It’s easy to zoom along Arlington’s South Fielder Road and miss the low-slung sign for Fork in the Road, an almost 2-month-old restaurant that is packing in customers at lunch and dinner with its combination of neighborhood watering-hole intimacy and sure-handed cooking.
Fork in the Road is the kind of a place that would be right at home on a Greenwich Village cul-de-sac. It’s cozy — nine tables, seating a total of 30 — with an eccentric and eclectic interior. Everything from KISS dolls to Rosemary Clooney vintage vinyl adorns the restaurant.
Its highly edited menu of three appetizers, three salads, a build-your-own burger section and 11 sandwiches reflects the laid-back yet still serious culinary aspirations of head chef-owner Josh Hopkins, a 40-year-old from Worcester, Mass.
Hopkins took two months to strip down to the bare walls a former restaurant space (1,500 square feet counting the kitchen) in a tiny commercial strip and, with the help of longtime pal and main server Chris Crenshaw, give it a funky makeover.
Each of the tables has a different decorating theme embedded below the surface — dozens of cheese labels, $23.04 worth of pennies, vintage vinyl disks from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, tickets to local concerts by everyone from Santana to Tom Waits to Nine Inch Nails. And then there is Crenshaw’s corner, an almost floor-to-ceiling homage to toy replicas of KISS, superheroes like Iron Man and such current sports stars as quarterback Tom Brady.
But none of this distracts from the food turned out by chef Hopkins. Nothing is taken for granted, starting with the lovingly warmed and soft pita triangles for the hummus ($6), itself perfectly creamy and shot through with plenty of garlic, with a smoky zing courtesy of jalapeño peppers. The generous appetizer portion of mussels ($9) was succulent, while also delivering a welcome Tex-Mex fire of sliced jalapeños.
My dining partner, a serious foodie, unequivocally declared Fork’s crack-a-roni ($7) the best rendition of macaroni and cheese she’d ever tasted in her multiple decades in the Metroplex. I would have agreed, but I was too busy lapping up my portion of the scrumptious elbow macaroni, blended with Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, and all elevated by just the right glug of truffle oil. This is sophisticated comfort food: creamy, earthy and savory.
Each of the four sandwiches sampled from Fork’s long list distinguished itself, and it often started with the bread: the perfect chew of the French bread of the muffaletta, the tang of the Hedberg’s toasted sourdough.
The Gorilla Biscuit ($10) was a tad disappointing in that I was actually expecting a real “biscuit” — instead of a flour tortilla — to surround otherwise fresh and flavorful griddled ham, salami and corned beef napped in a fine chipotle mayo. The muffaletta ($8) executed soundly its Bayou boogie between provolone, turkey, salami and baked ham along with a zesty, salty bite from the house olive relish. Meanwhile, the Hedberg ($9) was a perfectly fine ham and turkey club sandwich on steroids. But it was fated to fade next to the alpha-male flavors of Jimmy’s S&P ($8), with my palate tingling from the spice pyrotechnics of the Italian sausage, onions and bell peppers, before being mellowed by a slice of creamy provolone.
For dessert, there’s only one choice, and it’s an appropriately respectable red velvet pie ($4) that replaces the normally cakey interior with a smoother variation.
Fork is definitely BYOB, but take a walk on the wild, nonalcoholic side with one of the restaurant’s dozen or so tongue-tickling sodas. They range from the relatively familiar chocolate, black cherry, lemon-lime and birch beer to the downright exotic — bacon, ranch, buffalo wing.
I tried the sweet corn variety ($2) and it tasted like a cream soda, with the aroma of a can of sweet corn.
That triumphant soda sums up every bit of Fork in the Road’s endearingly quirky, down-home charm: Drive there, perhaps wait a bit, and then sit down at a table with a KISS doll hovering overhead as you sample one of the most memorable mac and cheeses you’ve ever had while sipping one of the most palate-stretching sodas you’ve ever sampled. Just remember to slow down when you’re trying to find it in South Arlington.
FORK IN THE ROAD
1821 S. Fielder Road
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday. Closed Sunday & Monday.