Cork 'n Cleaver

221 E. Washington Center Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN  46825

Have you been to Cork 'N Cleaver lately?  This long standing eatery is a forgotten-about gem amongst the buzz of other eateries!  Even after decades of serving up excellence, this restaurant remains trendy, fresh, and on top!  What a wonderful experience we had - we strongly suggest giving it a try soon!

First Impression - 
From the parking lot, guests enter an alcove prior to entering through the main "fairy-tale" style door.  This creatively designed space is the perfect transition from the hustle and bustle of your day to the culinary oasis that awaits you inside.
The alcove is flanked by these displays of creativity and beauty!
Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted warmly and escorted to the bar which was the only section open in the late afternoon.  We were seated at the bar and presented with the martini menu.  We were made to feel welcomed and valued by the numerous smiles, pleasing eye contact, and engagement in friendly chatter. 

Bartender & Martinis -
Jodi was the bartender on "duty" and were we lucky.  Jodi, who was worked for "The Cork" for many years, was the creator of some of their signature drinks including the Pink Pony, Tropitini, Appletini, Blueberry Martini, and the Peach Delight.  How awesome is it to have signature drinks prepared by the inventor!  Because our outing began earlier than usual, we had plenty of time throughout the evening to sample many of the liquid delights. 

Allen L and I ordered a Cork & Candy first off - fantastic!  These fruity 'tinis were served icy cold - a real treat with the latest heat wave.  The complex fruity flavor is fun and delicious, but not overly tropical.  It's a must try!

Without a sugar rim :(

With a sugar rim :)
Adams L started the party with a Pink Pony which the bartender suggested tasted like an adult pink lemonade.  Having just tasted the sweetness of our Cork & Candy, it was a little bitter (as lemonade often is).  So . . . we switched and she enjoyed the aqua colored Cork & Candy while I enjoyed her Pink Pony which arrived with a frozen raspberry floating in the center - delicate and delicious.
You can see under the cocktail napkin that "inside" the bar top is an assortment of alcohol related items.
We had a transition, of sorts, from our pre-dining time in the bar to when we were seated before our appetizers arrived.  In this time without a lot of food, we opted for some chocolate - after all, girls just wanna have fun!  I selected the White Chocolate Raspberry martini - OMGosh.  The FAB chocolate rim punctuated with a fresh raspberry screams "get ready for this chocolately POW!"  This martini was fantastic, but really could have been even better if the large ice cubes had been strained.  The ice slivers which were in the Cork & Candy would have been perfect in this drink, but the larger pieces were a bit off-putting!

Allen L followed suit with my drink's sister, she selected the Dark Chocolate Raspberry martini.  I'm not even a fan of dark chocolate, but the Dark Chocolate Raspberry martini was beyond exceptional.  The creaminess of this chocolate goodness is just described by Allen L as "MMMMMMMMMMMMM!"

While we were talking with Jodi, extremely gifted mixologist, she recommended the Blueberry martini and Adams L opted to give it a chance.  We were warned they were out of fresh blueberries.  And although that was a bummer, we agreed that it would have only added visual interest and not impact the actual flavor.  It's blueberry lemonade flavor enhanced by it's extreme coldness.  The overall fruity drink was a light option and perfectly suited for our large eat-fest that was about to begin

Bread & Appetizers - 
The bread basket features 2 piping hot selections:  brown sugar & molassus (being held up by Adams L who is beginning her hand modeling career) and sourdough.  Both are fabulous.  The consistency and flavor are primo!

While I was busy taking notes, the other Elles ordered 2 appetizers.  They even began eating them 5 minutes before I did.  We all individually had the same reaction when we bit down into the Bruschetta, "OMG!"  Oh my goodness - this was heads and shoulders ABOVE EVERY OTHER BRUSCHETTA in the city!!!  There simply is nothing that even comes close!!!  Period!! I strongly dislike tomatoes and usually only tolerate it when we order bruschetta, but this - this I could NOT get enough of!  OMG - this is worth driving to "The Cork" right away to get.  It's indescribably flavorful!  The pronounced flavors of the dill cream cheese play perfectly with the freshly shaved parm.  The exceptionally fresh tomatoes dance lightly upon the perfect stage of ciabatta  bread!   In a short - IT'S CRAZY GOOD!!!

As if there was anything more that the 3 Elles could discover with crab cakes - BAM, we found it.  At "The Cork" the 3 crab cakes are not necessarily jumbo lump, but they are packed with flavor.  Our server explained the recipe was recently changed and now incorporates Ritz crackers which offer up a buttery flavor!  Generally, we far and away prefer less filling in our crab cakes (like found at Paulas - pack it with crab, nothing else matters), but these offered a perfect combo of flavor and texture!  Each cake was served as an exotic private island in a tasty sea of roumalade sauce.   Not usually a crab cake fan?  These are worth trying!!!  Oh my goodness - a bit spicy, but nonetheless perfection!

Soup & Salad Bar - 
Having not been to "The Cork" prior to this visit, I was unfamiliar with just how fantastic the food, service, and atomosphere really were.  I had, however, heard all about the great salad bar.  With over 50 beautifully presented and pristinely fresh items available, many of them unique to "The Cork" (including both Feta Cheese & Blue Cheese, hearts of Palm, freshly ground pepper, Jelly Bellies and chocolate coated mints).  Allen L explained it best when she said that you could probably make 5 different kinds of salads with the ingredients available.  You could easily prep a Caesar salad, a spinach bacon salad, a Cobb salad, a basic salad bar salad, or a strawberry fields salad.  In fact, here you are limited to your creativity and maybe the size of the chilled metal plates.

Using a chilled metal plate as her canvas, here is the masterpiece Allen L created -

Not particularly low fat, but over-the-top fresh and fabulous - here's what my artistic culinary attempt  resulted in -

Adams L opted for soup with her entree.  She selected  the Cajun Chicken with Rice Soup.  The blackening made it spicy and as a sign of great service, the server checked back to ensure the flavors of the soup were pleasing.  The server offered to bring additional seasoning if Adams L had wanted it to be hotter.  Adams L raved on the perfectly sized chunks of chicken, and how well balanced the ingredients were including tomatoes, kidney beans, and cilantro were.  She said it had a good balance of rice and tomato based broth which added to the perfection of this hearty warm-up course.

Entrees - 
Menus at "The Cork" are certainly unique - they are heavy metal cleavers with menu options printed on both sides.  Additionally, they have numerous features that the server expertly identified for us.  Only one cleaver was brought to our table and although it's not overly complex, it was slightly annoying to pass it around between the 3 of us.  

Admas L opted for the Terriyaki Shrimp with rice.  She paired it with Mashed Rum Sweet Potatoes.  By the time our entrees arrived, we were all stuffed, but we each managed to nibble on our meals.  Adams L tried a one shrimp and was put off by the extreme saltiness.  She noted the next day when she had the remainder of her meal for lunch that squirting the lemon on top toned down the salty flavor.  When asked what she thought of the rice, Adams L said it was very flavorful packing a citrus undertone and enjoyed the sweet peppers that came through.  Although the mashed sweet potato rum looked as if the sweet flavor would leap from the plate, it failed to be inspiring.  The texture was perfect, not grainy or stringy, but was not sweet or complicated - she had to add salt just to kick it up a notch. 

Allen L selected the Thai Peanut Chicken dish paired with rice noodles.  Allen L is generally opposed to anything spicy and felt this dish pushed her personal preference for heat beyond her comfort level.  She enjoyed the sauce which offered up a sweet side to combat its spicy infusion.  The juicy chicken breast was a nice compliment to the delicate rice noodles.  

I went way out of my norm and ordered ribs.  The ribs came in either a chipoltle sauce or a BBQ sauce - I couldn't decide so I got one of each.  These fall-off-the-bone ribs were delicious and thanks to the sauces packed a flavorful punch.  The baked potato was simple and contributed nothing to the meal.  I think in the future I would opt to upgrade to one of their seasonal veggies like grilled asparagus or steamed broccoli.

Service -
Suni was our server and she was GREAT!  Although she was busy, she kept her sense of humor and was more than willing to educate us about the restaurant, the menu, and everything in between.  She was helpful and polite.  We enjoyed her information and her interaction very much.  She had some help from Pam and between the 2 of them, our water glasses were always filled, dirty dishes removed, food boxed up, and all the details attended to perfectly.  At one point I asked where the restroom was, she walked me over to it - now that's above-and-beyond customer service!

Final Thoughts - 
Adams L and I had never been to "The Cork" before and are saddened that we have been missing out on such a timeless treasure.  The food, the service, the drinks, and the atmosphere are all worthy of being explored.  Are you looking for something a upscale without being pretentious?  Then this is the place for you.  We'll definitely be returning to "The Cork" soon!!!!  We strongly encourage you to give it a try, but highly recommend making reservations and coming early - it gets very busy!
Until the next bite - 

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Granite City

3809 Coldwater Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46805
Phone:   260.471.3030

Our recent visit to Granite City was not part of our regular "Elles" schedule; however, the opportunity to enjoy a girls' night out arose so we took full advantage.  Have you been to Granite City?  If not, you should put it on the short list and move it to the top.  You are unlikely to be disappointed.  From service, to atmosphere, to delicious food, GC is one of the better eateries around!

First impressions - 
We were greeted warmly and invited to either be seated or wait for the rest of our party.  Adams L and I arrived first and opted to eat outdoors.  A short time later, Allen L arrived and she was immediately shown to our table.  It was definitely a great "welcome" to the restaurant.  Kudos for creating an inviting first impression!

GC had a seasonal and specialty beverage menu - AHHHHH!  Given it was a Friday evening (TGIF) and it has been quite hot lately, we decided perhaps the best plan would be to have a wide variety of these signature cocktails.   I have a long history of loving blue drinks so I opted to begin my evening with Hpno Martini - it was pretty and that's probably the best thing I can say about.  Disappointing, nearly non-alcoholic, tart, and uninspired would be some other ways to describe it.  Definitely skip this one during your upcoming GC visit.

Adams L started off with a Strawberry fields.  It was thickened with strawberry puree and let me just tell you YES!  Although a Strawberry Fields martini is not original to GC, it is almost always a deliciously safe choice.  The sweet strawberry flavor and beautiful red color just screams summer refreshment.

This photo also allows you to check out a little of the outdoor seating area.
Allen L started her Friday evening off with a Hypno Cosmo Martini.  She had asked for a sugar rim (do you see one? Yeah, neither did we!).  As tantilizing as this drink's description was, the reality was pretty disappointing.  It had a weak cherry kool-aid flavor punctuated with a strong alcohol after taste.  As with my opener, feel free to skip this one as well!

Allen L's second "at bat" she fired up the evening with a HOME RUN.  This beauty is called a Granite City Stoli Cooler and all you need to know is to tell the server, "Yes, I'll take 1 (or 2)!"  The perfect blend of tropical flavors dances on your tongue and there is only one word that can be used to describe it, "MMMMMMM!".

Adams L ended her dining experience with an explosion of fruit infused wine - a Sangria Sunset.  Just look how beautiful, seriously, don't you just feel immediately transported to Spain!

Appetizers & Soup - 
Despite our server recommending several appetizers, Adams L went rogue and ordered Truffle Fries which were served with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing for dipping.   Unfortunately the photos we took were at the very end - hunger took over before photos could be taken, sorry!.  Adams L says they were worth trying - I say skip them.  The GC website describes them as French fries coated in our truffle infused oil and then tossed in seasonings and hand-grated Parmesan.  I'm describing them as greasy with a gross flavor (the truffle oil infusion).  We all agree they are a waste of the calories. 

Looking down into the wire funnel to see the last of the fries.

The wire vortex the fries arrived in. 
 GC is known for their Ale and Cheddar soup which is really delicious.  Despite it being 90 degrees outside, I just had to order a cup.  Here's how the GC website describes it:  Creamy cheddar cheese soup simmered with our Northern Light and garnished with toasted rye croutons.  You should definitely try it! 

While waiting on our food to arrive, Allen L decided we should try the Pretzels appetizer.  They were so fantastic (think warm, perfect Pretzely outer coating with a soft and chewy inside, and just the right amount of salt dancing atop).  Want to see a picture?  Sorry, they were gone in a flash!  You absolutely have to order these.  The dish is accompanied by a crock of cheese sauce for dipping - I'm not a fan of the cheese, but everyone I have ever shared these with love it.  The Elles think this appetizer could be improved if the cheese sauce were swapped out for a rich homemade spicy mustard or a cheesy mustard type dip.

Entrees - 
 The Elles have been dining together for more than 3 years now, and I have arrived at the point where I can just look at the picture and know which Elle ordered it . . . how about you?  I'm sure frequent readers can probably make some accurate guesses.

Adams L ordered the Mediterranean Chicken with broccoli and wild rice.  The scratch kitchen at GC puts together not only delicious food, but also serves it with such a beautiful presentation usually reserved for only the swankiest eateries.   The bruschetta accent was an interesting touch as the cold tomatoes intermingled with warm sauteed onions all served atop a perfectly prepared chicken breast.  Despite seeing the seasonings on the chicken breast, the flavors did not come through resulting in a routine, nothing special chicken breast.

I opted for the Walleye - can you see how HUGE of a filet it is?  It's rediculously large.  This would be a perfect entree to share with someone.  It's crazy big.  Unlike almost every other walleye dish I've eaten in FW, this one was perfectly prepared.  The breading was crisp and the filet was not greasy.  The blandness was a bit boring - I used salt and hot sauce to spice it up a bit but it still lacked flavorful depth to keep me interested.  Caution:  there were some bones in the fish which was a little annoying.  The entree was paired with garlic mashed potatoes which arrived slightly cooler than room temperature.  The lightness of the mashed potatoes was unexpected.  They were delicious and definitely homemade.  I was also given a side of cole slaw which generally isn't something I enjoy, but I was pleasantly surprised by the complex flavor and crispness of the slaw.

Allen L went way out of her normal routine and had one of the dishes that our server said was the absolute best.   She selected the Meat Loaf.  Here is how the GC website describes the dish:   Home-style meatloaf served open-faced on ciabatta bread with bourbon onion sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and crispy onion strings.  Allen L said the meat was served on the planet's most amazing bread (she would have loved the bread on the side rather than under the meatloaf).  As Allen L enjoyed her dish, she said more than once that it was indeed the best meat loaf she has ever had!  The sauce, which was a bit sweet, was the perfect compliment to the dish to pull the flavors together - unlike the traditional thick ketchup based red sauce which usually just leaves the meat loaf swimming in an abyss.  Her dish, like mine, came with garlic mashed potatoes.

As I stated earlier in this post, the GC kitchen is a scratch kitchen which means they make everything from scratch.  That brings a wonderful fresh and flavorful element to this eatery that is so often lacking elsewhere.  It's a refreshing change to have homemade foods at a restaurant.  Dessert was no exception.  Key Lime Pie was their 2 week special so of course, having Allen L in the group almost mandates us to order it.  It arrived and wow, immediately we could sense that this was something fresh and different!  It was served VERY cold.  So cold that about half way through it we ran into a frozen part.  We asked what that was about and were told that it was kept in a very cold walk in refrigerator where things are kept at a very crisp temperature.  As a result of the dish not being served perfectly, the manager, Jared, was brought to our table, who apologized and comped it.  We weren't mad and in fact, we had eaten every bite.  It was absolutely delicious - slightly frozen or not!  This slice of tropical heaven is a definite "must try".  It has a texture and a subtle flavor that makes it a rare gem and stands crust-and-cream above most others!

Service -
Simply exceptional.  I don't consider Granite City an exceptionally "high-end" restaurant, but it definitely comes with the exceptional service you would expect at a more elegant restaurant.  Our server was an honorary "L", Lorenzo.  He was extremely friendly and not at all irritating.  He was very busy, but we always had filled water glasses and we were checked on frequently.   He was a lot of fun and we were happy to have a 4th "L" with us. 

Final thoughts -
This is a great place to eat for so many reasons.  The prices are reasonable.  The atmosphere is business casual.  The food is exceptionally well prepared.  The shaded outdoor seating is quite relaxing.  The service is beyond compromise.  All-in-all, we're certain you'll enjoy your experience.

Until the next bite - 

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