New chef pushes Canton's Fork & Wrench to new heights

Cyrus Keefer is known

to be a bit of a culinary nomad. He's headed up five restaurants in the last five years, with a few consulting gigs thrown in, and in May, after an overwhelmingly well-received stint at Birroteca, landed as the head chef at Fork & Wrench in Canton (2322 Boston St., [443] 759-9360,


). From the quality of the meal that we had recently at F&W, it seems that Keefer has finally found a home.

Taking over for former head chef Sajin Renae, Keefer has continued the dedication to creative food that F&W has been known for since opening in early 2012. Also unchanged is the spectacular ambiance and steampunk decor that has defined F&W. The barroom looks like a saloon from a Jules Verne adventure, while the bigger dining room next door gives patrons the impression that they are eating in the midst of a Neil Gaiman yarn. All of the little details, from the weathered menus to the number tags on the tables, give the restaurant an industrial-daydream feel that works without being hokey or unsophisticated.

The food at F&W is anything but old-timey. Lamb tartare appetizers ($16) had a Spanish twist with saffron-laced potatoes and a sprinkling of smoked paprika. The addition of lobster seemed odd until the first forkful erased any doubt that it could complement the lamb well. The cured lemon vinaigrette and English peas kept it light and aromatic. The beef shortrib tortelli ($13) is one of the best things I've eaten in a long time. The tender shortrib meat was veiled in thin pasta, served in a marrow broth, and accented with grilled white corn, mushrooms, pine nuts, and a parmesan espuma (Spanish for foam). The tortelli triggered a primal urge to swallow my food in the same way that chewing a new piece of Hubba Bubba did when I was a kid. After the first taste, I wanted to forgo savoring the flavor and just eat it. A welcome soup spoon helped us to finish off the fantastic broth. Oil-poached calamari ($12) featured two preparations of the cephalopod on one plate. The tentacles were cooked in a tomato ragout until almost dissolved into the sauce, while the body is poached in olive oil until it can be cut with a fork. The calamari body acted as the pasta in the recipe to great effect. Baby heirloom tomatoes gave a needed bright-green kick to the rich ragout.

The cocktails at F&W matched the boldness of the food. The Brass Tacks ($9) was a mix of Pikesville rye, ginger syrup, brandied cherries, and ginger beer. It was airy and sweet with a little bite. The newly created Violet Beauregarde ($9) is the brainchild of libations procurer Ian Clark, who combined muddled blueberries, Uncle Val's gin, rhubarb bitters, lime juice, and soda with great results. It's a refreshing mashup of sweet and tangy.

The Wrench is the name of the "burger" that F&W makes from two thick, round slices of house-made bacon-wrapped terrine that has been grilled before being placed on a brioche bun with havarti, house-cured pickles, lettuce, and a Thousand Island gribiche. The terrine has a dense, meatloaf-like consistency and contains shortrib, brisket, chuck, and chicken livers. It's a damn good sandwich that beats out most burgers in this town. The barbecued quail ($25) came as two grilled quails in the missionary position on a bed of grilled cornbread pudding and a delicious green bean relish with garnishes of barbecue sauce and fresh blackberries. The crispy half duck ($29) was a dynamic duo of leg and breast meat, cooked in two different ways. The breast was brined, smoked, and sous vide in a way that made it taste like a country ham while the leg was confited (slow cooked in fat) and crisped before serving. Condiments of tomato relish and plum chutney complemented both pieces of meat and helped to cut through the fattiness of each. A side of creamy macaroni salad with tomatoes and red peppers gave me the impression I was eating a fancy Sunday picnic in the park.

The citrus parfait ($8) was a strata of shortbread cookies, citrus custard, and grapefruit supremes. Creamy and sweet gave way to bitter and citrusy each time a grapefruit supreme was bit into while digging through this great dessert. A trio of ice creams ($8) highlighted two Taharka Bros. ice creams (strawberry and salted caramel) and a house-made cantaloupe sorbet. Both ice creams were great (especially the salted caramel), but the sorbet will be the thing that I will try to recreate at home as soon as I get the chance.

The thoughtful and focused food Cyrus Keefer is serving has made Fork & Wrench one of the best restaurants in the city. This is a match that we can all benefit from for (hopefully) a long time.

Fork & Wrench is open for dinner from 5-11 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and for brunch and supper from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday (open for cocktails nightly until 2 a.m.).