Stepping into the new Porky's on Central Avenue in Northeast can be an overwhelming experience. When you walk in, you're likely to hear soul music as you pore over the menu board. The person taking your order will likely be Latino, and if you glance out of the grandly sweeping front window you'll see the Bombay 2 Deli, one of a number of Indian joints in this lively and multi-ethnic stretch of Central Avenue.
But the eats couldn't be any more white-bread, small-town American. From the burgers to the pork cutlet sandwich to the fried chicken, Porky's brings old-school cheap eats of variable quality in a clean-scrubbed package. Who could hate that?
Here's who hates that: a vocal segment of the Central Avenue neighborhood that Porky's inhabits. News that the venerable fast-food eatery would expand from its St. Paul location on University Avenue to Minneapolis's Central Avenue touched off a scorched cat orchestra of complaints from area residents angry (see neighborsagainstporkys.blogspot.com for details) about the potential for hoodlums (of the "classic car" and non-classic car variety), wind-blown trash, and the somewhat ambiguously described problem of land use.
Without wading into the esoterica of zoning codes, switchblade-swinging Sharks and Jets, or burger-wrapper tumbleweeds, it's possible to make at least one statement about Porky's with confidence: The food's all right. It's not spectacular—there seems to be an ongoing struggle vis-a-vis frying stuff at the right temperature. But there are some culinary high points that make it worth a visit.
While the pork cutlet sandwich is the signature dish (we'll get back to that), the two-patty cheese Twinburger may be the finest thing on offer. If you've ever wondered what a McDonald's cheeseburger might have tasted like 50 years ago, the Twinburger is your chance to find out. It's a jazzed-up look-alike down to the sesame-seed bun, thin patties, and emphasis on affable chewability over raw bulk. It's a surprisingly pleasurable experience—lowbrow, no doubt, but tasty. The fried chicken is greasier than desirable (the trick, guys, is to keep the oil hot and compensate for the temperature drop caused by the amount of food you're putting into it) but tender and tasty. The breast pieces are a moist and flavorful delight one or two steps beyond the typical fast-food fried bird.
The pork cutlet sandwich is an interesting incarnation of the Iowan classic. Pared down to the point of austere, the pork/buttered toast sandwich lacks any sort of sauce or profound spice that might pop it into the realm of flavorful. But there's a certain beauty to the laid-back combination of bread, butter, batter, and tender pork. You're guaranteed to like this, if this is the sort of thing you like.
There's no doubt that between the tasty, old-school malts, neolithic McDonald's burgers, and real (erratically) fried onion rings, a visit to Porky's is a blast from the past. If you're in the neighborhood and not ready to deal with some world-class chole puri, grab your zip gun and stop by Porky's for a Twinburger. Just don't drop your wrapper on the ground.
PORKY'S, 1851 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis; 612.706.0040