What are they doing here, hiding $100 bills in the booths? Spraying Love Potion Number Nine around the dining room? Flashing subliminal messages on the big-screen TVs (“You love the Porch, you must eat at the Porch . . .”)? I ask this in all seriousness, because now that I have eaten at the Porch, I am in awe of the marketing genius behind this four-month-old operation.

If I had been planning a new restaurant, I would never have bet on updated comfort food as a winning formula. I mean, it’s so eighties. But Nick Badovinus (corporate executive chef) and Tristan Simon (head of Consilient Restaurants) have some kind of sixth sense about the upmarket Dallas customer. After all, they’re the ones with four hit restaurants—Fireside Pies, Hibiscus, Cuba Libre, and now the Porch—within roughly a block of one another.

Understand, I’m not dissing the quality of the food; chef Garreth Dickey uses top ingredients and runs a tight kitchen. Not only that, the place is fun: noisy and convivial, with tall ceilings, massive wood beams, butcher-block tables, and leather booths. But the Porch is not wildly successful because its kitchen is doing challenging new dishes. It’s successful because it’s easy to like, with just enough spin to keep things interesting. Take, for instance, one of its signature sandwiches, the Stodg Burger, a ginormous creation that starts with an excellent meat patty, adds some gourmet bacon and cheddar, and—here’s the zinger—piles on a fried egg atop a foie-buttered bun. This cholesterol cluster bomb is engrossing for about five bites. Then, to quote the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it becomes “much of a muchness.”

Other variations on old favorites show up with dishes like the short ribs Stroganoff, a recipe that brides used to make in the sixties and seventies when the boss and his wife came to dinner (well, back then they probably used tenderloin). The good news is that the usual glut of sour cream has been slashed; the bad news is that now it’s almost undetectable. The crab-and-shrimp chopped salad (pictured, previous page) is fine too, but if I had to choose an all-around winner, it would be the mac and cheese, which is lavished with cheddar, Parmesan, and smoked ham. The only way they could improve on it would be to spread it thin and bake it in a cookie pan so there would be more of the crunchy bread-crumb topping.

No review of the Porch would be complete, however, without a mention of another signature dish, the sliders. These bantam brisket sandwiches come on soft, sweet buns spread with the house barbecue sauce and a layer of cabbage-and-carrot slaw. In fact, it was while my friend and I were inhaling an order of sliders (and wishing that the slaw was crisper and tarter) that she had a revelation. “Picnic food,” she said, with her mouth full. And she was right. True, not everything fits; I wouldn’t take swordfish or mussels on a picnic. But overall, these are dishes you would enjoy in a neighborhood park (or on a porch), dishes that evoke family gatherings, good friends, and childhood. Like I said, these guys are smart. Bar. 2912 N. Henderson Ave (214-828-2916). Lunch 7 days 11—5 (starting Sep 1). Dinner Sun—Wed 5—11, Thur—Sat 5—midnight. $$—$$$ +