PHOTO BY DAN GLEITER
The Harrisburg dining scene, which has been marked by starts and stops, comings and goings, spurts and stagnation, is arguably on an upswing again and one of the most visible examples is at the northeast corner of State and Second streets.
Cork & Fork, a modern brick- and glassfront building, self-billed as a wine and pizza place, is a visually appealing addition to the city's long-standing Restaurant Row. But it's also much more than a wine and pizza place.
It's run by Nick Laus, who also runs Café Fresco, Level 2 and Home 231. And it combines everything that's current in casual dining. It stresses local farm-to-table fare, small plates, specialty cocktails, housemade pasta, a diverse wine list and a nice selection of beers.
Since opening in November, it's been a hot spot, often tough to get into, and has earned an early reputation for good food and great service.
The atmosphere is a mix of modern industrial and cozy rustic. There are wood tables and ceiling beams, an exposed brick wall, drop lighting and an open mezzanine with seating for couples or a larger group. There also are first-floor tables and a full bar. In warmer weather, there are plans for outdoor tables along Second and State streets to afford even better views of the Susquehanna River and the Capitol.
The menu offers real options, starting with house-special cocktails such as a ginger mint julep, a Tito's vodka berry basil gimlet, sangria, mojitos or martinis, all priced $8 to $10. The bar also serves cocktails of choice, usually for a bit more, but clearly not overpriced.
Bottled beers include obvious picks such as Amstel Light and Yuengling. But there are also nice pale ales, Flying Fish amber and Yards General Washington porter.
And there are dozens of wines by the glass and bottle. I especially like the Lyric pinot noir and the Sea Glass sauvignon blanc, both from Santa Barbara. Wine prices by the glass run $8 to $14; by the bottle from $30 to $110.
Food is broken into categories: small plates, salads, pastas, pizzas, and meats and cheeses. The general idea here is to order multiple plates and share. But for most people, a small plate and/or a salad along with pasta and/or a pizza makes for a nice meal.
Small plates include eggplant Parmesan with vodka sauce, sweet Italian sausage with cannellini beans and kale, roasted Brussels sprouts, marinated olives and a small skillet of veal and beef and ricotta meatballs served in sauce with crushed tomatoes and Parmesan. Small-plate prices run from $5 to $10. I highly recommend the meatballs. They are smallish but tasty and can be shared by two or scarfed down by one.
Salads are $9 and $10, and while not mealsized, enough for two to share. They include: an avocado salad with pine nuts and peppers; a roasted salad with corn, green beans, prosciutto and cheese; an arugula salad with beets, pancetta and goat cheese dressing; a seasonal veggie plate, and a pesto Caesar with roasted tomatoes and pecorino cheese.
Eight pizzas are offered (not counting a sinful Nutella, marshmallow and powdered sugar dessert pizza that's clearly the work of Satan). They are priced from $12 to $15. (Satan's offering is an oh-so-tempting $11.)
Pizzas are paper thin and crispy, served on a pedestal, pre-cut and perfect. There's aspargo, topped with truffle oil, egg, cheese and, of course, asparagus; polpetta, topped with ricotta meatballs, two cheeses, basil and tomatoes; pistachio, topped with arugula, cheese, crushed pistachios and more cheese; and the everpopular margherita, topped simply with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.
My advice? Order a pizza or two. Whatever you don't eat there makes a great late-night snack or next-day lunch. This is, believe me, just terrific pizza.
Finally, for those who get a little peckish waiting for substantial dishes or for those who love a nosh with a cocktail or wine, there are a number of side dishes of meats and cheeses at $6 per that are just delightful.
There's Gouda cheese and truffle goat cheese, sopressata, mortadella and irresistible French (I don't know how it got in) sausage dubbed "Baby Jesus."
Cork & Fork is a great place for lunch, cocktails and a snack during weekday happy hours or dinner. And bring a friend. You'll need help with that Nutella pizza.
CORK & FORK
200 State St., Harrisburg; 717.234.8100;
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.