Earnest in Chandler: An Olive Oil Cocktail and Savory Monkey Bread
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Lauren Saria Two cocktails from Earnest, formerly Cork, in Chandler.
Lauren Saria Inside Earnest
Location: 4991 S. Alma School Rd, Sun Lakes
Open: Over a week
Eats: Seasonal American
Price: $30+ a person
For six years Cork was a star in the East Valley dining scene. The restaurant, opened by three alumni from Lon's at the Hermosa Inn, brought a level of culinary excellence to a part of town where fine-dining was -- and is still -- pretty hard to come by. Just last year we spoke to chef Brian Peterson about how the restaurant had struggled to find its niche, but consistent national recognition for the restaurant's wine program and love from local diners seemed to indicate Cork was here to stay.
Alas, it wasn't. On July 1 Cork closed it doors for good and joined a growing list of local restaurants that have decided to redo their concepts to appeal to the more casual dining set. Just over two weeks after closing Cork, the restaurant reopened as Earnest, a seasonal American restaurant with a focus on updated comfort food, craft beer, and American spirits. From the original Cork trio only chef Brian Peterson and pastry chef Danielle Morris remain. Morris' husband Robert, a sommelier who co-owned Cork, isn't involved with the new restaurant.
The effort to make the restaurant a more casual dining spot is successful to a point. The renovated dining room includes design elements such as a chalkboard wall, reclaimed-looking wood, and Edison bulb light fixtures. It feels less sophisticated than Cork, but no amount of aesthetic alterations can change the fact that the restaurant's focal point is the beautiful, glass-encased wine room.
Lauren Saria Savory monkey bread
The menu, described on the restaurant's website and re-imagined classic American cuisine, retains an elevated sensibility -- and elevated price tags. Entrees, which range in price from about $15 to $24 each, are about $10 cheaper than what Cork was serving, but still make for a relatively expensive meal.
About half of the menu is dedicated to hot and cold starters, which can also be enjoyed as shareable plates. The deviled eggs ($7) fit well into the restaurant's Americana theme but alternated between being heavy on salt in one bite and on the mustard in another. The lamb meatballs ($12) were also a disappointment; the dish came with just three meatballs dressed in an unremarkable tomato sauce peppered with pieces of feta cheese.
The savory monkey bread ($7) fared much better. Though the name may be a bit misleading to those familiar with the gooey, sweet version of the dish, Earnest's take is still quite enjoyable. You'll get a half loaf of crusty, white bread sliced and adorned with melted cheese and spices. It's a bit greasy, but hard not to like.