Porridge is getting a makeover. It’s gone from something dreary and reminiscent of Oliver Twist to a dreamy and savory comfort food. While humble dishes like grits, polenta, and congee have been around for a long time, they are now beginning to show up on more upscale restaurant menus — often embellished with sophisticated or luxe toppings. Here’s where to find some of the most crave-worthy savory porridge ever to grace a fork (or spoon).
Mushroom Porridge, Juniper and Ivy, San Diego, California
Chef Richard Blais may have lived in Atlanta, but his restaurant in his new hometown of San Diego is his take on the “Left Coast.” Some of the dishes have Southern roots, like buttermilk biscuits and blackened shrimp but always with a twist. The Mushroom Porridge uses local wheat berries, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and mushroom broth and is topped with a parmesan cracker, wild arugula, and an egg poached in parmesan oil. Says chef de cuisine Anthony Wells, “Richard (Blais) always wanted a porridge shop so I like to make dishes that could be a future reference point, and also, everybody likes a big bowl of porridge on a cold day.” Make a reservation at Juniper and Ivy.
Goetta, Orchids at Palm Court, Cincinnati, Ohio
Goetta, a Cincinnati specialty, is a kind of sausage or mush made from ground meat, pin-head oats, and spices that was popularized by German settlers. At Orchids at Palm Court, it’s served as a breakfast porridge. Chef Todd Kelly explains, “We boil pork bones, celery, and onions until the meat is falling off of the bones. All of the meat and vegetables are chopped and poured back into the strained stock. Pin oats are used to thicken the Goetta and it is poured into loaf pans.” To turn it into porridge, it’s mashed and cooked with chicken stock, then it’s topped with a poached egg. It’s on the menu when the restaurant receives fresh hogs each month. Make a reservation at Orchids at Palm Court.
Congee, Little Sister, Los Angeles, California
Little Sister, an East-meets-West restaurant in downtown LA, is known for playing old school gangsta rap and serving Asian small plates just right for sharing. Chef and partner Tin Vuong says, “Congee is a nostalgic dish for me. It’s both hearty and savory. I grew up eating it in the morning, as well as late-night. It’s the epitome of home-cooked soul food, in my opinion.” At the restaurant, it’s served various ways — with confit duck or pork, poached chicken, or fish – as well as cilantro, scallions, and fried shallots, alongside Chinese savory crullers. Make a reservation at Little Sister.
Barley Porridge, Outerlands, San Francisco, California
On the very edge of San Francisco is the aptly named Outerlands where comfort food dishes like seasonal soups and an epic grilled cheese sandwich are crowd pleasers. Says chef Yoni Levy, “We love porridge, and our guests love it too. It’s warming and comforting, especially out here in foggy beach town.” The brunch-only dish is made with hulled barley cooked with vegetable stock and white wine, roasted garlic, Pecorino, and butter. The garnish changes often and a similar porridge accompanies steak at dinner. Make a reservation at Outerlands.
Congee, Makan, Decatur, Georgia
Just East of Atlanta, hip and modern Makan offers pan-Asian food, with an emphasis on Chinese and Korean dishes. Their dim sum brunch launched a year ago, and while the menu changes seasonally, the congee is a staple. Says George Yu, “I grew up eating savory congee for breakfast because my mom and grandmother loved it. Just like pizza, it’s like a great base for toppings. We add shredded pork jerky, crispy shallots, scallions, and a tea-poached egg to the one we serve at the restaurant.” Make a reservation at Makan.
Heirloom Grain Porridge, Little Park, New York, New York
At Andrew Carmellini’s latest and somewhat vegetable-centric restaurant in Tribeca, savory porridge is made from barley grits and topped with hen of the woods mushrooms, poached eggs, and pine nuts. Says chef de cuisine Min Kong, “When we opened, it was fall, almost winter, and we wanted something hearty and savory, but not too heavy to contrast the typical sweet items for breakfast and brunch.” Make a reservation at Little Park.
Cracked Wheat Porridge, Alta CA, San Francisco, California
Alta CA opened in 2014 in an area that would soon be one of the epicenters of tech in San Francisco — mid Market. Reviewers took note of the creative cuisine and in particular, the savory porridge. The luscious and creamy dish topped with hen of the wood mushrooms and baby turnips and their greens quickly became a must-order dish. And two years later, it still is. Make a reservation at Alta CA.
Chicken and Carolina Gold Rice Porridge, Edmund’s Oast, Charleston, South Carolina
This stylish brew pub on the edge of downtown has become a true dining destination thanks to a menu that utilizes local ingredients in sometimes surprising ways. The savory porridge has been on the menu since day one. It’s made from Carolina Gold rice cooked for hours with chicken to create a rich and thick creamy porridge and topped with pickled shiitake mushrooms. At brunch, it’s served with a poached egg and parsley and at dinner with blue crab and scallions. Make a reservation at Edmund’s Oast.
Mushroom Grits, La Cave, Las Vegas, Nevada
Like so many things in Vegas, these mushroom grits are over-the-top decadent. The chef combines grits with cream, several different mushrooms, truffle butter, Pecorino, chives, and truffle oil to make a swoon-worthy dish. It’s served at dinner in the dining room which feels like a wine tasting room. Make a reservation at La Cave.
Hazelnut Polenta, Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House, Port Chester, New York
Because it’s located in a historic grain warehouse it seems fitting that even though it’s primarily known as a seafood house, Saltaire also features some intriguing accompaniments like walnut gnocchi, mustard spaetzle, and hazelnut polenta to go with meat entrees. Executive chef Bobby Will says, “I love putting fun spins on food. I’m not saying I want to reinvent the wheel, just maybe put new rims on it.” He describes the polenta as filling, earthy, and nutty and notes that in addition to being served with a pork chop, it’s also offered as a vegetarian option, garnished with roasted squash and a cranberry-kumquat chutney. Make a reservation at Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House.
Porage, Bleu Boheme, San Diego, California
Chef Ken Irvine’s restaurant Bleu Boheme is inspired by France — the bohemian Left Bank of Paris and traditional rural French cuisine. Irvine calls his porridge “porage,” an old-fashioned spelling, and it is prepared like a risotto to maintain its texture. Fried eggs and cubes of Spanish chorizo make it an even more savory and hearty brunch entree. It’s served as a special. Make a reservation at Bleu Boheme.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Dan Collopy (Little Sister); Makan (Makan); Bobby Will (Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House).