In recent years, British cooking has gotten experimental and interesting, escaping from its role as the punch line of every culinary joke. Still, the chef who embraces traditional British foods outside of the United Kingdom is taking a risk.
The Brits definitely know how to do some things right in the kitchen, though, and Baltimore is fortunate that Neill Howell — a native of Britain and the former Bond Street Social executive chef — is sharing a few of those successes with the city.
At the Corner Pantry, the new Mount Washington restaurant Howell owns with his wife, Emily, he serves casual American-influenced sandwiches alongside classic British favorites like Cornish pasties and curried chicken salad. The food from both countries is good and the Corner Pantry's service, though casual, is as outgoing and pleasant as can be.
Scene & Decor The restaurant, which occupies the Lake Falls Village space that formerly housed Banksy's Cafe, underwent a complete renovation (designed by Emily Howell) before opening in February. The white subway tile, vintage-style chairs and cool stainless-steel counters give the space a clean and open feel that is both appealing and modern.
The Corner Pantry closes at 7 most nights; when we arrived at 5:30 for an early Thursday dinner, we found a handful of tables occupied by couples and families. Carryout seemed busier than sit-down business, with people grabbing sandwiches or dishes from the cold bar, sold by the pound, to take home.
Service A cheery man greeted us as soon as we walked in. Anticipating our questions, he explained the food options and that we should order and pay at the bar and he'd bring our food to us when it was ready.
The food came quickly, with another short chat; the man was friendly enough that we were tempted to invite him to sit down with us.
Drinks The Corner Pantry does not have a liquor license, though they do allow BYOB (no current corkage fee). We were tempted by the fresh juice and smoothie menu but ultimately satisfied ourselves with iced tea ($2.50) and a bracing iced coffee ($3).
Appetizers Cornish pasties ($2.50 each), served warm, were a lovely introduction to Howell's cooking. Pasties — savory meat-stuffed pastries — are a traditional British food with roots in Cornwall's mining country.
The Corner Pantry's version was petite but tasty, with well-seasoned hunks of meat and flaky pastry. We regretted ordering just one.
Entrees Our entrees, both sandwiches served with wonderfully crisp homemade salt-and-vinegar potato chips, represented the American side of the menu.
A roast beef sandwich on ciabatta, with cheddar, caramelized onion, horseradish cream and a bit of peppery arugula ($12), was hearty with an appetizing mix of spicy, sweet and tangy flavors. The meat was nicely cooked, well-seasoned and plentiful enough to make the sandwich a filling meal.
The roasted red pepper sandwich ($7.50), a meatless option, was great-looking, full of bright color thanks to the layers of red pepper, thin slices of carrot and cucumber, and a mix of goat cheese and pistachio pesto.
The flavors worked well together, and the combination of crisp vegetables and soft focaccia was a good one, though we might have enjoyed another dollop of cheese and pesto. The sandwich wasn't dry, but an extra jolt of flavor would have been a good addition.
Dessert The daily cookie ($2), a gooey, buttery chocolate chip confection, was soft, sweet and a great way to end the meal.
We also lucked out, grabbing the last "pop tart" ($3.50) available. The flaky, sweet pastry was strawberry cheesecake-flavored and a million times better than its grocery store namesake (and we are usually big fans of the original).
As we left, we couldn't resist taking one more thing home: a hefty sausage roll ($4). Homemade sausage, more sweet than spicy, was wrapped in pastry and served with mild mustard for dipping. It made a top-notch breakfast the following morning, even after spending the night in the refrigerator.
Even after dinner and a take-away breakfast, we were ready for our next visit to the Corner Pantry, to say hi to the friendly staff and gorge on anything and everything wrapped in pastry. We liked it that much.
The Corner Pantry
Back story: Serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and early dinner, the Corner Pantry opened on Valentine's Day in the Mount Washington spot formerly occupied by Banksy's Cafe. Chef Neill Howell, who owns the Corner Pantry with his wife, Emily, is originally from England and has cooked in London, New York, Los Angeles and most recently at Bond Street Social in Fells Point.
Parking: Lots in front and in back
Signature dish: Bigger meals include sandwiches, salads and rotating nightly specials sold by the pound — but tiny Cornish pasties are the thing not to be missed. Flaky on the outside and stuffed with well-seasoned meat, the Corner Pantry's interpretation of the British classic is both traditional and satisfying.
Where: Lake Falls Village, 6080 Falls Road, Baltimore
Contact: 667-308-2331; corner-pantry.com
Open: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: Well-executed British specialties and American sandwiches and snacks are made even more likable by friendly, chatty service.