Customers invited to uncork their senses

Cork co-owner Bob Martin (right) with Ed Dols. Photo by Mandy Froemming

Five-star food. Four-star prices. Three-star attitude.

That’s the philosophy for the new restaurant Cork, which opened in Anoka last month.

To date Cork has already served more than 600 plates at its location on First Avenue South, in the historic downtown.

Co-owner Bob Martin calls the restaurant a “two-headed beast.” What sets it apart are the fine dining options offered Thursday through Saturday evenings.

“We know our food is stuffy, but our attitude is not,” Martin said.

Cork caters to customers who want to go out and eat really good food but might not want to spend hundreds dressing up to go out for a fine dining experience, he said.

The restaurant is also open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday.

Cork brings together a collection of owners with backgrounds in the restaurant industry.

Martin said the group had been looking for a spot for a couple of years, and along with Anoka had also been considering Hopkins and Stillwater for a new location.

Along with Martin, the ownership includes Executive Chef Russell Frey, Sous Chef Billy Martin and Debi Grant, who works in the front of the house. All are active employees of the business.

Martin and Frey have worked together for years as restaurant consultants under the name Hat Tricks Consulting. Tackling the space in Anoka was a big job. It has required months and thousands of dollars in renovations.

Martin also hopes to add something the location has never had –a main floor restroom.

A flair for fine dining

Many of the menu options are new to dining Anoka, and the north metro.

A chef’s tasting dinner comes in three, five or seven courses.

“That’s what the real foodies are going for,” Martin said.

A server will ask the customer what kinds of things they don’t like, or any allergies they may have, and then come up with a dinner that Martin says often stuns the customer.

“When you tell us what you don’t like, that opens up what the chef thinks you would like,” Martin said.

The always evolving menu includes a variety of appetizers, salads, and a mix of proteins and pastas every week.

A recent evening menu featured entrees including shrimp risotto, New York strip, rosemary lamb chops, chicken marsala, cioppino and seared mahi-mahi.

Entree prices range from $18-$28. Appetizers run $6-$14 and salads $7-$12.

Customers can also have a choice of a wine or craft beer flight pairing with meals.

Martin said the wine list is unique, “none of the wines are available at any other bar around us.”

This season’s craft beers are standouts from Wisconsin, Illinois and Alaska.

The menu earlier in the day is constant, with special twists on popular fare. Favorites include the Kentucky hot brown – a hot turkey sandwich with a Parmesan cream sauce – as well as a BLT made with duck bacon and a sandwich that includes pastrami made on site by Frey, who has cooked on seven continents.

Martin said it’s pretty much automatic to bring a take-home box with the bill for those hefty sandwiches, which are served up with a side of house-made potato chips.

There is also a breakfast buffet cooked to order.

“If you want six eggs we will cook you up six eggs, then if you want a waffle we’ll bring you a waffle,” Martin said. “We’ll just keep bringing you food until you wave your napkin and say you are done.”

A small salad bar is also offered at lunchtime.

But there’s something significant missing behind the scenes at Cork –Martin says it is the only restaurant in Anoka County that doesn’t have a freezer or a microwave.

Cork is working to use as much locally sourced, fresh food as possible. What doesn’t get used up from the fine dining menu Thursday through Saturday will be cooked up as specials early the next week.

“Our motto is from ocean to stream, from farm to field, from our chef to your table,” Martin said.

While both Martin and Frey have a lifetime of restaurant experience, they are both looking at the next generation.

“We wanted to do something that is a legacy for our kids,” said Frey.

Martin’s 14-year-old daughter Bobbi is learning the business as a hostess at Cork, where he says her food knowledge isn’t that of the average teenager.

Frey’s son Sam is responsible for the point of sale system set up on an iPad.

Cork is closed on Sundays, but is willing to open on request for fundraisers for school groups outside of athletics, focusing on underserved academic or music clubs, said Martin.

He won a community service award for this type of work he introduced while working at the Forest Lake American Legion.

Cork is located at 1918 First Ave. in Anoka. Hours of operation: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday 4-9 p.m., Saturday noon to 9 p.m.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at

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