The Corner BYOB is a quirky, odd duck in many ways.
Like many places in Hampden, it’s a make over of something that was part of the old “un-gentrified” Hampden on the corner of 36th Street (aka “The Avenue”, Hampden’s “Main Street”). In the case of Corner BYOB, it used to be a sorta of dumpy corner diner on the first floor of a narrow row house (that would have been given a very wide birth in its day by the the folks who patronize increasingly upscale eating establishments on the “Avenue”).
Corner BYOB has finally managed to get a liquor license so you can also buy your booze directly from them. They have a small bar at the far end of the restaurant. You can still do the BYOB thing (but at some hefty corkage fees! $1 per glass plus $3 per bottle of wine and/or $1 per bottle of beer). Corner BYOB also prefers payment in cash and, if you insist on paying charging your dinner, there’s a $2 fee per card used. Oh, and they reserve the right to limit customers who are seated before 8 pm to 2 hours use of a table. Got all that? <Wink>
There’s one dining room with about a dozen small tables. Along the interior walls, there are 8 banquet tables with another 4 freestanding tables positioned along floor to ceiling glass windows facing Elm Street (and offering a great view of the people walking up and down “The Avenue”). There’s a narrow aisle between the banquet and window tables. The window tables offer pretty restricted seating and leg room. The three of us were seated at a window table and John seat’s only had 6″ between the back of his chair and the windows (which made backing up away from the table a challenge). Our wooden top table was small-ish (about 30″ square) and had an unusual configuration where vinyl runners which criss-crossed the tops of the table falling into slits cut into the table tops (where the end of the runners hang below the table bumping against the top of your legs).
While the small bar at the far end of the room had some color to it, the dining room was exceptionally plain and lacking decoration (with sole exception of a chalk board promoting their Monday night 3 course $25 fixed price menu and that they would be open on Mother’s Day)
There’s a small dog who wonders free around the restaurant going from table to table who is 14 years old and we were told belongs to the Chef/Owner. Despite the front and side doors being wide open on a warm spring evening, the pooch remained inside the restaurant confines.
The menu is quite limited (and pricey) with 8 appetizers ($9 – $15) and 8 main courses ($21 – $36); the current menu can vary frequently and is not available on Corner BYOB’s web site (there is a “sample” menu on the web site but with the caveat that what you actually encounter may look nothing like what you actually encounter). Bottom line is that if you’re making reservations ahead of time, you have no way of knowing what will be on the menu. While we’ve heard that the Corner BYOB is big on meat, we were surprised to find almost half of the 8 entrees were seafood.
Tom and I decided to share a special appetizer for the evening: Kangaroo Tartar ($15); it turned out to be very good and was served with beet chips (very thin slices of beet which had been deep fried). We offered to let Marty taste some but he explained that he didn’t think that kangaroo was kosher because it didn’t chew its cud. Later “Googling”, we found that Kangaroo meat was available from a supplier in New Jersey (New Jersey???) for $45/lb which explained the price of our appetizer!
Marty was intrigued by something on the menu label “B.O.H.” and subtitled the “Bowl of Invention” and priced at $9. (I’m still confused – why are initials for this B.O.H. instead of B.O.I. ?) In any case, he asked our waitress and she explained that this evening, the B.O.H. was gazpacho. Marty likes gazpacho and it was a warm-ish spring night and gazpacho IS reliably kosher so he decided to get some. There were cardboard thin pieces of carrot floating in the soup as a garnish. Marty really like his soup and he was kind enough to let Tom and I sample some and it was pretty darn delicious despite the disparity between the huge deep bowl it arrived in and the actual portion size.
For our main course, Tom decided on the “Top Butt Strip” ($27), Marty went with the Filet of Trout ($23), and I said that I would go with the Braised Ham Hock ($24). Our waitress paused and mentioned that the ham hock had a layer of fat. I thought about this and my experience with hams was that hams were covered with rind and fat over the meat so I decided to confirm my choice. At this point, Marty asked if we could have some bread to eat while waiting; without missing a beat, our waitress said we could – but for an additional fee of $3. (I pointed out to Marty that he wouldn’t think twice about paying extra for bread at an Indian restaurant and he smiled understanding my insight)
Tom’s “Butt Strip” turned out to be a wondrous piece of meat! It arrived cooked medium rare as ordered, it was tender with a complementing black peppercorn sauce. I sampled some and can vouch to his “Thumbs Up” for his dinner.
Marty’s pan seared trout was good and arrived served on a bed of very dark, almost black risotto (dyed with spinach according to the menu). He also really like the trout (though he felt the portion was small) and the risotto was very tasty. It came with some smoked grilled cherry tomatoes; Marty decided that he didn’t like the smokey flavor and that was about the only thing left on his plate by the time he was done!
John’s ham hock arrived looking wonderful sitting tall on a bed of small peas and a pea/potato puree. His delight quickly turned into confusion as he started to disect his hock. He found only rind and fat and more fat and more fat. After having totally cleaned off the underlying bone, he had found only two small pieces of meats the size of his thumb nail (Marty and Tom can testify to this!) He was astonished. While the peas and pea/potato puree were wonderful, the otherwise extent of his $24 ham hock entree turned out to be two tiny, very tiny piece of ham. The total amount of ham turned out to be less than 1/4 of the meat in the small portion of kangaroo meat in our appetizer!
Here’s a picture of the mushed up mess of bone and fat and rind that was left after he had managed to extract the two tiny pieces of ham.
John discussed the situation with our waitress both while I was struggling with it and again as she cleared the plates. She was decidedly defensive and uncaring – “I told you that it was covered in fat” But I (as well as Tom and Marty) rejoined that “You didn’t tell us that there might be only a thumb-nailed size of ham lurking under all that fat”. Corner BYOB attitude was that I had accepted the risk associated with ordering this menu item and the consequences were mine and that they had no responsibility to do anything or compensate me. (Geez! How about an offer of a reduction in price or maybe a free drink or dessert? NADA!)
The single occupancy men’s room is accessible off a very narrow small aisle off of the side end of the dining room. (Like the dining room, space is tight – there’s less a foot of floor space between the front end of the toliet and the facing wall; I suspect that any guy over 6′ foot tall could only sit side-saddle on the small toliet. Inexplicably, there’s what could have be an original portrait of John Waters loosely fastened and banging against the inside of the men’s room door. The odd portrait features Waters with a distinct sneer (or what I might term a “Poopy Face”). The mind boggles! Is Waters looking askance at the idea of people using a rest room for why people naturally use a rest room or was he perhaps just filled with dismay and disgust at the reality of the discovering that the Corner BYOB’s $24 ham hock served to him was 99% ham rind, fat and bone?
If but (Butt? <Wink>) for my ham hock entree, I think that we might have left at least glad that we had given the Corner BYOB a try (if not enamored and eager to return). As it was, the hock without ham and our server’s attitude and response to our complaint was a turn off. While we originally intended to try at least one of their equally intriguing desserts, we instead decided to throw in the towel and go get dessert somewhere else. Marty observed that you expect more from a restaurant than Corner BYOB delivers where a three course meal with appetizer, entree and dessert (without drinks) in a tightly cramped undecorated dining room costs starts at $50.
Our experience at Corner BYOB left us with decidedly mixed feelings and we probably won’t be rushing back to give it a another shot. If you’re determined to try it, we suggest that you go on Monday evenings when their $25 three course meal special might offer you more of a chance of getting a meal which will be worth what you paid for it.
FACTS: Corner BYOB – Hampden; 850 W 36th St; (443) 869-5075; www.cornerbyob.com/ ; Open for dinner only Wed thru Sunday; $25 3 course special dinner only on Mondays; Closed Tuesdays; Full Bar; corkage fees apply for BYOB; NOT recommended for vegetarians or vegans; no valet parking; on street parking in Hampden particularly on weekends can be a hellish challenge; we ended up parking 5 blocks away near 40th. Reservations strongly suggested. Mangement prefers cash payment; $2 charge for use of charge cards; $3 charge for bread and butter service; Management reserves right to limit use of tables to 2 hours.