Stick to the Beer
Corner Brewery reviewed
by Bix Engels
The Corner Brewery, the three-year-old Ypsilanti offspring of Arbor Brewing Company, is a place I wanted to like. Arbor Brewing's owners, Matt and Rene Greff, were among the pioneers of the local food movement when they set up their brewpub in 1995. They've since made ABC an emotional institution for Ann Arbor, a welcoming hangout, easy, not too expensive, with great beer and classic bar food that has improved steadily over the years.
Corner Brewery is also easygoing, albeit with a much different vibe. Where Arbor Brewing is close and cozy, the Corner Brewery is vast and rangy, and its crowd younger and Ypsier (more tattoos, fewer Birkenstocks). It too is a community center where groups like the local home brewers' guild meet. Inside, there's a long bar, tables, and booths lining the perimeter; off on one side is a large TV lounge; and out of sight are the brewing facilities.
Designed by Ypsilanti architect R. S. Gerganoff, this was originally an office. With its clean strong lines, low flat roof, and solid brick exterior, the Corner Brewery building feels so much like a mid-twentieth-century elementary school that my husband calls beers here his favorite after-school program.
The main attraction in summer is the beer garden out back. The linden trees and other plantings were designed in keeping with the German biergarten tradition, and now that the trees have a few summers under their belt they are beginning to provide some shade for those sitting at the long picnic tables. Hops vines snake ornamentally up the garden's privacy fence. Funky sofas and chairs beckon under a covered porch. Since smoking is allowed outside, the one drawback is the need to avoid other patrons' cigarettes. With twenty-four big tables, there's plenty of room to do so.
Back when I first visited the Corner Brewery, I didn't need to worry about the food. Until recently, the kitchen offered only a limited menu of snacks. A full menu launched June 1. It's an
eclectic assortment of appetizers, salads, and sandwiches, with nearly equal weight on vegetarian and meat dishes. The kitchen workforce is slim, however, and there's no waitstaff.
I wanted to like the new menu, too. It looks decent on paper, combining an appetizing array of bar food and a stated commitment to local products. Unfortunately, somewhere between the concept and table, things went awry.
I was grateful that cheese was almost undetectable in the chicken nachos--who wants more fat?--but the chopped chicken was utterly flavorless, and next time I'd order without the olives. Still, the dish was redeemed by excellent chips from the Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory just off Ellsworth. At the other end of the provenance spectrum, almost nothing on the Middle Eastern sampler plate seemed local and only the pita seemed notably fresh. The tabouli tasted like it came from a mix of rehydrated bulgur and dried mint, with none of the fresh parsley, tomatoes, or scallions I expect in tabouli. The other two dips on the plate were a passable hummus and a tapenade of coarsely chopped mixed olives. Like the olives on the nachos, these were sub-par, reminding me of the canned pitted olives that my mother used to put out at cocktail parties in the sixties. We filled up on the plate's sole saving grace, warm fluffy flat bread from Gordon Food Service (hey, it's a Michigan company too).
Sandwiches ranged from edible to downright unpalatable. The seared shaved roast beef in the Corner Brew melt was delicious, but we eat with our eyes too, and the bright orange cheddar-ale sauce poured over it looked like molten Velveeta. Hamburgers, ordered medium, were overcooked, though the buns were delicious. I'd give the burgers, from Michigan-raised grass-fed cattle, another try; the Corner cooks may need to adjust their technique, because this type of beef cooks more quickly. My Reuben had the opposite problem--it hadn't been cooked long enough to melt the cheese, which might have melded the flavors of the good-quality corned beef and crunchy sauerkraut. The loaded grilled cheese sandwich was simply awful--gummy cheese and banana peppers between cold toast. Yet the breads were top-notch; nearly all are provided by Ed's Bread in Saline or River Street Bakery in Ypsilanti.
One night, four of us ordered an entree Southwest salad to split, but once I brought it to the table no one wanted to try it. The gray seitan strips and aging romaine were unappealing; the other vegetables promised by the menu description--tomatoes, onions, and green peppers--were AWOL; the dressing was sort of pink; and the whole thing was covered with lots of little bits of tortilla chips that looked like they'd been shaken out of the bottom of the bag. A plate of quesadillas turned out to be pretty good, with gooey hot cheese layered between flour tortillas and a dab of thick sour cream and chunky salsa on the side.
This was the only dish that was actually hot at the table when we ate, perhaps because it was the only one delivered straight to us by a bartender. Normally, all the food is self serve: order at the bar, wait for the pager buzz, and pick up. The hot delivered quesadilla was a replacement for the one that went careening off our tray as we attempted to get it to the picnic table. It made me once again appreciate what servers do, and it left me unconvinced that the weaknesses of this food delivery setup can be overcome.
Corner Brewery's strength remains its beer. It is delicious, complex, challenging, and made on-site. Tasting and home brewing classes are offered here from time to time, at which you can learn about the brewer's art, tour the brewery, and take part in a tasting. Or organize your own impromptu tasting: a four-ounce pour of any of the eight or so beers on tap is just $1. I love the big flavor of the hoppy Sacred Cow IPA (India Pale Ale) that is served just a pinch above room temp; my friend swears by the crisp, citrusy brasserie blond Belgian ale. We could talk the night away under the stars over these. The food definitely needs work, but you still can't beat the beer and atmosphere.
Bar hours: Mon.-Thurs. 2 p.m.-11:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon- 11:30 p.m., Sun. noon-9:30 p.m.
Kitchen hours: Mon.-Thurs. 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon- 11 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Appetizers, snacks, and nachos $2.50-$9.75; burgers, sandwiches, and quesadillas $4.95-$9.75; salads $6.25-$8.25, desserts $2.10-$3.15
Fully accessible to disabled
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[Originally published in August, 2009.]