A Twist on Fideo by Patrick Ryan
The James Beard-nominated chef puts his unique spin on Mexico’s equivalent of chicken noodle soup.
- We halve and roast the spaghetti squash in the wood-burning oven with a bit of lard, agave nectar, cinnamon, clove, red chile and nutmeg. This gives the dish a bit of sweetness to balance the smoke and spice from the tomato broth. Once it cools down, it's scraped from the skin and looks similar to the vermicelli noodles in the classic dish of fideo.
- We make our own chorizo rojo at the restaurant with red-chile puree, spices, and chile-vinegar marinated pork chorizo.
- For the tomato-chipotle broth, we roast Roma tomatoes in our wood-burning oven to give them a bit of extra smokiness, which is further enhanced by the chipotles in adobo (smoked-dried jalapeños). The sauce is fried in lard with garlic and onions.
- We dry bring the pork belly overnight with salt, sugar and red chile. It's roasted, cooled, pressed, sliced and grilled to order and brushed with a bit of mojo de ajo (a very slow-cooked garlic oil that contains lime juice and toasted cumin).
The soup garnishes include grilled summer squash and zucchini cubes, queso anejo (an aged cow’s milk cheese), avocado cubes, crema, radish match sticks and cilantro chiffonade.
Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda has become the face of Westport’s recent culinary renaissance. He is also a media darling with his trailer-to-trendy-eatery tale of success. In 2010, he was dishing his esquite asado (grilled corn with cotija cheese and habanero mayo) and crave-worthy oyster and carnitas tacos out of a streetcar, albeit a vintage Airstream trailer. Now, his gourmet Mexican cantina, which opened in 2012 in Westport, has earned raves from local and national press alike, including The New York Times, Food & Wine and GQ. Port Fonda also landed on New York Magazine’s recent list of spots demonstrating KC’s “urban cool.” Ryan is just as iconic as his silver trailer with his ginger beard, Baldwin KC gear and trademark tattoos, while his Westport hotspot exudes similar warmth and energy with rustic wood-paneled walls and funky neon signage. The thing is, his place is fun — with a creative, rock ‘n’ roll, laissez faire vibe embraced by hipsters, families, young and old alike. Port Fonda hosts a “Live Free or Die” DJ night every Thursday, $2.50 lunch taco specials on Tuesdays, and raucous Saturday and Sunday brunches with a “Build Your Own Bloody Maria” bar with garnishes like shrimp and pork rinds.
This is no dive-y watering hole. To wit: Port Fonda’s serious multi-page menu of anejos, reposados and smoky mezcals, as well as Tecate tallboys and craft cocktails like an Apricot Arbol Margarita and Ancho Manhattan. But the food is the real star, leading to various accolades like Ryan’s nominations for Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef 2014 and James Beard Best Chef: Midwest 2015. Ryan, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, learned his craft at the hands of modern Mexican cuisine’s poster boy Rick Bayless and his Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Ryan describes his own cooking style as a “simple, ingredient-focused approach to Mexican street food, melding authentic flavors with a farm-driven Midwestern sensibility.”
There’s plenty of accessible dishes for the uninitiated at Port Fonda, like queso fundido, carne asada, San Antonio tamales and chicken enchiladas. Perhaps the signature dish is the chilaquiles: chips smothered in chorizo verde, crema, salsa de molcajete and a fried farm egg. But Ryan’s also gotten Midwesterners to not only taste but also champion edgier things like menudo, chipotle-braised octopus with bacon, and the tasty Mexican corn fungus known as huitlacoche. Recent spring specials included halibut, huitlacoche, morel mushrooms, peas and spring onions; razor clams with green garlic, white wine, oyster mushrooms; and beer-battered grouper cheeks with corn puree and grapefruit arugula salad. But Ryan really shines with his pork plates, including a communal El Comedor meal of slow-cooked pork butt with all the fixings — tortillas, crema, charred peppers, hot sauces, etc.
Likewise, Ryan’s soulful and tasty version of fideo incorporates a generous slice of red chile-brined pork belly in a tomato-chipotle broth with spaghetti squash “noodles” substituted for the traditional pasta noodles. And lest you think Ryan’s culinary focus is exclusively modern, his crema recipe comes straight from a classic: Julia Child!
Classic culinary training and an edgy street vibe culminate in a uniquely delicious destination-dining spot that has elevated KC’s national food profile.
Port Fonda is located at 4141 Pennsylvania Ave., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 216-6462. A Lawrence, Kansas, location will open this summer. For more info visit portfonda.com.