Thursday, June 20, 2013

Around The World And Back Again

The first time I met Brian Okin was at the very first Dinner In The Dark several years ago. It was actually hosted at his restaurant, Verve, in downtown Cleveland. I had never been to Verve before, but was impressed by the space as well as the dinner. Sadly, that first charity dinner was the swan's song for Verve and within a month or so, the restaurant had shuttered its doors.

Since then, Brian has gone on to work at both Fountain and then Luxe Kitchen, both of which benefited from his wonderful palate and attention to detail, but sadly, were owned and run by other people and in the end, things just didn't work out.

So when I heard that Brian would be partnering with Adam Bostwick (co-chef of the old Melange restaurant in La Place at Beachwood Mall) at a new restaurant in Broadview Heights called Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen, I was definitely intrigued. In an ironic twist, the location for the new restaurant was in the exact same space that he left, Benvenuti, several years before to start Verve. Apparently, when it was Benvenuti, there were only about thirty-five seats in the small restaurant. After Brian left, the new owners of Benvenuti bought the space next to the restaurant, opened up a wall between the two and essentially doubled the capacity.

Cork & Cleaver resides in a small plaza on the west side of Broadview Road, just south of Wallings. Once inside the main door, you are greeted by the hostess stand with tables to your right and a walkthrough to the bar area on your left. My first (of many visits) to Cork & Cleaver was for opening night and I was so impressed that I went back the next night, too. Truth be told, I've pretty much eaten my way through the entire menu by now.


Every meal starts out with a basket of bread and compound butter:

Bread Service

The pumpernickel bread has always been fresh and the compound butter is a combination of butter, garlic, spinach, and Parmesan cheese. Served soft, this complemented the bread well.

Now that the bread service is out of the way, let's focus our attention on starters and salads. First up is the Caesar Salad:

Caesar Salad

I never had the pleasure of dining on Chef Bostwick's food at Melange, but I am told that he has a playful side when it comes to interpreting the classics. The romaine hearts had been replaced with Mizuna and in place of the standard bread croutons were breaded and fried chicken "croutons." While the dish was clearly a bit unusual, it delivered in the flavor department. The dark meat chicken croutons reminded me of the chicken nuggets from my childhood and the creamy caesar dressing was enough to coat the greens without overpowering them.

If you are looking for a more refreshing, crisp salad, try the C&C Salad instead:

C & C Salad

Combining Bibb lettuce, house-pickled rhubarb, shaved fennel, and a raisin vinaigrette, this salad danced on my tongue with its balance of sweetness and acidity. I was expecting extreme sourness from the rhubarb, but the pickling process completely mellowed it out. The fennel added a nice, anise undercurrent to the dish.

Moving on to the appetizer portion of the menu, the Fried Tomatillos with Spicy Aioli did not disappoint:

Fried Tomatillos

As with anything spicy, balance is the key. The aioli added a definite zip to the experience without overpowering the delicate sour flavor of the tomatillo. Additionally, the tomatillos weren't fried to the point where they became mushy, and retained that wonderful meatiness.

Continuing on the successful frying theme, we move on to the Fried Chicken and Waffles:

Chicken and Waffles

There are many people out there who just don't understand how combining these seemingly incongruous foods would be desirable. They balk at the notion of combining breakfast with dinner. Cork & Cleaver's version, a thyme-scented waffle topped with expertly-fried and juicy chicken drizzled in warm syrup, was a real winner. My own preference would've been to splash a bit of Frank's Red Hot Sauce on top, but my mouth was happy enough.

Our final trip in the appetizer section of the menu would not be complete without talking about The Board:

The Board

The Board is a cardiologist's worst nightmare, a trio of artery clogging delights. Combining roasted bone marrow, long-braised pork belly, and quick-seared foie gras, this is a dish to be shared. Fortunately, there were five of us at the table when this was ordered, so I managed to only snag a bite of each item on the board. But, oh my, what a bite! Each of the fatty meats was delicious in its own way and each had an accompaniment designed to help cut through the fattiness. I've been told that people order The Board for themselves, but that seems a bit decadent for one.

Having walked our way through five of the appetizers and salads at Cork & Cleaver, it is now time to move on to the main event.

First on the entree docket is the Walleye with Himalayan Red Rice:


The twin fillets of walleye were seasoned and seared perfectly. One of my pet peeves is overcooked fish; fortunately, moist and juicy was the way it came out of the kitchen. Walleye can have a slightly fishy flavor and while this walleye did, it didn't detract from the flavor of the overall dish. The red rice was cooked, yet still toothsome, and the mushroom vinaigrette added a rich earthy flavor I enjoyed very much.

Flat Iron

You haven't heard me say much that has been negatively critical of the food so far in all of my visits. That's because for the most part, the food has been very well-seasoned, perfectly cooked, and plated with precision. Sadly, the Flat Iron steak, of all the dishes I've tried at Cork & Cleaver, didn't live up to the other dishes. The potato and mushroom hash the steak rested on was delicious. And the steak itself was also delicious (although a bit on the rarer side of the medium-rare I ordered it).

The problem was two fold. First, while I LOVE goat cheese, the large scoop of chevre sitting on the plate next to the steak felt out of place. While a lovely example of this tart fromage, it didn't integrate well into the overall dish. The other problem was the ramp pesto underneath the fanned steak slices. While an interesting idea to bring a herbaceousness to the dish, the incredibly strong garlic flavor from the ramps more or less killed the flavor of anything else paired with it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Flat Iron steak were the Seared Scallops:


This quartet of bivalves was seasoned beautifully and seared until the outside was a lovely shade of brown leaving the inside still translucent and tender. The scallops alone were enough to knock this one out of the ballpark. What really surprised me, however, was the braised fennel that adorned the dish. Braised first in chicken stock until tender and then quickly pan-seared in butter for service, I don't know that I've loved a vegetable as much as this one. Combined with the white bean salad and haricot vert, this was a substantial amount of food.

Of course, being both a fried chicken fanatic and macaroni and cheese lover, this next dish, Fried Chicken with Macaroni and Cheese, lit up all the gastronomic lights in my brain:

Fried Chicken

Let's talk about the macaroni and cheese first. To date, my favorite macaroni and cheese has been Kim White's from Flury's Cafe. Finished to order, the stuff is perfectly cooked, creamy, cheese, and wonderfully dreamy. Kim now has some serious competition from Cork & Cleaver. The pasta was cooked but still had texture. The cheese sauce was creamy without being too thin or too thick. And most importantly, the cheesiness was right on the money.

The fried chicken was equally delicious. The two "must haves" for fried chicken are a crispy coating on the outside and juicy, tender meat on the inside. Cork & Cleaver scored a 100% on both accounts. It's probably a good thing I don't live closer to the restaurant; I'd be driving up there three nights a week for this dish alone.

The final entree I'd like to talk about is the Gnocchi:


I'm incredibly picky about gnocchi. Made the right way, they are ethereal little clouds of potato-based pasta. In fact, when I first moved to Akron and couldn't find any good examples of gnocchi, I decided to teach myself how to make it. Cork & Cleaver's gnocchi not only met my standard, it exceeded it. The gnocchi in this case were nestled among other delicious ingredients as well: braised lamb, tzatziki, and a cucumber slaw. When eaten together, it almost felt like I was eating a deconstructed gyro.

A meal would not be complete without sampling one of the restaurant's few desserts. On my first visit to the restaurant, one of the desserts sent out to our table (compliments of the kitchen) was this Pear Tart:

Pear Tart

Combined with fresh caramel corn and a scoop of real vanilla ice cream, this was a dessert that was well-balanced in the sweetness department. With five of us at the table, I only managed to snag a bite of this one, but it was well worth the effort.

Of all the desserts on the menu, the Root Beer and Malt was clearly the most unusual:

Root Beer and Malt

The root beer refers to the enormous meringue sitting on top of two scoops of chocolate malted ice cream. Chocolate-dipped and crushed pretzels adorn both the plate and the meringue. Having never thought about pairing root beer and chocolate malted together, I fearlessly dug in, cracking the meringue into more manageable sized pieces. It was, in a word, delicious. The meringue really did taste like root beer. And while the malt was somewhat subtle, everything worked beautifully on my tongue.

Another complimentary dessert that was sent out during my initial visit to the restaurant was the Country Fried Brownie:

Country Fried Brownie

This, to me, is akin to deep-frying candy bars and Oreo cookies. It occurred to me that this technique seemed a bit too decadent and ostentatious, but again, one bite and you'll be in chocolate heaven. The brownie came atop a rich caramel "Red Eye Gravy". The sour cherries served as a lovely counterpoint to all of the richness in the brownie and the sweetness of the sauce.

Of the four desserts currently being offered at Cork & Cleaver, my favorite is the Lemon and Coconut:

Lemon and Coconut

This dish is comprised of a coconut milk panna cotta topped with lemon curd, toasted homemade marshmallow, and crumbled shortbread cookies. Of course, these three components have been disassembled on the plate, allowing you, the diner, to assemble them at your pleasure. While the shortbread cookies are a bit rich, this dessert comes off as neither too sweet or too tart. The coconut panna cotta is soft and silky and the bite from the lemon curd helps to tie all of the ingredients together.

Exhausted yet, gentle reader? That or really hungry, I'm sure.

The bottom line is that over a half-dozen visits, Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen scores nearly perfectly in my book. With the exception of one dish, everything else has been spot on. The service has consistently been good. And honestly, the prices on the menu are entirely reasonable for the quality and quantity of food you are getting. Chefs/Co-owners Brian and Adam have put a lot of work into the entire dining experience and it really shows. I wish them much luck in their new (or old?) space and I plan on returning again very soon. I highly suggest that you do the same.

Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Adam said...

Beautiful pictures! I look forward to dining there again!

Tino said...

Thanks, Adam!

Janice said...

You're back! Thanks for the review, we might make the drive to check this place out.

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