By: Rick Marschall
A Four-Star Quality Bistro Spearheading Flint’s Renaissance
From the outside, 635 S. Saginaw St. in Flint looks like a bank building from the days when banks wanted to be the most imposing storefronts on the block. In fact, that is what Cork on Saginaw once was, but upon entering through the vestibule, it feels like anything but a former bank.
The space is deep and dark (romantically so), with an area for the occasional musical entertainer by the front window; a long bar on the left wall, lined with mirrors, bottles and tavern chairs; tables on the right, properly intimate for two to four diners; a large enclave in the rear for bigger groups with small round tables; and a facing wall, back-lit, displaying numerous wines from around the world.
A symbol of the newly emergent and revitalized Flint, Cork on Saginaw presents a happy challenge—how to describe this amazing place to your friends! Is it a restaurant? A wine bar? A lounge? A bistro?
The best answer is “Yes!” Cork on Saginaw is all those things, and more.
An amazing oasis in the center of Flint’s renaissance, Cork on Saginaw, is animated by a friendly and knowledgeable staff that feels like family—a cliché in the restaurant business—but surely the case here.
Marge Murphy, owner and executive chef, and Darci Racette, general manager, have done more than set an innovative direction and maintained it—they have done it on their own in several ways.
Succeeding on your own is another cliché, especially when female entrepreneurs are concerned. But these ladies have established a world-class food-and-drink location with fierce independence.
Marge did not graduate from a famous haute cuisine culinary school, but her menu is impressively imaginative, eliciting “Wows” from diners. She grew up in Saginaw, and worked as a caterer for special events for 11 years, after which she opened Cork on Saginaw seven years ago. Darci worked in the service industry for years, working her way up to management. The two met while working at d’Vine Wines in Flint.
Both women knew the importance of excellent service. Cork on Saginaw’s turnover rate for employees is next to nothing. They keep a small staff of experienced individuals that the customers keep coming back to see…family.
The bartenders are mixologists who, similarly, keep up on trends and offer the established standards and the latest buzz-inspiring cocktails—not to mention keeping on top of an extensive wine list.
“We are two women who have navigated our own path,” Marge says with conviction and justifiable pride. Darci adds, “We love good food and good drinks,” summarizing the essence of their motivation. The best schools— another cliché because it is based in truth, as all clichés are—are travel and dining experiences. “Years ago, my dream was honed by Mediterranean travels,” says Marge.
Any reader with taste buds will want more details at this point! The drink menu and wine list are good places to start. The foundational drinks and cocktails are all there, and well-served, but the unique aspect of Cork on Saginaw’s libations are specialty drinks and wine discoveries.
The Bottomless Mimosa is featured at Cork on Saginaw’s once-a-month Second Sunday Brunch. Also featured is the Loaded Bloody Mary—a giant glass including “sides” of a cheeseburger slider on a homemade brioche bun, bacon, sweet potato waffle fries, shrimp, roasted jalapeno peppers, asparagus, pickles and olives. There is the Beetnik, an unlikely (but delicious) blend of gin, rosemary simple syrup, beet juice, and Barritt’s ginger beer. And Marge’s own invention, the Margetini, featuring fresh grapefruit juice, is always on the menu—even when it’s not.
For those who want to experience the fruits of the vine, the wine list and displayed bottles are formidable. More than 150 varieties of wine on a continually changing list representing many countries receive special attention, all attractively displayed.
For those who would like to explore a variety of different wines, Cork on Saginaw is proud of its Enomatic automated self-serve wine dispensary. Eight reds and eight whites rotate on a temperature-con trolled unit. The wines represent a variety of grapes from different regions and price points. Wine glasses of different capacities are available in this first-in-Michigan device.
Periodic wine tastings and wine sold by the bottle and case are features of Cork on Saginaw. Patrons can enjoy $8 off their favorite bottles of wine on Wine Down Wednesdays. Cork on Saginaw is also proud of its craft beer selection, of course including a plethora of Michigan beer.
More exotic selections includes The Chimay Tripel, a Belgian Trappist beer twice voted the Best Beer in the World, and Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen, regarded as the champagne among wheat beers. Save a trip to Germany and visit Cork on Saginaw instead.
The food menu is no less impressive at Cork on Saginaw. Meats, vegetables and fruits are locally sourced as much as possible… almost an obsession with Marge and Darci.
“We search for fresh fish, and ingredients from every season, making Daily Specials indeed very special,” Darci says. Out-of-the-ordinary appetizers satisfy curiosity and hunger, and main courses similarly are cleverly conceived, each plated as if ready for a cook book cover.
When asked to name a few of her favorite menu items, Marge describes the prepared scallops as “off the hook,” and loves the Spanish octopus (from the Canary Islands, actually). The seafood offerings are fresh each week. Darci loves Cork on Saginaw’s shrimp combos (so does this writer), sautéed with garlic and served with bread baked on the premises. A beet salad with goat cheese and arugula, balsamic vinegar and EVOO rounds out the shrimp dishes.
Other menu favorites include the oyster sliders, fried Cuban pickles, lobster grilled cheese, charcuterie and cheese boards, lamb ragu, seared duck breast, and wine braised short ribs.
The convivial, intimate drinking and dining is downstairs, most customers not realizing there is an upstairs to Cork on Saginaw, reserved for private events like corporate functions and wedding parties. This is also the setting for Cork on Saginaw’s monthly wine class. Not very public, because running Cork on Saginaw itself keeps Marge, Darci and their staff of approximately 20 occupied, but Cork on Saginaw also accepts requests for special orders and outside catering.
We mentioned occasional entertainment. Casual but unobtrusive music emanates from the front of Cork on Saginaw, also “locally sourced.” A recent month featured music by Maria Rose, Jason Waggoner, Joel Rydecki, Joel Bye and Gary Jones.
If you think the menu is long and the wine list extensive, they almost pale in comparison to the list of awards Cork on Saginaw has garnered in its seven years including the 2016 Best Restaurant and Hospitality Ambassador awards from the Flint and Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, and many awards from My City’s Choice judging—from Best Ambiance to Most Attentive Service, and Most Romantic Restaurant.
Romantic? Yes. Whether it’s a spouse or a date… or simply falling in love with a wine bar/ restaurant/bistro (you decide!), Cork on Saginaw serves that up too.
Cork on Saginaw
635 S. Saginaw St.
Flint, MI 48502