words and photos by Holly Brown
The first time I went to the Front Porch Cafe, it was a beautiful day in April. The sun beat down on the freshly renovated brick building. Everything was quiet with the exception of the bright red and yellow “open” sign that rustled in the spring breeze. It was 11 o’clock A.M on a Friday, I was hungry, the day was beautiful and budding, and in the wake of this place, I couldn’t help but feel possibility.
Once across the threshold, I was greeted by my dining companion, the miraculous Mary O’Connor. I had the immense pleasure of getting to know Mary through the NEOMFA where we shared our writing, taking a nonfiction workshop during the fall. It is a singular delight to know that you have found someone at once warm and fascinating, whose work you admire and whose company you enjoy. After the semester came to a close, Mary e-mailed me from the airport on her way to Key West for an acting gig over winter break (because that’s just the kind of thing that happens to Mary), saying she read my latest Wanderer column. After a few more e-mails back and forth, she invited me to The Front Porch Cafe, enticing me with a photograph of the French bar soap holder in the ambi-gender bathroom.
Mary has been involved with Front Porch since she moved to Akron from New York City. She is the Architect for the ongoing renovation, but is moving into a career as a writer. Mary is one of those people who surrounds herself with stories, the Front Porch is one of them.
The Front Porch Cafe opened its doors in 2011. The Cafe itself is run by South Street Ministries and has two major goals: create community under its roof and serve delicious food. Here, arms are open to those who need it; their self-described vision “is to train and connect unemployed and underemployed men and women from the recovery and reentry communities to transition into employment in the food service industries.” More than anything, Front Porch serves to be the literal front porch of South Akron: it is a meeting place, a place for anyone in need of company, recovery, family to talk, work, eat.
When I moved to Akron, alone, almost two years ago, the time when I was the most lonely was when I cooked dinner. For me, food is connective tissue, it brings together families, cultures, countries, and in the case of the Front Porch: Akron, comprised of so many amazing people, the place I have been seamlessly welcomed into, the community I have grown to love and call my own. From the moment I walked into The Front Porch, I felt welcome.
Mary led me through what was once a hall, the bones of which are still there in the stage at the back, the high ceilings, the open floor plan. The room is airy, a mess-hall style eatery with classic touches including the faux stained-glass lamps and, of course, the French bar soap holder.
Mary and I sat across from one another at a long table. There was a smattering of other patrons, some with friends, some working at laptops, all eating home-cooked delicacies ranging from omelettes to hot subs. My decision was a game-time one, as many of my food related decisions are. Mary requested a clam, cheese and tomato omelette, handing our server a bag of her own clams from home, “the benefits of being ‘in’ with this place,” she said to me and chuckled. I wanted a diner-style sandwich, something warm and hearty and the spring air had given me a hankering for barbecue sauce. I wanted nothing other than a pulled pork sandwich.
Mary and I sat and chatted, she told me about the renovations of the Front Porch that had concluded earlier this year, we talked about writing, about our love for Akron. Somewhere in the midst of talking, food appeared and I was grateful. My sandwich was perfectly executed.
The hoagie roll was crispy and flaky on the outside, doughy on the inside, the ideal vehicle for pulled pork (the inside will absorb the sauce BUT the bun will remain intact due to crust). The pork itself was tender, totally scrumptious. I love barbecue sauce, though (like anything) in moderation. I want to taste the meat and not just the sauce. This pulled pork had literally the perfect sauce to meat ratio; I got tang and kick but I also got that rich, chewy meat.
I love food. Food is so much more than sustenance, than energy, than even keeping us alive. Food has the capacity to make us live, to bring us together, to share, to have happy bellies. Because the Front Porch Cafe can use food to do this, I am in awe.
Holly Brown is about to finish her second year (of three) at the NEOMFA. She is looking forward to a summer filled with long runs, poems, and of course eating lots of yummies.
The Front Porch Cafe
798 Grant St.
M-F 7 am – 3 pm