Restaurateur Nick Laus – owner of Home231 and Cafe Fresco – brings a fresh new concept to downtown Harrisburg.
Think about a place described as a pizzeria and wine bar.
The image popping into my head is a piano lounge with straw-wrapped bottles of Chianti and heavy-set waiters in white shirts and black slacks.
Well, now think about the opposite. That’s what I found when I stepped into Cork & Fork – Harrisburg’s newest hip eatery – on a recent Saturday.
Cork & Fork has a sleek, slightly industrial interior peppered with a touch of rustic accent.
As I walked through the door, I spied a couple of vacant seats at the bar. I grabbed the seat nearest the end of the bar.
My bartender was rather talkative and gave me the entire rundown on the 80-seat, two-story restaurant. The downstairs seating area faces North Second Street and offers large windows and a pleasant view for people-watching.
On the other side of the room, closest the State Capitol, runs the bar (and pizza oven). Since opening on November 3, the acoustics are one of the main things the staff has been trying to figure out. This space has a high ceiling stretching up to the building’s second floor, which carries the cacophony of lively conversations. It’s ideal for those looking to socialize and have a great time in a bar setting. The staff has quickly learned to direct guests looking for a more intimate setting (maybe on a date) toward the upstairs seating.
I visited on a Saturday, and the place was busy but not packed (my bartender tells me the place has been mobbed with state workers during weekday lunch). I took my time looking over the drinks menu. I’m more of a cocktail guy, so I skipped the wine list and gazed longingly at the selection of premium drinks.
I’m sure I could have easily chosen any of the concoctions on the list and been satisfied, but I went after what I already knew I enjoyed. I fell in love with the obscure St-Germain liqueur several years ago when the brand made a huge push into the American market. Since coming stateside, the elderflower liqueur has become a staple in any bar crafting serious cocktails. In fact, its incredible popularity among mixologists has started to make the sweet concoction a bit passé, but I love it anyway.
The cocktail I chose at Cork & Fork – the Fresca Rosamaria – is based on Cazadores Reposado – a pale, floral tequila rising in popularity among cocktail enthusiasts because of its great flavor and moderate price point. To the tequila is added St-Germain and lime juice, which is shaken with ice. A rosemary sprig and slice of fresh jalapeño garnish the tall glass, and the drink is topped with bubbly Martini Prosecco. The result is a refreshing, crisp cocktail delivering a bit of subtle heat within a bouquet of flavors.
Although Cork & Fork offers nine creative cocktails (and a staff pick of the week), the main beverage focus is wine. Costs for glasses range from the $7 Charles Smith Velvet Devil Merlot to a Willamette Valley (OR) Pinot Noir from King Estate Winery for $14. Wine fans can buy bottles starting at $28 or can splurge for the Tuscan Cabernet ($110). This Cabernet Sauvignon produced by the Mazzei family is an homage to ancestor Philip Mazzei – friend, fellow wine enthusiast and neighbor to Thomas Jefferson. The price may seem steep, but it’s a great value for the bottle.
Beer drinkers shouldn’t be worried about visiting Cork & Fork, either. There are no drafts here; all beers come in a bottle. American standards Miller Lite and Yuengling Lager are served alongside import staples like Stella Artois and Amstel Light. The craft beer fan can choose from Yard’s General Washington Porter, Lagunitas IPA and selections from Sierra Nevada and Flying Fish.
Cork & Fork is destined to be a hot spot – literally. After I ordered my drink, I got to chatting with the bartender, who informs me the state of the art pizza oven runs at a constant 800 degrees. It would of been stupid of me not to order a pizza. I eagerly chose the Asparago, which is a white pizza topped with house-made mozzarella, shaved asparagus, guanciale (cured pork jowl) and a perfectly cooked “over easy” egg with a shower of truffle oil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. (My mouth is watering remembering it.) My order flew out of the oven to my seat. No wonder this spot is hot for lunch time workers.
It was time for me to head out, but I really wanted to stay. My bartender packed up the rest of the pie I couldn’t finish and welcomed me to visit again.
• 200 State Street, Harrisburg; 234-8100
• Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m.