Stuck in Traffic 

Easy to miss amid the bustle of Thompson Lane, The Yellow Porch is rich with delights

Easy to miss amid the bustle of Thompson Lane, The Yellow Porch is rich with delights

The Yellow Porch

734 Thompson Lane. 386-0260

Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

“There is no yellow porch,” the last-arriving member of our party said indignantly as she joined us for dinner at The Yellow Porch the other evening.

She is technically correct. There is no yellow porch on the front of the restaurant. There is a small deck—definitely not a porch—adjoining a garden that currently lies fallow; around both is a slatted wooden fence painted a very pale shade of harvest gold. So if, like my literal-minded friend, you are looking for a yellow porch to point the way to The Yellow Porch, you may end up as late for dinner as she was.

That’s not the only obstacle to finding this Berry Hill restaurant. Across Thompson Lane from 100 Oaks, The Yellow Porch is tucked a good hundred feet back from the four-lane road, squeezed between a two-story strip center and a large Amoco station. Traveling from Woodmont Boulevard and crossing the overpass atop I-65, one’s eye is drawn to the huge billboards that tower over the Yellow Porch’s parking lot. There is one very small Yellow Porch sign that sits at the edge of the parking lot, and another mounted on the shingled roof of the building, but both are easy to miss as you whiz past in the fast-moving traffic of Thompson Lane.

In fact, when chef Kim Totzke first came to work at Yellow Porch back in February of this year, she had the very same problem. “The first few weeks I worked here, I drove right past it every time,” she says with her charming giggle. By her own admission, Totzke may be borderline ditsy, but there is nothing unfocused about her food, and Yellow Porch owners Katie and Gep Nelson are lucky that she eventually found her way to this delightful little restaurant.

The Nelsons, who also own Wild Iris in Brentwood, have a knack for finding excellent chefs who share their vision of creative, quality food with a strong emphasis on fresh, regionally grown ingredients. That was clear from their opening in the spring of 1999, when they hired local chef/caterer and cookbook author Martha Stamps—currently owner of Martha’s at the Plantation—to create the Yellow Porch menu and run the kitchen. “From the earth to the table” has always been Stamps’ culinary mantra, and it’s one that has been shared by her successors.

Totzke is noted for her unbridled creativity in the kitchen. She has cooked for Deb Paquette at Zola, then briefly with Daniel Maggipinto when he owned Dancing Bear restaurant. More recently, she ran the kitchen at Bongo Java/Fido. Her current position as executive chef for both Wild Iris and Yellow Porch is, she says, “another cooking job,” but it is one in which she has been given the freest rein to create her own thing.

What she has created is a menu with a decidedly Mediterranean bent. “I’ve finally stopped fighting myself,” she says. “I love the Asian thing and tried to do that for awhile. I love what Corey [Griffith, co-owner and co-chef of Mambu] does; no one does the Asian thing better. But what is most natural to me is Mediterranean.” That’s fitting, given her apprenticeship at Coco Pazzo in New York and her stint working at Zola.

A new menu is printed nightly at Yellow Porch, but diners will always find several regularly occurring dishes. Chief among these is the mussels appetizer—a deep bowl of the shellfish in a rich tomato broth with Kalamata olives, baked polenta and chunks of feta cheese. “I tried to take it off, but people complained so much, I had to put it back on,” she says. Bread from Provence, presented in a small tin bucket with a plate of flavored olive oil, is also the perfect sopping tool for the broth that accompanies the mussels.

Other appetizers are just as pleasing. The calamari is not bludgeoned with battering and deep-frying, as it is at many Italian restaurants; instead, it’s sautéed in garlic, olive oil and fresh parsley, then served with Provençal white beans. The goat cheese starter is gift-wrapped in a square of pie pastry and plated with a sun-dried tomato sauce. One particularly flavorful salad contains baby greens, figs poached in port, crunchy walnuts and feta cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette.

The Yellow Porch is so committed to fresh produce that it devotes significant space and effort to a spring and summer garden for lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and fresh herbs. But Totzke says she is particularly fond of fall cooking—beans, root vegetables, stews and simmered meats. All of those can be found in my favorite dish on her menu: the lamb and bean cassoulet with roasted potatoes and spinach, topped with crisped bread crumbs. Chunks of tender lamb nestle in a robust stew of white beans, warm comfort for the cold days that surely lie just ahead.

Totzke’s seafood paella with saffron rice has no sausage or chicken, but it does boast a generous quantity of fresh fish and shellfish, rough-chopped tomato and a rich broth. A clam linguine special looked like a gift from the sea, with about two dozen tiny clams in the shell offering their edible pearls atop a swirl of al dente linguine in a delicate leek cream sauce. The salmon salsa verde and the tenderloin in red wine demi-glace are the most popular items on the menu, but I find little to recommend either one when there are more interesting options: artichoke puttanesca with capers and olives; tamarind-marinated pork tenderloin with pumpkin seed pesto, black beans and basmati rice; and a vegan dish consisting of portabella mushroom, eggplant and pecan-encrusted tofu on a bed of sautéed spinach and grilled polenta with roasted carrot-coconut-curry sauce.

Desserts are made by Callie Johnson, who spends most of her time at the Wild Iris, and they change daily. Lunch is served six days a week, with a menu of salads, pastas and hearty sandwiches. The sandwich offerings include roasted eggplant, red peppers and feta on grilled sourdough; roasted pork loin with red peppers, caramelized onions and mozzarella on sourdough; and seared sirloin with sautéed onions and peppers, mozzarella and herb mayo in a flour tortilla.

With its rather homey, regional name, The Yellow Porch might be easily misinterpreted as a meat-and-three or lady’s tea room, rather than one of the best Mediterranean restaurants in town. Its location makes it easy to miss, even when you’re looking for it. But it would be a shame to miss out on Kim Totzke’s food. The Yellow Porch may have no yellow porch, but it has a dining room full of irresistible reasons to sit down and stay for a spell.

Fat chance

A friend of mine is giving his wife Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation for Christmas. This would not be wise if his wife, like 61 percent of Americans, were overweight or, like 26 percent of Americans, obese. But this particular woman is admirably slim, has a passionate interest in health and nutrition, and shares with Schlosser the theory that fast food is the number-one villain responsible for these shameful statistics.

Of course, all of us, even those who would sooner eat dirt than a Whopper or Big Mac, must take some personal responsibility for eating habits that lead to the insidious accumulation of excess poundage. This requires particular diligence during the holiday season. According to statistics compiled by Nutricise.com, Americans gain an average of 7 pounds during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and it will take twice that long to lose those pounds.

The registered dieticians at Nutricise.com offer seven tips to avoid gaining extra weight during the holiday season:

1. Indulge mindfully. Choose low-fat foods such as roasted turkey and freshly prepared vegetables. Holiday dishes such as ham, duck, stuffing and potato pancakes have a lot of fat.

2. Practice moderation. To enjoy traditional favorites that are higher in fat, eat smaller amounts.

3. Be patient. Wait 15 to 20 minutes after a meal to request seconds or dessert. When there’s a lot of food in front of you, it’s easy to get caught up in the social aspect of eating—but be aware of your hunger signals, and don’t eat if you’re not hungry.

4. Substitute. In recipes, substitute high-fat foods such as butter and sour cream with lower-fat alternatives such as reduced-fat butter, reduced-fat sour cream or low-fat yogurt.

5. Don’t starve yourself, and plan ahead. Eat small meals throughout the day, so you don’t binge at your holiday meal. Also, know ahead of time what you’re going to eat. For example, if you know you’re going to want dessert, cut back your meal portions, or make sure to have a low-calorie option, such as fruit.

6. Go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol decreases inhibitions—potentially causing you to eat more—and is loaded with calories.

7. Relax and enjoy. Engage in conversation to help keep your eating at a healthy pace. When you talk, you are less likely to eat.

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