Critic's PickIf there were ever a perfect vantage point to watch the kind of moments that make city life so fascinating, it’s at ForkHeartKnife, the tiny kitchen at Main and Liberty that’s owned and operated by some of the friendliest and most creative women in Over-the-Rhine.
After two visits to ForkHeartKnife, I’m a big fan. It’s just such a personal experience — like dining with friends. The décor is totally simple, with ticking stripe curtains at the edges of wide window seats, sturdy wooden tables and a menu that’s handwritten on brown butcher paper (freely edited as dishes sell out). The patrons for Sunday brunch — at least the first wave who get there shortly after the doors open — are young neighbors with bedhead, happy to sit outside with their sunglasses on and nurse good, strong cups of coffee.
There were two quiches ($4 per slice) on the menu for our visit: One with savory manchego cheese and OTR-grown fresh green beans with piquillo peppers, and one with cheddar, cherry tomatoes and corn, which was sweet and clearly the cook’s favorite. The pie crust was a little sturdy, but the fillings were cooked just right — not runny, not stiff.
We ordered the Lemon Bread Pudding and it came out first, so we ate it with our coffee as an impromptu appetizer. Very authentic and simple, not overly gussied up but accompanied by a spoonful of fresh berries and soft lemon cream. Roast sweet potato chunks were crispy and spicy and when we said they might be nice with some sour cream, the cook was genuine in her “Oh, great idea!” reply.
Meanwhile, outside the window, a police officer was setting up road-closing barricades for Second Sunday on Main. We speculated on whether his vehicle — a truly spiffy new white Jeep — was an official cop car or his personal wheels. A middle-aged woman, clearly disgruntled, was chewing him out and wagging her finger in his face
It was great theater, and we were imagining the dialogue between the two of them. Maybe her car had been towed? Then we learned from one of the outside diners that she was mad that the bus stop had been rerouted without letting people know, and that her elderly mother had somewhere to go. The cop actually loaded them into the Jeep and took them, not to jail, but to wherever the bus was supposed to have gone. A happy ending.
While we watched outside, a sundae of yogurt, nuts and fruit earned a notation on the menu — “This is the Sh**!” — and there were rows of fresh muffins waiting for the crowds to devour them as we left, happy, too.
On a previous visit on a warm Thursday evening, my companion was a Culinary Arts graduate who admired every bite we ate. We slurped down freshly made ginger limeade ($3) and shared three dishes and dessert, starting with a salad of OTR-grown mixed spring lettuces with roasted beets, goat cheese and candied walnuts, dressed with the lightest of orange vinaigrettes and garnished with sweet orange slices. The salad price was around $3, too (with the posted menu and cash-only/no-receipts dining, it’s hard to remember, but our total for the full meal came to $25 for two people on each visit.)
Our entrées were really creative, flavorful and fun. Polenta was served “soufflé-ish” style and sported a fresh tomato sauce with zingy chorizo, transparent sautéed onions and lots of garlic. A short stack of portabella, cheese and eggplant was dressed with sun-dried tomato pesto on one side and basil pesto on the other. It was so good that we asked for bread to sop the last drips up.
To finish, we shared a nice slice of dense, flour-less chocolate torte with blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries on the side. The evening crowd was lively — no drama outside the windows on that visit — and at least one table had brought wine to share.
The space at ForkHeartKnife is limited. There are only four indoor tables and the largest ones can seat maybe five or six guests. Outside, there’s room for a half dozen more. Service is totally casual — you order and pay at the counter and pour your own water — but you’re definitely not neglected, even when things get busy.
You can read the back-story of how ForkHeartKnife came to be at its Web site (forkheartknife.wordpress.com), which also gives you a look at its impressive catering offerings. It’s a melancholy story, but you’d never guess that by the cheerfulness of the owners, Sierra and Leah, who chatted with us about shoe shopping at Zappo’s and hot dining spots in Louisville.
They make running a restaurant look easy — which it’s not — and like they are having a lot of fun, which I sure hope they are. And I hope they continue to for a long time to come.
Go: 1437 Main St., Over-the-Rhine
Hours: 6-10 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, others as announced on Web and Facebook page.
Red Meat Alternatives: Limited menu, call ahead