Restaurant review: Fork ‘n’ Cork, from food truck to gastro pub

Former Wilmington food truck “The Patty Wagon” has been reborn into one of downtown’s coziest new gastro pubs, “The Fork ‘n’ Cork”. Serving traditional American food and burgers and sporting an eclectic wine and beer list at moderate prices, the casual yet charming ambiance of the restaurant is a welcome addition to the city.

After running the food truck for two years, owner and manager James Smith saw a gap in the restaurant market- something that wouldn’t set diners back economically, but offered an elevated dining experience compared to fast food and chain restaurants. Seeing the diverse population of Wilmington and knowing that many of the town’s college students choose to stay in the area, Smith  hopes to target the mid-twenties and thirties demographic with what he calls “high end pub grub and a great wine list.”

Smith closed “The Patty Wagon” in January and came up with the restaurant’s menu—an expanded version of the beloved food truck’s menu. Though he keeps old favorites, Smith can explore more options with a larger kitchen.

The kitchen was added during their renovation, but they changed very little of the old building’s style, respecting the history and tradition of the historic downtown building at 122 Market St. The beloved pizzeria, Slice of Life, which operated here a short time ago, has subsequently moved across the street. Smith and head chef Scott Glassgow opened the doors to the “Fork ‘n’ Cork” on May 24, bringing much of their loyal food truck clientele.

Though tiny—only two exterior tables, four interior tables and a dozen seats at the bar—the environment makes diners instantly feel like settling in for an enjoying evening. The restaurant features  a warm, inviting atmosphere, complete with exposed brick walls, backlit stained glass art, black ductwork on the high ceilings and old-fashioned light fixtures (hand-installed by the owner).

For such a small restaurant, the beer and wine lists are impressive: ten reds, ten whites and 30 beer selections are currently available, including unique options such as Dragon’s Milk, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Aviator Devil’s Tripel, among other more conventional choices.

Portions are large, so be sure to come hungry. The menu is full of intriguing options, so it’s hard to pick just one without setting up a plan to return and eat several other items. The list of appetizers include fried pickles; a scotch egg; Texas poutine with smoked brisket, cheddar and BBQ;  duck wings with sauce choices such as peach BBQ, habanero orange marmalade and Creole rosemary honey mustard; and Rattlesnake Bites, deep-fried jalapenos stuffed with shrimp, sweet corn, bacon and cheese.

For an appetizer, my dinner guest and I finally settled on the Fonduta—a mixture of Fontanilla, Gouda and blue cheese baked in a cast iron skillet and topped with walnuts, honey and chili flakes, served with seared French bread. It was fantastic—reminiscent of a fondue but a bit heartier. The sweetness of the honey and the heat of the chili become a perfect counterpoint to the cheeses, which we spooned onto the bread in velvety dollops. 

When we moved on to entrees, the selection was daunting- all the sandwiches and burgers combine classic dishes with innovation, resulting in toppings such as peanut butter and extra bacon (on the Kreider) or homemade chili, slaw, cheddar and mustard (on The Carolina). Other menu options include a build-your-own grilled cheese; a house-made chicken salad, made with red grapes, apples, walnuts and tarragon mayo on 9-Grain bread; and the beloved Patty Melt, a burger topped with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and mayo, served on rye bread.

Though I was tempted by the Hot Mess burger—a fantastic name for toppings that included bacon, jalapenos, grilled onions, blue cheese and cheddar—I ultimately went with the Kyle Style burger, a Texas BBQ brisket with barbeque sauce, pickle, onion and mustard (named for a frequent customer). It’s one of the restaurant’s most popular choices and speaks to owner Smith’s Texas origins. The beef patty was topped by a tender brisket tossed in a sweet and savory BBQ sauce. When combined with the crunchy pickles, tangy stout mustard and soft brioche bun, it was also a fantastic burger. The onion rings were perfectly seasoned and a nice accompaniment.

My friend considered the cleverly named Duck Duck Goose burger after departing customers stopped by our table—right inside the door, by the window—and told us how good everything had been, including the Duck Wings “that will change your life” and the “amazing” Duck Duck Goose burger. Sold. It was a ground duck patty with a slice of country paté, a fried egg, a port wine cherry sauce, arugula and shaved red onions, served with deep golden, crispy French fries. It was delicious. The portions were so large, we both ended up having leftovers for the next day.

Both front-of-the-house Smith and the restaurant’s head chef Glassgow are warm, affable businessmen who take what they do seriously. Both took turns coming out to talk to us, Smith pondering how he would best like to sum up his restaurant.

“Good food, that’s all,” he said.

Smith also seems deeply appreciative of the town of Wilmington and the fan base he has accumulated between the food truck and the restaurant.

“It’s all thanks to Wilmington—it’s been great to me,” he said.

Chef Glassgow came out to tell us a bit about his menu favorites (the Pimiento Chz Burger, which includes homemade pimiento cheese and bacon jam), then offered us a sample of the bacon jam, which was every bit as good as it sounded.

Originally from San Antonio, TX, Smith has also lived in New Orleans and New Jersey, giving him a wide range of culinary influences that all converge into an inviting restaurant that strikes just the right balance between casual and refined. The interesting wine list; fresh, local ingredients; and burgers that are hand-made make “The Fork ‘n’ Cork” one of downtown Wilmington’s best new places to eat. Their sense of humor and the restaurant’s gregarious atmosphere also come through in their slogan: it’s Fork ‘n’ Delicious!

Hours:

Mon – Closed

Tue – Thu: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm

Fri – Sat: 11:00 am – 12:00 am

Sun: 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm

 

(910) 228-5247

122 Market Street, Wilmington, NC 28401

info@theforkncork.com