Fork and Wrench deftly wields the tools of the trade

Fork and Wrench Bar and Dining Room

2322 Boston St., [443] 759-9360,

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An evening

at the newly opened


Fork and Wrench Bar and Dining Room

prompts a number of questions. Should one order the Brass Tacks cocktail (rye, ginger simple syrup, cherry juice) or the Aviation, a murky, dark concoction of gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and creme de violet? Does “Happy Birthday” sound better accompanied by a ukulele? And on a slightly different note, what qualifies as authentic?

The first two are easy to answer (the Aviation and yes). The last question, naturally, is more difficult, but the Fork and Wrench’s back-story necessitates some consideration of the subject. For two years, owners Jason Sanchez and Andy Gruver labored on the interior of the restaurant, formerly the Pur Lounge, remaking it into a warren of spaces, each with a different motif. A short climb up several steps from the restaurant’s main entrance, the “study,” for example, is a hold-all for bric-a-brac: shelves of books, pinned and framed insect and butterfly collections, black-and-white photos, an empty birdcage. The remnants of charcoal wallpaper that cling like paper stalactites to the wall were hung recently, distressed and pulled down to create the shabby chic look, a server explains.

According to the restaurant’s web site, the goal of this decor is to “evoke 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s working classes” in a space part “dive bar. . . [part] 4-star. . . for the benefit of the ‘modern day’ working classes.” Frankly, this explanation is more confusing than clarifying (not to mention a little annoying—I don’t know many working-class folks of that era and this neighborhood who had time and resources for, say, butterfly collecting). Still, restaurants—even those that trumpet seasonal and local—are necessarily illusions, intricate (and, with luck, talented) performances by a menage of chefs and servers in a specific and pointedly created setting. So yes, the feel here is a little bit steampunk and a larger bit precious, but everything else about the restaurant is so good-natured, so earnest, so aiming to please that you just want to give up analyzing and get down to that cocktail.

The sense of whimsy that exudes from each crafted corner of the Fork and Wrench extends to the menu as well. Much like she did at Vino Rosina, Chef Sajin Renae divides her bistro-inspired menu into playful categories. Herd and Pen offers a burger, a brined pork chop, and hanger steak. With Flock and Field you can order half a chicken cooked sous vide or seared duck breast on a bed of farro risotto ($17). Water, well, you know (three perfect scallops, each perched on a blini [$19], tuna prepared a la Nicoise, moules frites); items in the Jars category (artisanal cheese fondue, chicken liver mousse) come in—you guessed it—small glass jars.

There are also several salads and one other appetizer, the garde manger ($20), a cheese and charcuterie plate that on one evening featured gorgeous marble slices of house-made Basque sausage and chunks of local garlic-studded Polska kielbasa. A portion of chicken liver mousse smeared across a spoon, however, could make even the most conscientious diner nervous. Does the kitchen expect you to pass the spoon from diner to diner? Perhaps a jar is in order here.

Sharing the butcher’s burger ($15) poses no such problems. This is one big burger, a combination of ground brisket, dry aged short rib, and chuck, slathered with toppings—the most satisfying, a sweet and salty bacon jam—a trend I’m happy to see popping up around town. The fries, flecked with parsley and garlic, are as good as any you’ll find. During my last visit to Vino Rosina, Renae served waffles with rabbit confit, a clever take on chicken and waffles. At the Fork and Wrench, she performs a similar transformation with a potpie ($15), creating a flaky pastry crust to cradle the rich shreds of rabbit.

The dessert list currently offers three choices and changes frequently. On this evening, the choices are a little underwhelming—ice cream, the ubiquitous creme brulee, and bread pudding. Still, the ice cream ($3) is made with Fat Tire, which gives it a slight bitterness in the finish, and the bread pudding ($5.50), full of apples and almonds and reminiscent of granola, satisfies the end-of-meal sweet tooth without pushing the rich factor.

And finally, there’s Timmy, the singing, ukulele-playing server brimming over with enthusiasm for the restaurant and his place in it. Like the other folks who delivered food and swept away dishes, Timmy was eager to take orders and answer questions (he even offered to take us on a tour of the restaurant), so when he passed by the table, ukulele under his arm, we imagined he was just rearranging the scenery. But no, Timmy wanted to make the requisite “Happy Birthday” serenade a little different, he said, and upon request, he performed. It was a slightly odd event, but at the same time, it felt right for the space.

There’s plenty to distract you from the food at the Fork and Wrench, but try your best not to let that happen. The food is delightful, made with real care, and refreshingly affordable. It’s the best meal I’ve had on Boston Street in a very long time.

Fork and Wrench Bar and Dining Room is Open seven days for dinner; brunch Saturday and Sunday. Steampunk Supper