Date Night in Fargo: Cork’ n Cleaver

For this weekend’s date night we wanted to try something new. We’ve overheard a couple acquaintances mention the Cork’ n Cleaver, a restaurant that’s been open for 40 years. Also, we recently saw its steak featured in Fargo Monthly’s newest issue, 50 Tasty Eats that provides photos of each dish and ideas for future dining experiences.

We visited Cork’ n Cleaver for an early dinner. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by the hostess and seated immediately. The relatively large interior is cozy and dimly lit and we admired the warm fireplaces. We had a hard time getting comfortable because the section in which we were seated was lined by a vent that pumped cold and hot air. The mirror-covered wall by our table was smudged and I smelled Windex mist when a staff member wiped down adjacent tables.A server quickly took our drink orders and carded my husband since he ordered a beer. He willingly obliged. Minutes later, someone from the bar stopped by our table and firmly asked Jake to show her his ID, again, before she would bring him the beer. He began to explain he just showed the server his ID, but shrugged it off and pulled it from his wallet again. I wonder if she didn’t believe the server who originally took his drink order.

Everyone receives this crusty sourdough bread with honey butter. It was freshly baked and pleasantly sour. This is the best bread I’ve tasted in Fargo-Moorhead.

Then, we ordered a whole artichoke to share as an appetizer. For entrees, Jake ordered a sirloin steak with a baked potato and opted for the salad bar while I ordered the evening’s catfish special with wild rice pilaf and the salad bar. I had read in this same Fargo Monthly issue that the Chef enjoys cooking Cajun food and is willing to accommodate requests for spicy food, so I ordered the fish extra spicy.

The salad bar was a fun touch though it wasn’t particularly memorable. I bypassed iceburg lettuce that looked to be discolored around the edges and chose romaine and spinach instead. The bar offered pasta salad, potato salad, and typical toppings like pickled beet slices, shredded cheese, hard boiled egg, peas and baby carrots. The croutons did not appear to be homemade and I passed on what appeared to be processed tropical fruit cocktail. I did enjoy the salad dressings which the restaurant says it makes from scratch.

I’ve always wanted to eat a whole, steamed artichoke and was excited to see it on the menu. Since this was our first one, we have nothing to compare it to. We enjoyed peeling back the leaves and nibbling their fleshy ends. The little ramekin contained what tasted like plain mayonnaise which tasted better when we added juice from the lemon wedge. It provided some needed acidity.

Jake’s steak arrived juicy and cooked to a precise medium-rare. It had a nice beefy flavor and wasn’t gristly, though I felt it lacked seasoning. Jake enjoyed the baked red potato that came with sour cream and butter. The insides were especially creamy since it was of a waxy variety, but I missed the crispy, salted skin I love most about traditional, starchy baked potatoes.

My catfish special consisted of two baked or broiled fillets sprinkled with Cajun seasoning. The fish was cooked through but its texture was waterlogged and I longed for some sort of crust or sear. The seasoning level struck me as just right and the tartar sauce tasted homemade, but the lemon wedge was dried out. The accompanying wild rice pilaf was mushy and tasted like something that would come from an Uncle Ben’s box. All things considered, this special seemed overpriced, not only because it was executed poorly, but because I know catfish isn’t very expensive. Then, we packed up my leftovers to go so we could make a movie showing.

All in all, the service wasn’t unfriendly, but it wasn’t exactly warm and a little inattentive, with the exception of the lovely hostess. The highlight of the meal was the complimentary sourdough bread, though we also enjoyed the artichoke and appreciated they cooked the steak to a perfect medium rare. Considering that we spent nearly the equivalent to a dinner at Mezzaluna, I can’t say we’ll make an effort to return. The meal cost $70, not including tip, for two entrees, an $8 artichoke, one draft beer, and a Shirley Temple. If you want water, you may have to ask for it, as it was not automatically served to us this evening.

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