The Cork & Fork
Where: 3006 Highway 49, Cool
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, open later Friday and Saturday
On the web: coolfork.com
Email: dennis@expressions catering.com
Upscale casual is the way owner Dennis Edwards describes his restaurant, The Cork & Fork, in Cool.
Edwards opened the eatery about a year ago. But he’s been associated with the food business for several decades.
“My dad owned a barbecue place when I was 12,” he said. “I learned how to smoke the meats from an old gentleman who had worked there for 20 years. When I was 18, I entered my first barbecue contest. … At first I was bad at it so I took judging classes and judged for a couple of years to find out what they were looking for. Since then, I have done very well.”
In the early 2000s, he owned Main Street Pizza and Grill in Cool, later selling it to concentrate on catering. About four years ago he purchased Brown Bag Catering in Auburn and changed the name to Expressions Catering. He continues to run that business, recently preparing a breakfast and lunch for 300 people, he said.
The decision to get back into the restaurant business came when the right spot became available at the corner of Highway 193 and Highway 49.
Before opening, he gave the building a total transformation.
“We took the seating down from more than 70 to under 50 because we wanted a more intimate setting,” he said. “We modernized the kitchen and set aside space in the back of the building for the catering business so we can cater and run the business without people tripping over one another.”
In addition to barbecue, the menu offers burgers, wraps, salads, sandwiches, appetizers and, as of January, a large vegan selection.
“We do specials evenings and weekends — from filet mignon to lasagna,” Edwards said. “We have live music a couple of times a month.”
For February, in a salute to Italy, he’s adding pastas and artisan pizzas as permanent additions to the menu.
“There will be pizza margherita and several other choices — thin crispy crust, fresh herbs and ingredients,” he said.
The most popular items with customers are the pulled pork sandwiches, bacon-cheddar tri-tip and burgers.
“It takes anywhere from 10 to 12 hours to cook the pork and three to four hours for babyback ribs,” Edwards said. “We do our tri-tip a little different. We just cook it long enough to get grill marks and develop a nice crust. Then we put it into the smoker to finish it.”
The barbecued pulled pork sandwich is the favorite of El Dorado Hills resident Jason Earney.
“The bacon cheddar is a close second and the chicken taco salad is wonderful as well,” he said in an email. “He is always accommodating. That is what is so refreshing.
“Dennis is always so personal. He spends time to educate his customers on how he prepares his food. The food is homemade and it tastes great.”
The restaurant also has a wine bar with a selection that includes vintages from El Dorado County, Amador County and Lodi.
“We have 16 wines right now and more than half sell by the glass,” Edwards said.
There are 40 types of bottled beer, most of them craft beers.
Balancing a restaurant plus catering keeps him busy and the two are very different.
“Catering is profitable and a restaurant is fulfilling,” he said.
And he still finds time to enter an occasional barbecue competition.
“They’re very expensive and a lot of hard work, but a blast,” he said.