Portico’s food makes up for decor

There are all kinds of restaurant categories. Portico doesn’t seem to fit neatly in any of them. So, we’ll have to invent a new one: Industrial-chic Applebee’s.

The menu, after all, looks like it could be taken from any number of chain neighborhood-style restaurants — plenty of fun food like appetizers, pizzas, soups and sandwiches, a good selection of steaks and seafood, a bar and patio.

All this is presented in an atmosphere that can be described with a lot of adjectives, none of which is “warm.”

Visually, Portico is a mess. Most of the exterior is yellow, overlapping boards, but the area around the front door is stone (or faux stone), an almost art deco look.

It’s as if Hurricane Isaac pushed two buildings together and they decided to go with that.

The interior is bleak. On one end, it’s a sports bar/patio with plenty of televisions tuned to appropriate channels, a section that can be closed off from the rest of the building with clear glass garage doors. The main dining area is quite dark — concrete floors, black ceilings and walls, broken occasionally by dark, distressed wooden ceiling, walls decorated by a few prints with little color.

The metal chair frames are in keeping with the rest, but the light-colored wood table tops aren’t.

Fortunately, the wait staff is much sunnier than the surroundings, and we found the food pleasing, too.

The shrimp po-boy ($9.99) is quite good. We failed to count the number of shrimp tails it contained, but they were plump and coated in a thick, crisp and lightly seasoned batter and dressed with lettuce, tomato slices and mayonnaise. The bread was first-rate — thick, soft and with a crust that yielded easily to the bite.

It came with one side order; in our case, that was onion rings. The purple onions were perfectly cooked, with a thick batter that adhered to the onions. If we could change anything, it would be to give that batter a little peppery zip, but the ranch dipping sauce added plenty of its own flavor.

The Friday special, chicken and dumplings ($8.99), featured pasta-like dumplings and cubed chicken served in a bowl of gravy, much like chicken soup.

It was a departure from traditional, Southern chicken and dumplings, in which the dumplings are often made from biscuit dough, with the dumplings, chicken and gravy served over rice. The block of corn bread that came with the entree was moist and flavorful, but a little gummy.

The Low Country shrimp ($15.49) featured 10 shrimp tails sautéed in a light cream sauce with bacon, garlic and green onions, served over either grits or twice baked mashed potatoes. The shrimp had a peppery zip, and we would have appreciated just a little more cream sauce, to better lubricate and flavor the grits. The deep bowl in which this dish was served made using the utensils a bit cumbersome.

The ribeye steak ($23.99) was a wonderful, 14-ounce piece of meat, cooked exactly to what we think of as medium rare, so tender that we could have easily used the barely serrated knife that was there when we arrived instead of the steak knife that came with the plate.

There wasn’t a lot of seasoning on this steak, and the waitress asked if we’d like steak sauce. Although a little marinade would have made this more interesting, a little salt and pepper made this richly satisfying.

The side dishes included a cheesy, rich macaroni and whole green beans cooked crisp and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper. We liked those a lot. The seafood gumbo ($5.99 cup, $11.49 bowl) is thick and peppery, and isn’t overly generous on the shrimp and crab, but good nonetheless.

The cheesecake ($5.99) is rich, and the serving size is generous.