#YUM: Spork - The Monitor: Entertainment

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#YUM: Spork

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Posted: Friday, October 4, 2013 3:29 pm

If eating local, organic foods is important to you, there are only a handful of restaurants in the area to enjoy. You can add Spork to that list now.

The restaurant recently opened in North McAllen, and I’ve eaten there three times already. Yes, this is going to be a good review.

Chefs at Spork focus on new American cuisine, which is sort of a fancy way of saying they serve interpretations on classic American comfort foods. And since America is the melting pot, the menu reflects that. You’ll find Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Greek and southern American inspired dishes.

Each time I’ve visited Spork, I’ve made it a point to try a different appetizer, entree and dessert — but I also made it a point to make sure someone at the table orders the carrot cake, which is the absolute star and should be the signature dish at Spork. (Though I have to say they really know how to do pork (er, “Spork”) belly.)

On my most recent visit, I tried the lonche sliders, about which I’ve heard others rave. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve had really good lonches — at least, that’s what my co-worker Oscar says. Chicken confit, crispy chicken skin, some pickled onion and sriracha spiced crema fill a slider-sized bun which is then deep fried. It’s a small, fancy version of a lonche that is incredibly rich. I’m a fan of sriracha, a very spicy condiment, so I would’ve loved more of it.

My friend Adam and my boyfriend David ordered a cup of the soup du jour: beer-braised beef. The soup, which ate like a stew, was full of tender bits of beef, thinly sliced carrots and potatoes and topped with micro greens. The only complaint I have about the soup was that the broth was extremely oily. The flavor was wonderful, but it should’ve been skimmed.

I ordered the ricotta cavatelli, but the kitchen had to substitute the pasta with pappardelle. I didn’t mind. Handmade pasta is handmade pasta. Thick ribbons were tossed with red peppers, smoked pork and a Bolognese sauce. A crispy crumble of pecorino Romano tops the mound. It tastes as if all of the meat in this ragu was cooked painstakingly slow. It’s a rich, full-flavored dish that’s wholly satisfying. You aren’t going to find a pasta dish like that at your garden-variety Italian restaurant.

Generally, portion size at Spork shouldn’t be an issue because everything seems so rich. However, David found the one item that left him hungry: chicken ‘n’ crisps. Seasoned chicken breast is sliced thin and served atop rice with wild mushrooms, an herb sauce and a super crispy chicken skin chip, like a chicken chicharone — a “chickarone.” It’s probably one of their lightest options in flavor and richness, but it was very good. David said he probably could’ve eaten two orders. And we all would’ve liked to have had a bowl of those “chickarones.”

Adam ordered the Spork burger, which came with fries. The beef patty was thick and very juicy, but Adam said it was a bit too greasy for him. He loved the beer braised onions, though — they were sweet, savory and had a great texture that wasn’t too soft. The thin fries were seasoned perfectly and were crispy all around. Two sauces are served on the side: a stone-ground mustard and a house-made red pepper ketchup. My least favorite part of Adam’s meal was that ketchup — the texture was runny and the flavor was like that of unripe tomatoes mixed with red peppers. It really needed more tomato.

When it was finally time for dessert, I had a hard time deciding what to get, but like I said earlier, at least one of us had to get the carrot cake. I already tried the peanut butter ice cream (which was so creamy and delicious), so I opted for the fruit crisp. A traditional fruit crisp is served hot in a tiny cast iron pot with a scoop of black pepper ice cream — wait, what? I have a feeling the chefs look at comfort foods from an angle that shakes up tradition but still pays homage. The spiciness from the black pepper complements the tart-sweetness that bubbles at the surface of the sugary oat crisp on top.

David got the buttermilk panna cotta, which came with giant boysenberries, a fruit sauce and a candied tomatillo slice. The dessert is refreshing and comforting. The buttermilk gives just the right amount of tang and sourness that works well with the fruit. The panna cotta itself is cool, creamy and not at all gelatinous, which I appreciated. The tomatillo candy was a fun twist. The dessert lacked something though, and I think it’s missing a cookie. It needs a crunchy element.

Adam agreed to getting the carrot cake, but was hesitant to share it with me. The deconstructed dessert starts with slices of plain carrot cake and then builds up and out with dots of smoked raisin paste, cream cheese ice cream (in place of frosting) and a salty pecan crumble. The green dots around the cake are actually what the chefs managed to make out of the green tops of the carrots and it tastes a lot like parsley, so it sort of makes sense. I love the balance between sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, and warm and cold. My only comment is that the arrangement of the pecan crumble, cake and ice cream was so much better during the soft opening — the cake and crumble didn’t get soggy and I was able to get a little bit of everything in each bite.

Sure, there are a few points that Spork could improve upon, but overall I was very happy with everything I ordered. I look forward to trying a new dish every time I go — and I hear they have an awesome Sunday brunch.

Average price of small plates: $11.78

Average price of entrees: $19.36

(Spork, 5401 N. 10th St., McAllen; (956) 627-3229; Open 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday)

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