and Katie said...

I was just thinking about that... how much is too much to pay for a casual lunch? $48 does seem a bit high. I paid $20 for one person yesterday for lunch and it was a simple meal. I don't mind that if you take a bunch home with you, which we did when we paid $48 for lunch at Porta Via. I guess it's always the quality vs. price factor that decides whether we leave happy or not.

mIKES said...

At Porta Via, the one quibble I do have is the brewed offerings. Yeungling lager as the only draft brew is a real disappointment.

I am, for the sake of political correctness, not going to comment on Pie in the Sky. Let's just say that on a Sunday the 2 for 1 Sierra Nevadas is the absolute highlight.

Another, better option, in Cool Spings now days is the Cool Springs Brewery (Guido's New York Pizza). A passable pizza and in-house brewed beer that is surely testing my rabid loyalty to the brewery at 12th and Clinton in Nashville. Try the "Pecker Wrecker"

Lastly, if you want a sort of similar experience to a Porta Via pizza but with better beer, just go over to 51st and Alabama avenue.... Tuesday nights are a Pint and a Pie special for $10.. They had Sweetwater, BBC, and Pieroni on draft, and plenty other bottled available.

Lannae said...

I remember various versions of Porta Via in Bellevue in a strange little 3 store strip mall, and then in the already dead Bellevue mall from about 10 years ago, until a few years ago. The funky strip mall location was more of a sub shop that had a decent replica of a Philly cheese steak, the bread and all. There was no other place that had the right bread for a Philly cheese steak in Nashville. I went the strange locations for the cheese steak fix. The last time I was at the dead mall for a cheese steak, I was so weirded out by the deadness of the mall that I could not go back.

So through the ashes, I am happy to see another version of Porta Via comes alive. We had a pizza and pasta, and I had the Ferrari-Carano Cab. I normally don't mention wine because I don't now enough, but I gotta comment about Porta Via's wine! The FC cab was reasonably priced!! The FC cab is a bold and full flavored wine making it perfect for a spicier and bolder Italian meal that Porta Via offers. I really am so happy with their wine selection!

I noticed Porta Via dropped all the sub sandwiches in this iteration, and made Porta Via a more Italian American restaurant. That means, I am in the hunt for a decent replica of a Philly Cheese Steak, with bread like Amoroso rolls. If Jersey Mike or other Philly, S. NJ people are seeing my comment (and when I post a blog entry about Porta Via I will make a plea again) Please tell me where I can get a good facsimile of a Philly Cheese Steak, with the right bread?! I am a Geno's (not Pat's) at 3 a.m. provolone cheese steak with onions and pickles eater. I am also a Jim's provolone cheese steak with onions eater if I had guests from out of town. Please tell me if you know of anywhere in Nashville that has a good cheese steak for me to get along with until I can get back up to Phila.

Anonymous said...

Porta Via is by no means a Pizza and Beer drinking hangout. With it's emphasis on being an authentic Italian-American cuisine, the wine list is where "It's at!" They have a great wine list with even better prices for the quality.
To compare Pie in the Sky to Porta Via is like comparing apples and oranges- And Pie in the Sky would be the rotten apples.

mIKES said...

Well, well!

I type this as I await the arrival of my way too overworked wife. Thankfully, she works near Porta Via and I am on to my second experiment with reviving their to-go pies. I have the oven up to 495F with the baking stone in place - lets see how it goes.

By the way, tomorrow is Pie and Pint night at Cafe Coco's Italian Market. I may go..

Victorian inn bed and breakfast said...

You might be surprised to learn that Porta Via, Nashville's most authentic Italian restaurant, began with a simple Spanish sandwich.