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Cork: Experience the Flair

cork- tyler tx eguideWritten and Photographed by Barbara King

Cork has a life and energy all of its own, which is very apparent this mid-week “Wine Wednesday” night. The bar is packed, the room is buzzing and there is a guitarist/singer in the corner doing his thing.

Co-owner Ace Estrella is busy meeting and greeting guests and the vibe is contagious. Folks are coming and staying, and staying, conversing, eating, and mingling all night long.

Opened in September, 2012, Cork is the epitome of a fine dining experience along with fun, fashion and flair. Business partners, entrepreneurs, and friends, Ace Estrella and John Florendo, have made Cork the place to mix and mingle in Tyler, and people are coming in droves to see what all the excitement is about.

cork-7 tyler tx eguideComing in the door, you will be warmly greeted and immediately surrounded by the ambience of subdued lighting, colorful artwork, and music. It is eclectic, fun and funky, and here, you would think you are in any big city like New York, Dallas or Chicago.

Ace describes the passion that fuels the vision of Cork. “We love what we do and we wanted to bring a different dining experience to East Texas. At the end of the day, we want to have folks leave with a memory of excellent ambience, food, wine and service.” Both men have years of restaurant experience, and their partnership blends the knowledge of industry standards with a tinge of risk and outside-the-box mentalities.

The dynamic duo of Ace and John have spun their concept into a new upscale eatery and bar that is now “the place to go” in Tyler. Valet parking and outside seating are amenities that just add that extra customer service element that folks crave.

cork-4 tyler tx eguideLiterally building the business from the ground up meant sweat, labor, and copious man hours, including cutting and lacquering sushi boards, upholstering furniture, and everything in between. It is truly a labor of love for the two gentlemen, whose love of fine dining and family is the basis for the collaboration.

The eclectic mix of European-Asian cuisine and unique pairings of wine and food makes this an incredible progressive dining adventure. Ace explains, “We are truly educating Tyler about healthy, quality food that is meant to be shared, enjoyed and appreciated in a casual, yet classy non-hurried environment.” Every meal is a present to be opened and shared, and presentation is everything. “We know people eat with their eyes,” says Ace, “and our Chef is always experimenting, changing and growing the menu.”

cork-10 tyler tx eguideThe menu reflects the concept of sharing with the heading “just a few plates to share among friends,” including jalapeno poppers, peppadew peppers (stuffed with goat cheese and sprinkled with candied pecans), potstickers, Filipino spring rolls (cooked with love by Ace’s mom in the Cork kitchen), brussel sprouts, bruschetta and gourmet sliders. Fresh sushi is the favorite at Cork, and you will only find fresh, high quality ingredients on your plate. Sushi specialties include Surf and Turf, Rainbow, Texas Crunch, I’m a Dragon, and Shrimp Crunch. Rolls are also available in many varieties like Cali, Philly, Spicy, Tuna, Tiger Eye, Veggie, and Spider. The versatile menu allows you to pick and choose from items ranging from $9 for a Harvest or Strawberry Salad, Stir Fry Health Bowls starting at $7, and all the way up to scrumptious Kobe beef and butcher board ribeyes at around $33.

Brunch at Cork (available Saturdays 10am-2pm and Sundays 10am-4pm) is the best part of the weekend, and the choices are endless. Feast on everything from Steak & Eggs to French toast, Chicken & Waffles to a Country Fried Steak Bowl. Build your own omelettes, Eggs Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, and Pulled Pork Benedict are available, too. Pair these with the brunch drink of the day, a bottomless Mimosa or a Lemongrass Mint Julep, Sangria or Bloody Mary. There is also a kiddo’s menu featuring waffles, pancakes, and French toast items.

cork-3 tyler tx eguideChef Chad Graham has been whipping up taste sensations at Cork over the last eight months, and says, “I have the freedom to experiment, and the menu is always evolving. We try to pair hand-crafted cocktails with menu options. I would say that the restaurant reflects a Pan-Asian influence with a Mediterranean flair. Our menu options are 80% made from scratch, and I am constantly researching, reading and building new flavors through marinades, sauces and cooking techniques.”

It might seem to be all about the food, service and ambiance, but there is a lot more going on in this eatery. Large, colorful artscapes cover the walls, and upon closer inspection, the works are all credited to local artists, and the music is courtesy of local musicians, too. The team makes a concerted effort to support local, especially in their concept of farm-to-table, and Chef Graham is quick to point out that the kitchen strives to utilize local produce whenever possible in support of local farmers.

Shay Wimberly, Ariel Flores and Nancy Flournoy were there to celebrate a special birthday and picked Cork because they had heard it was a fun, unique atmosphere with great food. Shay says, “We love the eclectic vibe, atmosphere and urban feel. The service couldn’t be better, and we were glad we came in on a live music night.”

cork-5 tyler tx eguideThe restaurant is closed Mondays for private/chef dinners, Wednesdays are “Wine Wednesdays” with ½ price bottles of wine available. “Keep it Local Tuesdays” features $5 for any drink featuring Texas spirits and the famous $6 pub burger made from all natural grass-fed beef from Happy Cattle Company.

“Our dream that began as lists and sketches on notebook paper has become a reality that is continually growing and is a true reflection of our personalities and vision,” said Ace. Come find out what all the talk is about at Cork. Restaurant hours are Tuesday-Sunday 4-10:30pm (bar is open later). Find them at, Facebook at ‘Cork Food and Drink’ or at (903)363-9197. Cork is located at 5801 South Broadway in the Times Square Plaza, Tyler.

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