Magic happens when you're not looking. Over on Elm Avenue in Hampden just a few weeks ago, The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar sprang full grown, Athena-like, from the head of its parent restaurant, the Corner BYOB.
The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar is from Bernard Dehaene, co-owner of the Corner BYOB and the Other Corner and the chef at both. The new place feels like it's been dreamed of and planned for a long time, which makes it something very personal.
I dropped in on the first weekend, fell badly, madly in love with it, and have been trying like heck ever since to describe what exactly the Other Corner is, how it relates to the original and why it evoked in me such a strong emotional response.
It's not easy. Even the street address of the Other Corner is a misdirect. Its legal address is on 36th Street, but the real entrance is on Elm Street, a few steps north from the Corner BYOB's entrance.
The original restaurant and its offspring are connected through an interior door and share a kitchen, as well as a liquor license. That means diners seated at the Corner BYOB can now order up cocktails, beer and wines by the glass from the new bar next door, but they can still bring in their own beer and bottles of wine.
The Other Corner is very much its own thing, with its own separate personality, which hits you as kind of a Cubist recombination of typical Belgian taverns and bits of pieces from your favorite old movies.
When you're walking by, you get an oblong glimpse of the interior, which is clean-cut and handsome, a sharp mix of the rustic and the contemporary, with cool slate floors, a long cushioned-seating banquette against the far wall and country farmhouse touches like the wooden tabletops perched on oak wine barrels.
The Other Corner occupies a space that had been a private club called the Elmwood, which was kept hidden behind an unmarked, closed door. You had to have known it was there.
The door is now kept propped open from the Other Corner's daily 4 p.m opening until it closes at 1:30 a.m
And when you're inside, the open door brings in fresh air, which is a wonderful thing.
The Other Corner has already become a haven for workers in restaurants and bars in Hampden and elsewhere, who show up when their shifts are over, for a glass of beer or a bite to eat — maybe crispy pommes frites with dipping mayonnaise or cognac-laced chicken liver mousse served with toasted brioche.
The best times I've had here were at the bar, with a friend or alone, ordering up small and savory plates. The single-page menu makes no divisions between appetizers and entrees. But it's wrong to think of this as small plates. The food is rich and hearty; you won't leave hungry.
The Other Corner worked less well at the table, when we tried to have a more or less conventional restaurant dinner. The small staff was contending with an unexpected overflow of patrons waiting for tables at the Corner BYOB, and it took a long while for some food to come out.
Even if the food takes a while, it shows up hot — very hot. The oven-baked escargots are earthy, herby, buttery perfection. They arrive nestled in shallow lake of parsleyed garlic butter, with plenty of baguette slices.
A bowl of lovely French onion soup, listed on the specials board, was brimming with real stock flavor and melting caramelized onions, and would warm the most chilled bones. There are constant simple pleasures, like the impeccable wild mushrooms sauteed with garlic, herbs and olive oil, the thick slice of "peasant bread" that the kitchen tops with its own fromage blanc and fresh herbs, and garnishes with an aromatic mix of chopped radish, cucumber and mint.
And just when you thought charcuterie and cheese was yesterday's restaurant news, along comes the Other Corner's stellar program. They're doing it up — with jewel-like savory jams and condiments and admirable curating. The ashed goat log from Pipe Dreams Farm in Greencastle, Pa., is the best American cheese I've ever tasted.
It might go better for you if you get to know the Other Corner first as a bar. A bar is a more personal thing than a restaurant, though. You have to feel right in the space. But if fresh air mingled with garlic and butter sounds like your thing, you'll love this place.
The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar
Rating: 3.5 stars
Where: 850 B W. 36th St., Hampden
Contact: 443-869-5075, which is for the Corner, the adjacent restaurant
Open: Dinner daily, 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Prices: Plates are $6.50-$9
Food: European cafe food
Service: Neighborly and well-informed
Best dishes: Wild mushrooms in herbs and garlic, escargots, cold-smoked trout
Parking/accessibility: On-street parking
Noise level/televisions: The noise level grows with the crowd and can get buzzy; there are no televisions
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]