Friday, August 31, 2018

Capitol City Cork and Provisions

UPDATE: Capitol City Cork, and its owner, Jami Wade, celebrated Cork's last nights in business on Friday and Saturday, June 28 and 29, 2019. As of early July 2019, the business is for sale. Jami was ready to move on to something else; said the business had never taken a loss. Anyone want to take the reins of one of JC's premier hospitality businesses?


This post is soooooo long overdue. Capitol City Cork has been in Jeff City for years, now, and it’s become an institution. And it’s a lot of things to a lot of people. In my opinion, it’s an oasis.

Located at 124 E. High Street, it’s almost exactly in the center of town, just a brief walk from the State Capitol, the Cole County Courthouse, and gaggles of law offices, lobbying groups, PR firms, and state office buildings. Being uptown, having an elegant ambiance, and serving beautiful food and beverages, it receives plenty of uptown customers. And you never know who you might see in there.

Disclaimer: As you might have gathered, my “restaurant reviews” are no longer critiques—instead they are cheerleading sessions about places I genuinely like, meditations on places that are great on levels deeper than the superficial. Places whose presence make our community better. Thus I describe my beloved Cork.

When I started this blog and named it the Opulent Opossum, I had in mind the juxtaposition of having big city tastes while living in a small town. How does one lead an opulent life in a place where the majority are thrilled with fast food and interstate chain restaurants and are suspicious of cuisines and foods none of us grew up with?

And how does one embrace the benefits of a small town—its neighborliness and warmth, its charm, its unabashed community spirit—without also caving in to the provincialism, self-satisfaction, and fear of change that’s the flip side of small communities?

How can we live in Jefferson City as Opulent Opossums?

Well, Cork exemplifies the best solution to this question: it strives for the best and highest tastes while being completely grounded in the warm and friendly neighborly hospitality people in big cities have nearly forgotten about. It’s elegant, but it’s a laid-back kind of elegant. A place to relax and celebrate this precise moment, in this exact place.

So, if you’re reading this, and if you’re wondering what kind of place Cork is, then let me describe it to you. In a word, it’s a bistro. It’s a long narrow room with a small bar in the back and a hallway beyond that leading to the back door. They make the most of what is actually a rather small space.

There are a variety of tables and seating options, including tables by the front window, so you and your friends can check out all the action on High Street (yes, that’s a small-town joke) . . . but there are more secluded tables farther in. (Think: date night.)

. . . Or you can sit at the bar, and no doubt make a new friend . . .

. . . Or you can enjoy the café tables out on the sidewalk.

You even have options getting in. In addition to the High Street entrance, there’s another entrance in the rear, along with opportunities for nearby parking in the lot behind the row of buildings. So you can usually park pretty close. (Big-city people, be jealous.)

The emphasis, as the name implies, is on wine. The list includes an array of tasty special offerings, but then the house wines are much better than average. The glasses are enormous, allowing you to properly swirl, sniff, and savor your beverage. (Some people have actually complained that their glasses aren’t filled enough—but they don’t take into account the large size of the glasses!)

And if you’re not into wine, there are good beers and other beverages as well. There’s a reason they call it Cork and Provisions!

And here’s a nice touch: They keep glass bottles of water chilling in the fridge and bring these to the tables, so guests can refill their own water glasses.

Their chow is called “new American,” but I think “fresh bistro fare” is a better label. If you find menus for Cork online, be skeptical—the menu has had several changes over the years, and it can change seasonally. Websites can’t keep up. Cork doesn’t use a food service, and sometimes something just looks really great at the farmer’s market, and suddenly that’s the day’s special.

So the menu can change, and that’s a good thing, my friends! Fairly recently, they’ve added burgers to the menu. Juicy, handmade burgers! And they do this thing with a bleu cheese cream sauce as a topping, and, well . . . you just have to try it. I did, and got perfectly prepared Brussels sprouts as a side.

When people criticize Cork, what do they say? The biggest complaint, I think, is about the hours, which would be easier to understand if they were more traditional or conventional. According to Cork’s Facebook page, they’re open Tuesday through Friday, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and closed Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. So: no lunches; no weekends at all; and no Mondays. Meanwhile, they may be closed (or open) certain nights for special events. And special events are pretty common, both at the restaurant and catering offsite. If you’re in doubt, call them (573) 632-2675 or message them (as on the Facebook page).

You’ve probably heard the old saw about “Do you want it fast, cheap, or good? Because you can’t have all three.” At Cork, the primary emphasis is on the last: quality and freshness is the priority. As international travelers know, not everyone in the world agrees that food should appear instantaneously, or that all diners are understood to be in a hurry. Cork has the sensibility of a café in, say, Paris, where dining is valued as a social occasion, for conversation, tasting, lingering, enjoying. Here in Jefferson City, this is high praise indeed.

One more thing about Cork: It is connected, philosophically, stylistically, and (by means of a small hallway in back) literally, to Capitol City Cinema, Jefferson City’s community-supported arthouse theater. This nonprofit single-screen cinema shows independent, foreign, and documentary films, and it partners with other nonprofit groups to improve the community. It, too, is an elegant space, with chandeliers and comfortable seating, and you can purchase gourmet appetizers, beer, and wine at next-door Cork to enjoy before and during the movie.

The two entities benefit one another: What could be more perfect than dinner and a movie? —Oh yeah! A lovely dinner and an awesome movie! It’s a brilliant strategy for helping the restaurant business, while also contributing to the cultural scene in this small town. Maybe you won’t want to see all the movies, but I’m sure there are some you’ll love.

And so here’s my call to action: Check out Cork and the cinema. Become a “regular”! “Like” ’em on social media so you know about upcoming movies and events at the cinema and can stay up-to-date on Cork’s specials and special events. The people who run these conjoined institutions are your neighbors, who love Jefferson City and are contributing to it, via their daily work, every single day. As with all locally owned businesses, you can “vote” for their continued presence with your meal and entertainment dollars. You won’t be let down.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Remember, You’re a Patron

Recently, it’s come to my attention that despite the economic recovery we’re all supposedly experiencing (*snort!*), several of our local businesses—restaurants, notably—are struggling.

Partly, it’s that it’s summer, no doubt. And there's been plenty of construction work uptown. There have also been several new restaurants opening—chain restaurants. Like that new Kenf*cky Tried Chicken on the Boulevard. Seriously, y’all? It’s a big multinational corporation with a huuge marketing budget, including a corporate-HQ marketing and PR department—the whole shebang. And do multinational fast-food joints really give back to our community, interact with our community, apart from offering, to little-skilled workers, entry-level positions that everyone considers among the first examples of poorly paid, inglorious work?

No. Think of all the wonderful, interesting foods that you’ve never tried, and realize that you’ve had enough of the Colonel’s secret-recipe fried chicken, or Big Macs, or whatever ____ [insert trademark symbol here] to last you the rest of your life.

You vote with your dollars. Or, as a New Agey friend would put it, money is energy.

Which businesses deserve those little boosts of energy, in the form of your purchases, your patronage, your goodwill, and your word-of-mouth?

Our small local independent businesses often have tight budgets. Their success may vary month to month. But often they sponsor our local festivals and fundraisers (look for their names on the backs of tee-shirts, for instance). Often they partner with local nonprofits to host fundraising and visibility events. Often, they are fun and relatively interesting places to have a job.

Often, the owners and employees are our neighbors. . . . And often, they’re trying to figure stuff out using their own resources. They generally don’t have big PR or advertising budgets, much less a human resources department to help the owners negotiate a sea of benefit red tape and other rules and regulations. And when an appliance quits working, they’re on their own to get it fixed before they lose business.

So remember that every time you make a purchase—anywhere, really—you’re basically saying, “I really like your business, and I hope you prosper and can stay here in this town.”

Some of my future posts will be celebrations of some local places I hope you’ll patronize. Spend some shekels there. And spread the word, too. Tell your friends about these and other local businesses and why you like them.

Exercise your power as a patron!