All Things Considered 

The Side Porch Steak House offers pretty good fare at a pretty fair price.

It was a leisurely Saturday afternoon, a day so perfect that grilling was mandatory. But fresh out of charcoal, we trucked on out to Bartlett to the Side Porch Steak House, a small family-owned restaurant open for 26 years. If you haven't been there before, you'll probably drive right past it. But if you do, make sure to turn around.

As you approach the restaurant you notice the simplicity of the little white building with blue-and-white-checkered curtains and an announcement of a family member's wedding taped to the front door. There is an ease to the place, which reminds guests that this is a family establishment. The dining rooms are casually decorated. Wood cupboards with arts and crafts line the walls, plants are scattered about, and the tables are draped with plastic tablecloths and finished with fresh flowers.

We were seated quickly, and our waitress promptly brought us our drink order. Our tea and water came in large mason jars, which fit right with the décor. A basket of complimentary warm croutons heavily brushed with butter came with the beverages.

For starters, we selected the fried dill pickles. The pickle wedges were quarters of whole cucumbers cut lengthwise, breaded, lightly fried, and served with a side of ranch dressing. These were some of the best fried pickles I've had not greasy, not mushy, a little spicy, and served warm. We were not, however, as impressed with the fried mushrooms. The mushrooms tasted like they had been frozen and cooked too quickly. Although they looked wonderful, they squirted very hot residual water that had not cooked out. As for the lightly seasoned, grilled shrimp, the menu claimed the appetizer was spicy, but it didn't have the kick I expected.

All entrées included a simple but fresh dinner salad and a basket of dinner rolls to go with the menu's usual steak choices filet mignon, New York strip, rib-eye, T-bone plus fish, pork, and seafood dishes. Choices with entrées included a baked Idaho potato with all the condiments, a baked sweet potato served with cinnamon sugar, or french fries.

For our main course, we started with a generous serving of grilled tilapia bathed in butter. (Tilapia is a popular freshwater fish found in Asian cuisine. The muddy taste once associated with this fish is no longer present in the farm-raised variety.) This entrée melted in the mouth. Not to be outdone were the pork chops two half-inch, center-cut, grilled-to-perfection chops that were juicy and packed with flavor. Pork can easily be overcooked, but these were succulent and coupled with a baked potato with the trimmings.

The 14-ounce rib-eye steak served as medium-well was a grave disappointment to my dining companion. Typically, the biggest concern with this most prized cut of meat is how it's cooked. The steak we were served at Side Porch was charred on the outside, while portions of the inside remained slightly too rare for my friend's taste. Moreover, this steak consisted of more fat than beef. (I would encourage the chef to be more cautious of the steaks served at the high end of their price range.) Not to be discouraged, my companion happily finished my order of surf and turf. The half-inch filet cut from the small end of the tenderloin was extremely tender and the perfect match for my grilled shrimp, which were brushed with a mixture of butter, lemon, and parsley.

The menu instructed us to inquire about the desserts, but we got the check before we had a chance. We piped up anyway, and it turned out to be my favorite part of the meal. The pecan pie came warm and served with vanilla ice cream. The warm corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, butter, and pecans mixed with the ice cream was delicious. But the French silk pie wasn't the chocolate creamy decadence my mother makes. I'm not saying it wasn't tasty, but if you ever tried my mother's pie, you'd see why I am so spoiled.

The Side Porch Steak House is located at 5689 Stage Rd. (757-2484). Hours: Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; closed Monday. Appetizers range from $3.95 to $5.95, salads $2.95 to $8.95, and entrées $9.95-$17.95. No reservations required.

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