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A new restaurant from Eat'n Park Hospitality will open Nov. 14 in Oakland. The Porch at Schenley, which is tucked between the food kiosks and the carousel on Schenley Plaza, will serve rustic American and Mediterranean fare.
The restaurant had a shaky birth, largely due to disagreements over the exact design and nature of the restaurant.
Eat'n Park first proposed building a full-service restaurant in the space in spring 2010, but its original plans were rejected by the city Art Commission, which encouraged developers to think more creatively and better adapt the space to its setting. It didn't help that many people had misunderstood the original proposal and thought that a traditional Eat'n Park was being planned for the plaza, rather than a restaurant more similar to the company's Six Penn Kitchen, Downtown.
But now the debates, committee meetings and delays are over and the real work has begun: Hiring a kitchen and front-of-house staff, finalizing the menu and putting the finishing touches in place, inside and out.
The Porch is smaller than originally planned, with seating for about 140 people inside and 40 more on the outdoor plaza. One wall opens up with garage doors onto a covered patio, said Mark Broadhurst, director of concept development for Eat'n Park Hospitality. A large fireplace and heaters will allow them to make the covered portion of the patio available nearly year-round.
Eat'n Park is well known for its commitment to supporting the local food movement and creating sustainable practices within its restaurants. The Porch has a green roof, with space for an urban garden where vegetables for the restaurant will be grown during the warmer months. A yet-to-be-built water tower will collect rain water for the garden.
The seasonally inspired menu was developed to showcase a rotisserie grill and a stone pizza oven, and will include dishes such as fire-roasted chicken with pumpkin polenta, two cuts of prime rib and a white pizza with fig jam, goat cheese, mozzarella and arugula.
Kevin Hermann, the executive chef, grew up in Connecticut, New Jersey and Kansas City. He's been working in the restaurant industry since he was in high school and received his culinary education from both Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He moved to Pittsburgh in 2009 and worked at the Pittsburgh Golf Club, but he soon met Mr. Broadhurst and became involved in a "secret project" that would eventually become The Porch.
Mr. Hermann is particularly excited about the pizzas. He has been working on the dough for several months, and described it as a thick crust that will be light and flaky, with rich flavor. He emphasized that as much as possible food will be made from scratch, from salmon pastrami for salads to a hearth-baked sourdough loaf that will be served with house-made apple butter, jam and honey butter. The Porch will join the growing number of restaurants that offer the bread basket as a menu item, a choice which has allowed it to put more effort into the bread and its accompaniment.
Owners hope the restaurant will appeal to many segments of Oakland's diverse community, from students and professors at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon to hospital staff to museum visitors.
At lunch, the restaurant will emphasize quick and casual service. Patrons will order from a cashier, but food will be brought to their tables. The menu will include salads, sandwiches, a soup and pizzas, with daily specials to augment the seasonal offerings. Then, at 4:30 p.m., they'll bring out a host stand and switch to full service for dinner, Mr. Hermann said.
The restaurant won't take reservations but will be using a Web-based application called Textaurant to manage its wait list. Patrons will be able to check wait times from their home computers or smartphones and add their party remotely.