It may be cold outside, but Cork and Fork Osteria is hot—so hot that if you wait until the last minute to secure a weekend reservation, you may be out of luck.
I suggest, instead, calling at least a day or two ahead of time, especially if you have your heart set on dining there on a Friday or Saturday night.
Business is brisk and has been ever since the restaurant opened around this time last year. This is the second incarnation of the popular establishment that started in Harrisburg and expanded to the West Shore at the Hampden Terminal. The eatery is nestled among other businesses like Evolve Salon, Ever Grain Brewing Company and Red Sky Café. We circled the parking lot a few times before finding a suitable spot when we arrived during the dinner hour last Tuesday night.
Those who are familiar with the Harrisburg Cork & Fork will notice that the décor mirrors that of the original location. Custom-blown spherical glass chandeliers imported from Germany feature Edison bulbs that lend a soft glow to the natural light that shines through soaring windows. An open kitchen allows guests a view of the action taking place, with a pizza oven as the focal point. Other eye-catching details include wrought iron fencing that leads to a second floor, which features a wall of wine barrels shipped in from California.
I decided to kick off my meal with an adult libation to take advantage of happy hour that runs from 4:30 to 6:30 Monday through Saturday. Of the selection of red and white wines, craft beers and cocktails, I chose a refreshing “coral crush” ($6), made with vodka, pomegranate liquor, muddled grapefruit, rosemary and San Pellegrino. The ice-cold, refreshing drink served in a martini glass with a salted rim was quite tasty indeed.
Cork & Fork is particularly suited to tipping a glass and celebrating with a little taste of this and a little bit of that. Small plates for sharing include selections like bruschetta, oven-roasted brussels sprouts, rosemary flatbread and eggplant parmesan, to name just a few.
A variety of meats and cheeses pair well with wine choices and range from Italian Mortadella, prosciutto and soppressata, to Spanish Manchego, Gouda from the Netherlands and domestic cheeses hailing from areas like Wisconsin and New York.
Those who enjoy salads as a precursor to the main meal can choose from a half-dozen selections like an apple jalapeno with baby spinach, shaved fennel, apples, walnuts and raisins; or butternut squash salad featuring baby arugula, pancetta, goat cheese crumbles and candied walnuts; or simply skip the greens and order an earthy beet salad featuring pancetta, pistachios and shaved fennel. My friend and I shared the Pesto Caesar ($10) with crisp romaine lettuce, fresh kale, focaccia croutons, roasted cherry tomatoes and pecorino served with a side of whipped pesto dressing containing mild notes of garlic, pine nuts and basil.
Pasta is created in house, and Cork & Fork offers dishes like gnocchi with tomato sauce and Parmesan, shrimp fettucine and rigatoni with sausage, broccoli rabe and tomato sauce.
To satisfy a pasta craving, I selected Cacio e Pepe. The classic Roman dish, known for its simplicity, is made with spaghetti, fresh cracked pepper and Pecorino Romano. The saltiness of the cheese paired well with the spiciness of the pepper and the heartiness of the homemade pasta.
If I had to name a star in this production, however, it would have to be the pizza, which is unique to the area. Each pie is made with a special “00” flour and cooked in an EarthStone oven to a temperature of approximately 860 degrees to achieve what many describe as the “perfect char.”
About eight pizzas are available at any given time. Among those are the classic Margherita; the “Carne Amore,” featuring bacon, sausage, salami, crushed tomatoes and mozzarella; and the popular “Funghi” pizza featuring a trio of cremini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms topped with caramelized onions and a white, silky “Bianca” sauce.
My dining partner chose a pie called the “Della Nonna” ($16). Rich, creamy and dreamy are just a few words I would use to describe the heavenly pie. There’s so much to be said about the outstanding way the flavors work together, from the fennel sausage to the truffle oil, pecorino, red onions, potato confit, the aforementioned “Bianca” sauce and the egg with a yolk that flows over the ethereal creation when you poke the middle with a fork. It’s a mouthwatering combination.
Our friends with a sweet tooth can choose from house-made desserts like tiramisu and a decadent Nutella pizza with marshmallows and powdered sugar.
With the holidays approaching, it may be helpful to keep Cork & Fork in mind as a suitable and casual alternative where out-of-town guests can feel right at home.
Next Up: The Middlesex Diner in Carlisle