Veal cheeks over creamy polenta and topped with apple salad are among the creative dishes at Cork. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Thereís a point of view cropping up lately that downplays the creativity of Metro Detroit restaurants. This mindset believes that local menus lag well behind whatís being served in other big cities. I beg to differ.
As a case in point, I offer the dinner and brunch menus at Cork Wine Pub, written by executive chef James (Jay) Gundy and based on fresh and often local ingredients. The quiet little spot in Pleasant Ridge, in its own unassuming way, doesnít take a back seat to Chicago or New York with its distinctive approach that still manages to be accessible. This little place has come a long way since opening in November 2010, and it typifies whatís happening here.
Brunch is an especially appealing time to check out what Gundy and proprietors Kelley Walsh and Meredith Walsh are dishing up. Itís an ordered-from-the menu brunch, and the list fits on a single page. While it certainly includes some classic dishes, they arenít standard in the least. Instead of the old warhorse eggs Benedict, youíll find four variations on the theme. Huevos Benedictos is a south of the border treatment that includes chorizo, a black bean cake and egg topped with Hollandaise and pico de gallo, and a vegetarian Benedict has marinated tofu replacing chorizo.
French toast seems new again with a topping of plump blueberries, a dash of lemon and a filling of fresh ricotta between thick slices of brioche. No syrup needed here. And so it goes on the list of omelets, typified by roasted corn and poblano with quinoa and pepper jack cheese and the biscuit BLT, a cheddar biscuit topped with the BLT ingredients plus an egg and jalapeno mayonnaise.
While the mimosa continues to trump everything except hot coffee as a brunch beverage, Cork also offers a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar that includes at least a dozen extras from caper berries and pickles to a selection of hot sauces as well as variations on the tomato juice mix itself.
Itís set up in one of the three adjoining rooms done up with deep red walls, wood accents and seating arrangements that include conventional tables, high-tops and bar stools with comfortable backs. Because Cork also includes a retail wine shop, recently spruced up with new flooring and dramatic lighting from Edison bulbs, the space also features a central communal table for wine tastings.
Much as I like the relaxed atmosphere and interesting dishes at brunch, chef Gundyís dinner menu is even more imaginative, with such choices as braised veal cheeks with polenta and apple salad, and grilled salmon (from the Faroe Islands), served with wild rice, celery root and Madeira cream sauce. Itís one of several gluten-free dishes on the menu. He also uses the Faroe Islands-farmed salmon in an appetizer of salmon tartare with crŤme fraÓche and trout caviar, served with brioche.
His fresh approach also extends to the dessert list, typified by pineapple upside down cake teamed with a mini coconut milk shake; itís notable that he credits former Cork pastry chef Tanya Fallon with the satiny butterscotch mousse.
What is especially impressive about chef Gundy is that he doesnít try to shock with odd combinations, but respects flavor profiles that are compatible while still giving the menu an individual stamp.
Service by the professional staff is friendly and upbeat, and the staff knows and can discuss the menu, another plus, as is the terrific Monday night happy hour that doesnít cut off at 7 but extends through the entire evening. The naysayers might just think theyíre in Chicago.
Cork Wine Pub
23810 Woodward, Pleasant Ridge
Call: (248) 544-2675
Rating:★★★3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Hours: Dinner 4-10 p.m.
Mon.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat. Brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $5-$14, main dishes $17-$29, desserts $5-$9; brunch dishes $6-$15
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and
extensive wine list
Noise level: Low
Parking: Attached lot and street