It was only a matter of time before chef Patrick Ryan took Port Fonda on the road again. A second Port Fonda location opened at 900 New Hampshire in Lawrence last week.
“We wanted to grow and create some new positions,” Ryan, sitting in the dining room of his nearly four-year-old restaurant in Westport, says of the decision to expand. “And Lawrence kept coming up in conversations.”
Port Fonda arrived in Kansas City in 2011 as a polished Airstream trailer that served street tacos, tortas and chilaquiles to late night revelers in the Crossroads neighborhood. Ryan had a deft touch with sauces and soups that stemmed from five years cooking at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago.
Port Fonda became a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2012 with a tequila and mezcal program to match the heat of Ryan’s stews and braised meat dishes.
“There are a lot of Americanized Mexican restaurants and mom and pop restaurants. People have no idea how much I love those places, that’s what I grew up on,” Ryan says. “But I think we do something that’s totally different.”
The new Port Fonda location is meant to echo the original, but not be an exact copy. Reclaimed wood was swapped out for ceramic tile and the kitchen with a wood-burning oven in Lawrence is open to the dining room.
“I didn’t want it to look like the Westport space, but I wanted it to be obvious that it’s the Port Fonda people doing it,” Ryan says.
The lit Port Fonda sign in the dining room will likely help with that. The staff will also support a familiar look — both restaurants feature uniforms designed by Baldwin Denim.
“The biggest thing for the staff in Lawrence is cooking with chiles,” Ryan says. “Fresh and dried chiles are never the same. And the longer the staff sticks around, the more accustomed to the heat levels they become. After a while the Port Fonda broth can be like fire.”
While the Lawrence location will have the same menu as Westport to start, Ryan is excited to roll out new options in a few months. They’ll focus on ceviche, a Saturday special based on ingredients found at the nearby Saturday farmers’ market, and a whole-roasted rabbit served with mole sauce.
“I think, in Lawrence, people are more aware of where their food comes from. We’ll source from local farms heavily and change the menu with the seasons,” Ryan says. “Hopefully that circles back down to [Westport], so we can breathe some fresh air into stuff.”
Port Fonda will open six days a week at 4 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. They’ll be open from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. And they’ll be open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They’ll add lunch and brunch service in the coming weeks.
“I want the food to have a lot of flavor. I want the drinks to have a lot of punch,” Ryan says. “But it’s all about learning to create balance behind that heat and flavor.”