Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts were pioneers on 14th Street when they opened Cork in January 2008. The wine bar was a beacon of gentrification, a few doors down from an old car lot and not far from a row of boarded-up shops. Two years later, a chic, vibrant neighborhood has sprouted up around them, and their newest venture, Cork Market, fits right in.
Cork Market is primarily a wine shop. It offers all of the bottles sold across the street at the wine bar, and each is marked with the same bin number that appears on the restaurant menu, making it easy for customers to take home something they remember liking. But where the bar serves exclusively European wines, the market also sells a small number of New World wines, with a good number of bottles from Oregon, California and Argentina.
There's plenty available to serve with those wines: a broad variety of cheeses, charcuterie from California's Fra' Mani and Iowa producer La Quercia, plus a well-curated collection of crackers, pastas, marmalades, mustards, olive oils, vinegars, teas and coffees. There is chocolate from Tcho ($8.50 for a 3.7-ounce box), a San Francisco bean-to-bar company; graham crackers from local baker Polly Brown ($5.50 for a dozen); and coffee beans from Stumptown ($12 per 12-ounce bag), the cult Portland roaster. (The beans I bought had been roasted just 48 hours before I purchased them.)
This is one-stop shopping for your next cocktail party. But Cork offers grab-and-go food, too. The sandwiches are pre-made but set out often enough so they are never stale or soggy. Our favorite was the simplest: thin layers of smoked ham and Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert ($7) spiked with spicy Dijon mustard and pickled onions on peasant-style bread. We also applaud the pressed vegetable sandwich ($7), with its perfectly cooked and seasoned peppers, eggplant, zucchini and portobello mushrooms, spread with goat cheese and pesto. We loved the house-made roll for the chicken salad sandwich ($7) but would prefer a tad less mayo in the filling.
Cork's kitchen knows pastry. The crust on a gorgeous oversize lemon meringue tart ($6) was buttery and crisp, as it was on the chive-gruyere-and-prosciutto quiche ($5.50), though our tasters thought the latter's filling could use a lot less salt. And, even if you are sick of them, give Cork's banana cupcake ($2.50) a try. It's more like a banana bread than an airy cupcake, but it's delicious, especially when eaten in the same bite as the superb, tangy frosting.
-- Jane Black (Good to Go, Jan. 6, 2010)