Hailing from Calvert, Texas – a little town between Waco and Bryan-College Station – is Dr. Maurice G. Portis, who spent most of his career as a high school band director. During the time of desegregation in schools, Dr. Portis recalls the hardship of losing his position twice, each at different schools, to the “White school’s band director.” In 1969, Dr. Portis and his wife, Dr. Merna Johnson- Portis, relocated to the Coastal Bend and served their final years as educators for West Oso ISD. When Dr. Portis retired, a friend and the parent of one of his band students, Ms. Clarice Allen, invited him to manage her soul food restaurant. In 2002, Dr. Portis and his wife became business owners of Portis Kountry Kitchen.
By: Jessie Monsivais Photos By: Rachel Benavides
“One of our regulars managed a building, and wanted us to move there because he loved our food,” says Dr. Portis. “We couldn’t move because the space wasn’t set for cooking. He found a place in the Wells Fargo Bank Tower. We came in and didn’t do much except prepare the kitchen; we have continued the same cooking as the original Portis Kountry Kitchen.”
The dining room, adorned with a shiny silver accent wall that also decorated the late Driscoll Hotel cafe, portrays an abstract 1920s party of high-society visitors. The vintage aesthetic, including intricate cast iron furniture original to the space, encapsulates the remnants of the upscale 1930s hotel that once stood here. The second dining area, mostly reserved for special events, is styled with a deep royal nautical palette, including a large wooden ship’s wheel at the front of the room. The charm doesn’t stop with the interior design, either, as Dr. Portis’ jazzy serenades during your meal are the cherry on top – if you’re lucky enough to experience them.
“We thought it [his singing] would feel appreciated and make the customers feel at home,” says Dr. Portis.
It’s safe to say that Portis Kountry Kitchen is the Wells Fargo Bank Tower’s best-kept secret, and the delicious smells that guide you down the basement hallway don’t keep it secret for long. All who enter find themselves welcomed with glowing pans of scratch-made cornbread, golden and warm with a semi-sweet flavor. Their award-winning chicken fried steak crisped to perfection and topped with white gravy is a must-try. Pair the entree with side choices like old fashioned black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, homestyle yams, and much more, and you have one of the best comfort meals you can find in the Coastal Bend.
“My mother was a great cook. Coming from a family of 9 kids, and hanging out with cousins, friends, and neighbors, we always had food. We weren’t rich, but my daddy loved people to come over and eat. I’m the same way. We don’t turn anybody down if they want to eat. I enjoy folks enjoying the food,” Dr. Portis says warmly.
“We still use Ms. Clarice’s recipes. She was a magnificent cook and entrepreneur. She’s the reason for us being in business. Sharing her recipes, keeping them pure, and cooking with love, cause that’s what Soul is – made with love.”
615 N Upper Broadway # B | 361.885.7720