- Walter Novak
- Chicken Caponata, sided by the usual tavern staples.
And all things considered, what's not to like? Portions are generous, whether you're talking weekend brunch, weeknight noshes, or special promotions like the annual Lobster Fest. Prices are moderate, with a platter of munchies and a two-fisted sandwich, all washed down by a frosty cold one, clocking in at around $15. And the cozy turn-of-the-century decor -- with lots of brass, golden oak, and frosted glass detailing -- is nicer than it needs to be in a spot specializing in wings, burgers, and beer.
The restaurant's oilcloth-topped tables are tiny, but the menu is anything but. The long list of appetizers includes almost every bar snack known to man, like the ubiquitous cheddar-stuffed jalapeño peppers and mozzarella sticks, as well as some excellent butter-and-Tabasco-drenched Buffalo-style chicken wings. Krivosh claims he was the first to bring the venerable wings to Cleveland, not long after their "invention" in the kitchen of Buffalo's Anchor Bar. While we can neither prove nor disprove that assertion, Krivosh also says his wings are the best in town, and on that point we are inclined to agree. We ordered up a big basket of medium-hot "originals," with a moderately peppery kick from the authentic-tasting sauce, and loved the contrast between the crunchy skins and the juicy meat inside. Our only complaint was that the de rigueur accompaniments of blue-cheese dressing and celery sticks had to be ordered separately, for an additional 95 cents. Fresh from this summer's road trip to the Nickel City, we assumed these items would be automatically included -- as they are in most Buffalo bars -- and neglected to special-order them. We would have been happy to spend the extra pennies, if our tight-lipped waitress had brought it up. At least next time we'll know.
Among the many sandwich options are a handful of jumbo half-pound burgers, served with all sorts of toppings -- cheeses, onions, mushrooms, sour cream, relishes, and so on -- in all possible combinations. After some thought, we settled on the house special: a fat, moist beef patty, grilled as ordered to medium-well, smothered in rich brown slices of mushroom and onion, and blanketed with good old American cheese, on a beautifully browned Kaiser roll. It was a winner.
It's hard to believe the main menu doesn't already have something for everyone, but an auxiliary menu lists even more sandwich choices, including a surprisingly sophisticated and well-executed Chicken Caponata. A generous portion of rosemary-scented grilled chicken breast, served on a length of toasted baguette and buried beneath a sweet-and-smoky relish of roasted eggplant and tomato, the sandwich was an entirely grown-up treat. On the other hand, Mickey's Choice -- a towering creation of honey-roasted turkey, bacon, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and alfalfa sprouts, stacked up on a delicately sweet croissant and sided by a sugary French dressing -- seemed designed with a major sweet tooth in mind. A sharp mustard- or horseradish-based dressing might have given the sandwich some stature but, as it was, our not-so-sweet teeth tired of it before it was half gone.
Of course, no Cleveland bar menu would be complete without pierogi, and Around the Corner's version is everything you could hope for. The six petite, relatively airy, and nicely browned dumplings came with a spoonful of thoroughly caramelized onion and a cup of cool sour cream, and got a hearty thumbs-up from the diner in our midst with a claim to authentic Polish heritage.
The saloon's annual Lobster Fest was in full swing on the Saturday night of our visit, so we gave it a shot. While it would be easy for a modest kitchen to get in over its head with something like this, we were pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive and almost entirely top-notch dinner that was dished up, anchored by a sweet, attentively prepared little lobster. With its split tail, a body stuffed with a tasty crab-and-crumb mixture, and two good-sized claws holding a cache of remarkably tender meat, the one-pound crustacean was a worthy catch at only $16.95. (We had to remind our waitress to bring a tool to help us crack the claws, but by this time we were growing accustomed to her laissez-faire attitude.) Included in the meal was a portion of nicely roasted red-skinned potatoes, a scoop of creamy coleslaw, a decent French roll, a prettily scalloped fresh lemon, and a tub of melted butter, as well as a length of forgettable, out-of-season corn on the cob.
Around the Corner's only real shortcoming was among the commercially prepared dessert offerings, where the Saturday-night selection was limited to bland pumpkin pie and an even duller key lime "pie" with the texture of cheesecake. The kitchen treated both items to a pouf of sweet whipped topping that only underscored their flaws; better you should go down to nearby Madison Avenue and score a chocolate malt at Malley's, if you are desperate for a sweet conclusion.
As generally satisfying as our Saturday night noshes were, Sunday brunch was even more pleasant, with better service, homey yet stylish food, white linens on the tabletops, and lots of bluesy Billie Holiday tunes wafting from the speakers. Our big splurge was a delightfully high-cholesterol Benedict Royale: a luscious pairing of lightly poached eggs and juicy rare steak, set atop English muffin halves and smothered beneath a lemony Hollandaise sauce. The final touch of gustatory luxe? A side of to-die-for home fries, creamy and softly yielding beneath bits of crunchy crust, just right for wiping up any lingering drops of Hollandaise.
Equally rich was the Chicken Amandine (or Almondine, as it's listed on the menu), plentiful strips of reasonably tender breast meat tossed with hearts of palm, asparagus, sliced mushrooms, and toasted almonds in a smooth Amaretto-scented cream sauce. A plump, buttery croissant on the side was a delight dredged in that delicious, vaguely sweet mix, and left us feeling well-fed and happy. We can't wait to get back on another weekend morning to sample enticing-sounding treats like hot coconut pancakes, served with home fries and bacon; French toast filled with marzipan and cream cheese; and a South of the Border Frittata, with guacamole, sour cream, salsa, sliced black olives, and melted jack cheese, all on a flour tortilla. Yum.
Sure, we all have busy schedules, but let's keep our priorities straight. What does it profit one to gain the world if we lose the chance to go Around the Corner for a tasty meal and a long, tall pour of beer?