A grittier but gemlike offshoot of the upscale restaurant Corner BYOB in Hampden, The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar is a near-perfect exemplar of what a neighborhood bar should be. Slipping into its quirkily rustic environs one rainy November night (it opened in September), I immediately felt giddy, as if I’d found the door into a past life or another country—rural France, maybe, or the rec room of a friend’s coolest parents, circa 1954. Various cured meats and farm implements hang over the 14-seat hardwood bar. Tabletops perch on oak barrels against the far wall, whose crenelated white bricks give the tiny room a grotto-like feel. A clutch of herbs hangs in a space between the rafters, beyond which an acid yellow-lit wall boasts a graffito of a spidery two-faced monkey—a jarring contrast that fittingly sums up the mix of funk and roughhewn charm. When the glamorous-as-a-’40s-movie-poster waitress pressed the daily $5 cocktail into my hands—a hot concoction of artisanal liqueurs and small-batch rum—I knew I’d died and gone to Hampden heaven.
The place is the brainchild of BYOB co-owner Bernard Dehaene, whose Belgian roots may be responsible for the European vibe. A passageway connects the restaurant to the new bar, so that while BYOB patrons can still bring their own libations, they can now also order them from the Charcuterie. Meanwhile, chef Andrew Cole executes a bar menu as funky, charming, and surprising as the surroundings. Most of the offerings are small plates, reasonably priced around $7, with one nightly dinner offering for $20, which includes appetizer, entree, and a glass of wine or beer. Sounds ordinary enough—the small-plate idea is standard issue—but what plates! At BYOB, Dehaene is famous for serving up exotic game, everything from wild boar to yak, and the Charcuterie navigates between beautifully prepared straight-ahead bistro items (beer-steamed mussels enriched with smoked bacon and leeks, addictive duck-fat-fried fingerling potatoes, garlicky escargot), and more adventurous “snacks” like seared frog legs, an earthy casserole of blood sausage in tomato-garlic sauce, roasted veal marrow bone, and a mustard-and-crumb-coated pork foot.
That last is a fine example of the kitchen’s straightforward but magical way with “parts.” It’s a simple fried pork foot, but as the ethereal breadcrumb coating yields to the crispy skin and shards of unctuous meat beneath, you realize it’s addictive and well worth getting a little brutish with the bones. The housemade “accoutrements” that grace the plate are an astonishingly delicious array of goodies: slivers of shallot pickled with curry, jewel-like dabs of port-wine jelly and Forelle pear jam, and translucent rounds of spicy pickled carrot.
A generously portioned trio of the eponymous charcuterie—among the choices are hearty chorizo, creamy mortadella, and Venetian sopressata—comes similarly accoutred. Accompanied by a crusty baguette and a glass of, say, Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône from the bar’s small but reasonably priced selection of wines, it may be the best $13 meal in town. There are also a half-dozen artisanal cheeses from near and far to choose from, and bowls of herb-marinated olives to be had. And there’s a cognac-chicken-liver mousse that has been flambéed and then swirled into satiny smoothness with heavy cream. Served with a buttery hunk of brioche, it is as richly evocative of the French countryside as anything in Baltimore. If you’re in the mood for a slightly more austere repast, the house cold-smoked trout with toasted raisin-pumpernickel bread is tangy and divine.
Of course, it would be a shame to dine here without sampling one of Charcuterie’s handcrafted cocktails, which hold equal billing with the food. Using mostly boutique, small-batch liquors, the bartenders whip up classics like sazaracs and sidecars burnished with some small fillip of difference: an absinthe-washed glass for the former, a splash of Elixir Combier in the latter. The daily cocktail usually features more wildly inventive recipes, but to taste the difference a craft-distilled liquor can make, a simple Negroni will do.
I admit that, save for a bite of the Thursday night leg of lamb from a friend’s plate (delicious), I’ve yet to sample a full dinner at The Other Corner. (I’ve been too busy making my way through the irresistible small stuff.) But I’m dreaming of the textural refinements Andrew Cole might work on the Wednesday night pasta or what rare seasonings he applies to steak on Saturdays. Rest assured it won’t take me very long to go back and find out.