Jess’ online dating profile included the phrase “mostly vegetarian,” so when I met her for dinner on one of our early dates, I pointed out a handful of vegetable-based entrees we might share.
“Actually,” she responded, “maybe the steak?”
Apparently, ‘mostly’ is a relative term.
We’ve since been touring through NYC’s essential burger joints, with stops at places like Burger Joint (my perennial favorite), The Spotted Pig (never quite as good as I’d like it to be), P.J. Clarke’s (good burgers, even better martinis), Bill’s Burger Bar (get the Fat Cat), Salvation Burger (though it’s a Spotted Pig spinoff, I prefer it to the original), Shake Shack (kind of like the band you used to see in a dive bar that then became a Top 50 radio act), Union Square Cafe (fancy!), etc.
Today, with beach-minded Memorial Day Weekend plans thwarted by inclement weather, we instead headed down to the West Village’s iconic Corner Bistro. Because, as New York magazine once put it, “if you call yourself a New Yorker, consider it your civic duty to have a beer and a burger here at least once.”
Admittedly, I’d already responded to that call of duty countless times over the past two decades, in part because Corner Bistro serves beer for under $5 (an NYC rarity), and in even larger part because they serve hamburgers into the wee hours of the night in a neighborhood the younger me often ended up in while totally blitzed.
Jess, however, had never been. And, though I frequented it more in the past, it had been a few years since I had returned (and a few more since I had while sober.) It seemed like an excellent adventure. Away we went.
The restaurant itself is essentially a dive bar, with about a dozen seats around an old mahogany bar in the front, and about a dozen small tables in the brick-walled, tin-roofed back.
The real draw is the food, despite a fairly minimalist menu:
And, honestly, even that’s more info than you need. You just want the cheeseburger with a side of fries. Or maybe two cheeseburgers and a side of fries.
Usually, there’s a line out the door. But today, despite (or perhaps because of?) it being Memorial Day Weekend, we breezed in and were seated immediately.
We ordered beer (still miraculously sub-$5) while we waited, Jess the Brooklyn Lager, and me a McSorley’s Ale (the house brew from NYC’s oldest continuously operated saloon):
Next arrived our fries, served (like everything at Corner Bistro) on paper plates. They were delightfully crispy, though a bit short on flavor – the texture of a McDonald’s fry (which, even for food snobs, is kind of the platonic ideal of skinny french fry), yet somehow without that much taste.
Nonetheless, as we were coming to lunch after a morning run along the Hudson River bike path, we were starved, and I polished off half my plate before Jess reminded me that I had intended to photograph the meal. (On the plus side, that’s definitive proof that, though I’m just months outside the 1980 birthdate cutoff, I’m most certainly not a Millennial.)
The burger itself is a half-pound of beef, layered between an onion slice below and dill pickle, tomato, and iceberg lettuce on top, all packed onto a not-terribly-large, possibly-from-a-bag bun:
Or, as seen intact and from above (on Jess’ plate, as the following picture was actually taken after the above one, given that I generally eat like a starving feral animal, and had polished off half of my half-pound burger while she was still genteelly applying mustard):
Regardless, despite the slow start, Jess eventually caught up.
At that point, I was still strongly considering a second burger, as I usually had in the past. But, in my age and wisdom, and with a greater appreciation for the law of diminishing returns, I decided I probably didn’t need to eat a full pound of hamburger for lunch, especially if my plans for the balance of the day included anything besides lying on the floor, digesting.
So, adventure complete, and Jess’ Corner Bistro NYC civic duty fulfilled. Though, honestly, I don’t think we’ll be headed back any time soon. It’s a very good burger, and in decades past it held a much-deserved spot on pretty much any ‘Five Best Burgers in NYC’ list. But, in today’s culinary world, there are just a whole lot of great hamburgers, and even a whole lot of better hamburgers, in the city.
Final verdict: if you’ve never been, go. If you have, don’t rush back.