A star-studded cast led the first 2015 version of the Test Kitchen, an underground supper club started by Jenny Vergara in 2008. For those unfamiliar with the Test Kitchen, it’s really an incubator for chefs. They are encouraged to think out of the box and stretch their creative limits, a luxury not commonly allowed in a restaurant setting. Interested diners sign up by email and are entered into a lottery. Twenty to thirty lucky winners are picked to dine in what is typically an offbeat location, revealed just 24 hours to attending.
Last night’s dinner proved to be a departure from the Test Kitchen norm as it provided a sneak peek of Alex Pope and Eric Willey’s Cleaver & Cork, which is set to open next week after a series of preview events. Chef Andrew Heimburger, previously at Pigwich and Local Pig, helms the kitchen as he continues his tutelage under Alex Pope. Participants were treated to a preview of menu items as well as the opportunity to dine in the restaurant before it opens to the public.
Andrew Olsen, previously a bartender at the Rieger, was recruited to manage the bar program at Cleaver & Cork. He and Eric Willey devised beverage pairings to go with the seven course dinner.
Cocktail hour began with a Horsefeather. Made with Rieger whiskey, ginger beer and lemon, it is a variation of the Moscow Mule that has gained popularity since its introduction in the 1990’s in Lawrence.
Our first course was a lovely sweet potato soup with scallions and chile salt, presented in beautiful bowls that were purchased to create a particular look for the restaurant. That was followed by a salad of oyster mushrooms with house made ricotta, arugula and a dash of chipotle.
Since Alex owns Local Pig, it’s no surprise that Cleaver & Cork will sport a very meat-centric menu. The first appetizer we were given was beef tartar with porcini and Parmesan, a slight riff on the typical egg yolk version.
We moved into the entrees with a BBQ Pork Shoulder, paired with braised cabbage, cornbread pudding and a bbq beurre blanc. Braised for only 2 hours, it doesn’t melt like a pork butt that has been slowly cooked for 5 or more hours, but it was still tender and played nicely with the other elements of the dish.
Eric’s wine pairings were spot on. Though I’m more of a red wine drinker and didn’t love the whites on their own, the beauty of a well-conceived wine pairing and a talented sommelier is that when sipped with food, the wines shine. And that’s exactly what happened.
The restaurant is just what the Power & Light District needs. Though owned by an affiliate of the Cordish Companies, it will be independently operated without the feel of the chains that permeate the District. And with Alex Pope and Eric Willey running the show, a quality food and drink program is assured.
If you’ve never been to a Test Kitchen dinner, go to testkitchenkc.com and sign up to get on the mailing list. If you haven’t succeeded in winning the lottery to get in, keep trying. Wherever the venue or whomever is cooking, you won’t be disappointed.