Fork and Knife
Fork & Knife gives a Michigan twist to the comfort food trend. Take those cherries that pop up in everything from the The Good Salad, based on the recipe of an owner’s mother, to Traverse City Cherry Cheesecake Crème Brûlée. The latter was so good that it practically disappeared in the amount of time it took to say it’s somewhat longwinded name.
The downtown dining scene in Boca Raton is ultra competitive, but F&K owners Lee Tushman and Scott Niskar think they have an angle beyond their restaurant’s somewhat naughty acronym. “People spend money in Boca, but they don’t want to go out every night and spend $250,” Tushman says.
The restaurant opened in November with the intent of reflecting the Midwestern fare its owners grew up with. Tushman used to own the Blue Martini and City Cellar restaurants in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham and enlisted fellow Michigander Niskar, who has worked at Disney and the Palace at Auburn Hills, home to the NBA Detroit Pistons.
Another member of the Michigan crew is manager Scott Heimke, who used to bartend for Tushman at the Blue Martini. Heimke provided the first twist of the evening with a Hibiscus Margarita, made with Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila, Hum Hibiscus Liqueur and Agave Nectar. The margarita has many of the taste components of a regular margarita, but with the sweet flowery flavor of hibiscus, both from the infused tequila and the Hum Liqueur. The hibiscus in the drink isn’t like those typically found in South Florida. It’s shaped more like a rose in the process of opening. The flower is edible and tastes like candy. Another Detroit area favorite, the honey-colored Vernors ginger ale, gives its name to the Vernors Float, which has Bacardi Oakheart Spiced Rum and Madagascar vanilla ice cream.
The evening started with the Portobello Stack, one of the stars on the appetizers list with a sweet balsamic glaze, tomato slices, arugula, fresh mozzarella and a mushroom that’s been carefully sliced to get rid of the stem. The sweet glaze and pepper arugula makes for a great contrast in taste.
Another appetizer, the spinach and artichoke dip gets a coastal twist with the addition of crab. The smooth and creamy dip is accompanied by Grecian flat bread that’s flash fried, leaving it crunchy on the outside but still soft inside. Tushman says the restaurant uses Old School Bakery in Delray Beach for not only the quality of its products, but its seven days a week delivery that avoids day-old bread. Bagel Wit A Schmear on North Federal Highway in Boca provides the bagels in the morning.
New Yorkers and Chicagoans lay claim to hot dog fame, but F&K serves up a version made famous by stands in downtown Detroit. Getting a match with the right chili involved multiple experiments by chef Mlcak until they nailed it, Niskar says.
Niskar’s mother provided the inspiration for The Good Salad, which has cherries, red onion, sesame vinaigrette, feta cheese, romaine lettuce and cashews. The name came from when she called him at college and was tempting him home with, well, that good salad.
For entrées, we tried the Turkey Meatloaf Cupcake, which uses turkey as the body of the cupcake and has artfully whipped potatoes on top resembling frosting. Mlcak says one of the keys to the dish is including diced onions to moisten a meat that tends to dry out when baked. The garlic, thyme and mustard gave it a nice flavor without being too overpowering.
Another menu star is the Baked Lobster Macaroni and Cheese. The dish has plenty of cheese, but doesn’t have the cloying, gooey quality found in the pre-packaged varieties. The lobster taste is infused in every bite and there’s the suspense of whether the next fork full will be the one with a whole claw of meat in it.
We topped off the night with a rich Cherry Cheesecake Crème Brûlée. The crème brûlée avoids the gelatinized texture of cheap versions and has a very creamy texture. The whole Traverse City cherries on top and diced inside add a tart and slightly less sweet taste. Another must-try creative dessert is the S’more Pops, which has a marshmallow with rich chocolate and a graham cracker crust. Yes, I’ll have S’More.
Tushman says he and Nickar weren’t out to reinvent the wheel when it comes to comfort food, but they have clearly put their own twists into it.