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Cornered by the ABC

Too bad The Corner Cafe is forced to overreach, because sandwiches and pub grub would have been just fine.

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Why am I telling you this? Because it is this type of asinine licensing law that causes the proliferation of cozy neighborhood watering holes serving decent pub grub and a slew of overvaulting, subpar entrees. Now before you pick up your pens, I am not slamming The Corner Cafe. I like The Corner Cafe. If I lived in the museum district I might make it my regular get-out-of-the-house spot. It's a great old room with a friendly staff and a neighborly spirit. They serve some nice sandwiches in the six to seven dollar range: smoked turkey, roast beef, grilled andouille sausage, a veggie sub…nothing fancy but just fine. They've got wings for $7.25, a great hummus platter served with veggies and garlic toast for $4.25, chicken fingers, soup, salads. You get the picture. I thought $4 for a Newcastle draft was a little steep, but $24 for a bottle of very passable cabernet made up for it.

The Corner Cafe does a good job of being a local bar dressed up as a corner café. But because of laws involving alcohol they have to sell $2,000 per month in entrees. There's the rub.

I managed a place in a state that had this same type of inane law. We just wanted to serve our microbrewed beer and some sandwiches. No, no. After 5 p.m. we had to have entrees available. Do entrees somehow make a drunk more moral? Do entrees discourage alcohol abuse more than hamburgers do after 5 p.m.? No, they don't. I'll tell you what entrees do. Entrees require too much of a small kitchen with respect to inventory, expertise, equipment and manpower. Entrees are a whole 'nuther ball game. I tried a couple of The Corner's entrees. The Corner Fettuccini ($10.95) was tossed with shrimp, chicken, andouille, red peppers and onions in a Creole cream sauce. I also tried the Panhandle Crabcakes ($13.95). Two cakes were deep-fried and served with "creamy sauce Meuniere." The pasta was bland. The crabcakes were poor. And meuniere just shouldn't be creamy.

It is a dilemma created by a ridiculous law. An entrepreneur wants to invest some money, build a business, pay taxes, serve the neighbors and the state starts dictating that you not only have to install a kitchen and serve food, but also what percentage of your chicken breasts have to be Kiev'd instead of Kaiser'd. So you entrust your night kitchen staff with strip steaks, sea bass and pepper-crusted pork loin. Nothing against the cooks at The Corner or the scores of places like it, but they have no more business sauteing a sea bass filet than I have spouting off foreign economic policy. We're not qualified. But the entrees must be served.

My suggestion is this: Stop trying so hard. When I go to a place like the Corner Café, I don't expect a fish special or sauce Mornay. Your mom's meatloaf is fine. Why not bacon and eggs? As long as the ABC regulations hover over you, concentrate on simple foods with full flavors. And you might band together with other restaurateurs and try to get this absurd statute amended. S



The Corner Cafe ($)

800 North Cleveland Street

355-1954

Lunch and dinner: Tuesday — Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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