Go ahead, try this unique Hampden restaurant
Published: May 25, 2011
Here is what you may have already heard about Corner BYOB: It’s in the building on the corner of 36th and Elm streets in Hampden that once was a greasy-spoon diner. It serves exotic meats. It is BYOB and has a slightly confusing corkage fee. The folks there prefer cash and may charge a convenience fee for credit card charges and to-go containers. It doesn’t take reservations. All of this is accurate except the reservations part, which was amended the first week of May.
I’ve had folks tell me they’re reluctant to try Corner because of some of these policies, and really, this merest outline of a restaurant concept, above, suggests a kind of quirkiness that might be embraced only years after a business has been established and become a local favorite (think Peter’s Inn). What the listing of characteristics does not convey, however, is that Corner is doing some very, very fine food with a minimum of eccentricity.
True, chefs Bernard Dehaene and Zeke “Paulus” Altenbernd balance a classic Belgian-inspired menu full of mussels, steak frites, escargot, and dessert waffles with a special featuring kangaroo loin. And true, the corkage fee, spelled out on a chalkboard above the dining room, takes a bit of elementary math to sort out. (According to the hostess, it’s a $4 charge for bottles larger than 14 ounces and $1 for bottles smaller than 14 ounces, plus an additional dollar per drinker.) Still, $9 for two bottles and four drinkers (no, it doesn’t add up quite right) is still more reasonable than most places, even if your wine is from the bargain bin, and particularly so if you drink the good stuff. (The house glassware might even be nicer than what you use at home.) The restaurant also offers “mocktails” such as a “nojito” made with citrus mixer, mint, and soda, to which patrons can add their own liquor.
According to a server, the menu at Corner BYOB changes roughly monthly. This is good, because it proves a tough challenge to choose between menu items and specials, and in retrospect, one second guesses. Was it wise to pass on the “Jacqueline” appetizer, described on the menu as “smoked salmon stuffed with jumbo lump crab and lobster, served with horseradish cream, salmon roe, and dill weed” in favor of the sautéed soft crab and fiddlehead fern appetizer special ($15) when the restaurant’s other house-smoked fish appetizer, a salad of trout, sliced fingerlings, slender haricots verts, and a tiny hard-boiled quail’s egg, bound together with a garlicky aioli ($10), was so satisfying? Well, yes. The soft crab, sweet and crispy, and the bright, curly fiddleheads sang of the season. The Jacqueline can wait for another visit.
It also pains to forgo mussels, prepared several ways, including with curry and coconut milk and the more traditional white wine and herbs; beef stew that uses Resurrection Ale as a base; or grilled lamb hip with Israeli couscous. But how often is one offered veal Orloff ($31), a thick, perfectly cooked chop, presented in a cast-iron skillet and napped in mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and béchamel sauce? Or rabbit ($23), marinated in Rodenbach beer, served with prunes and an ethereal side dish of mashed potatoes, and presented in a small domed pot that, when uncovered, allows its steamy fragrance to overwhelm anything else on the table? That said, the seared sea scallops ($21) on the regular menu are keepers, particularly for the risotto studded with fava beans that accompanies them. The steak frites ($22), though, feels a little dull among this company, despite the fine béarnaise that accompanies the bistro steak.
Desserts at the Corner are simple, but not disappointing. If you don’t mind another corkage fee, consider bringing in a port or other sticky dessert wine for the bittersweet, nearly black chocolate mousse ($6) or the slightly lighter in color, but heftier in texture, chocolate Amaretto almond terrine ($9). Next time, when berries are local and in season, I’d try the waffle topped with seasonal fruit and hand-whipped cream.
Despite slight expectations to the contrary, an evening at Corner was full of pleasure and mostly free of idiosyncrasies. Service was pleasant and patient, with two different servers eager to make suggestions and explain dishes multiple times, and one plate of leftovers was wrapped up without question or charge, despite a note on the menu that to-go containers “may be provided for an additional fee.”
The space feels just as warm. Light pours in through the windows, playing off the pale walls and catching the metallic sheen of the drapes and coppery runners that dress the slots in the table. A small bar is wedged in the back, and the whole restaurant has the feeling of a secret you’ve just stumbled upon. Once you go, you may feel like you want to keep Corner to yourself. Too late. The secret is out.
Corner BYOB is open Wednesday-Sunday for dinner and Sundays for brunch. Corkage fees, cash preferred.
> Email Mary K. Zajac