Halfway through my meal at Cork & Cleaver, I found myself in a predicament. The dish before me was so tasty that I was this close to polishing it off. But it also was so unique that I wanted to take it home and share it with friends. I did manage to save some to share, but the only person I ended up sharing it with was the man in the mirror.
Ironically, the dish—Rueben Ribs ($9)—was the only one that our server did not exhaustively describe at the outset of our meal. I'm glad he didn't because half the fun was enjoying the dish as it unfolded. At first glance the plate appeared to contain a few small racks of ribs. Upon closer inspection, the meat on the bones was pink—not in a smoked-pork way, but in a corned-beef way. One bite confirmed that the meat had been corned on the bone, tasting like bone-in corned beef/pork. When eaten in concert with the 1,000 Island-dressed slaw, grated gruyere and sprinkle of rye salt, the dish was a dead ringer for a meaty Rueben sandwich.
You can tell that chefs Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick spend a lot of time thinking about food. As Dinner in the Dark regulars, the brother-in-law business partners routinely push the envelope when concocting dishes for the adventurous monthly dinners. But this is Broadview Heights—what will the neighbors say?
"They say it's like you're bringing Tremont to the area," Okin notes.
Since opening Cork & Cleaver in early April, Okin not only is bringing a taste of the Big City to the 'burbs, he's bringing the people, too. Okin's the kind of chef diners follow from place to place, and he'll be the first to admit that those admirers best wear comfortable shoes. After stints at Verve, Fountain and Luxe, the chef ended up back where he started, at the old Benvenuti, which had been expanded and upgraded since he left. Bostwick has plenty fans of his own from his tenure at Melange.
Not every dish at the Cleaver is a clever tongue twister. But even the seemingly straight- forward ones have a few tricks up their sleeves. What looks like a platter of fried green tomatoes ($7) is in truth a starter of deep-fried tomatillos. The crisp, tart and juicy wheels are nestled onto a schmear of spicy aioli.
"Everybody does a charcuterie plate," said the chef, stating the obvious. "I wanted to do something different."
Hence, the Board ($15), a heart-stopping display of carnivorous delights. Shoehorned onto the plank is roasted bone marrow with ramp pesto, seared foie gras with mustardo, and pork belly with jalapeno jam. "And to add insult to injury," notes Okin, "the crostini is deep fried in lard." It's a bit more impressive than a few slices of salami, that's for sure.
Okin loves taking familiar dishes and reworking them. Take the chicken and waffles ($9), by no means a novelty these days. But man, that chicken—at once crunchy, succulent, and rich. To get there, the meat is brined, confitted, stripped from the bones, molded into nuggets, breaded and deep fried.
That same crispy Frankenchicken is shaped into small cubes, billed as "chicken croutons," and plopped atop a colorful Caesar salad ($7) with creamy parmesan dressing. Get the fried chicken entrée ($17) and you'll enjoy a bone-in version of the dreamy yardbird paired with a mountain of mac and cheese (that we found too salty).
There's a little mad science going on with the paprikash ($17) too, a top seller. Slow-braised local pork butt is shaped into mini cobblestones, wrapped in caul fat, and seared to order, leaving it crisp edged and butter soft. It's served with earthy smoked paprika spaetzle and gilded with tangy, refreshing crème fraiche.
Longtime favorites like Verve fries—fried in lard, topped with sausage gravy—join seared scallops, a killer pork chop, and even an omelet on a tightly focused menu that appeals both to bold and timorous eaters. Best of all, the menu tops out at $21. That means diners can enjoy a Tremont-style meal at Parma prices.
Drinks—like the Mason's Mule ($8), with vanilla-infused rye, fresh orange and ginger beer—are expertly crafted and served in chilly Mason jars. The setting, a strip mall at the crook of a busy intersection, is more attractive on the inside than out, we're happy to report.
"This is my last shot," Okin half-jokingly told me before opening day. If that's true, then there are a lot of local diners crossing their fingers that Cork & Cleaver is here to stay.