Corners Tavern: Urban Flavor
Quirky ambience and distinctive food touch down in Broadway Plaza.
Photography by Mitch Tobias
If Bing’s was a smooth package of 1940s cool, the restaurant that replaced it is a more urban, kitschy, and inviting mishmash of stylishness and warmth. Kind of a sunny California play on the old-world pub, although the food is a far cry from traditional British pub grub. The word gastropub (even though it sounds like a medical term) applies here: Corners Tavern comes off like a reconstructed British bar but with much better food.
The not-so-suburban vibe should come as no surprise. Corners was masterminded by the folks behind San Francisco’s Town Hall and Salt House, as well as the Piatti and Paragon restaurants, and the same talent shows in this restaurant’s food, wine, beer, and cocktails. And you could choose Corners for any combination of those, particularly if you wanted a Greene King pale ale and a billowy lightness of batter-fried fish that tastes as though it jumped out of the ocean and into the fryer, luxuriating there just long enough to develop its alluring rich golden crispness. Or maybe you’re in the mood for a glass of Côtes du Rhône and an appetizer portion of short rib, cooked to a lusciousness that is only heightened by fresh peas, mushrooms, and shaved flecks of parmesan cheese. You could also try the earthy, backboned López de Heredia Rioja and the half chicken, brined and smoked to juicy sweetness, and accented by a pasilla pepper puree.
But if none of that is of interest, you could still chalk up your trip to a cultural opportunity. To name just a few of the restaurant’s oddities, consider artist Freya Prowe’s 40-foot-long, Lascaux cave paintings meets Where the Wild Things Are murals; a taxidermy beast as big as a dishwasher, hanging behind the bar; and repurposed snake display boxes that once held reptiles at Berkeley’s Vivarium, and now showcase mock-creepy dioramas, including one of a miniature chef slumped over a stove with a hatchet buried in his blood-stained back. Also, the dining room’s facade consists of two huge glass garage doors, which can be raised and, up or down, make for great people watching.
On our first visit, the place was packed and the atmosphere festive. Acoustics in the restaurant—which consists of cozy nooks in the lounge with plush arm chairs and sofas, a big horseshoe-shaped bar, and a 95-seat dining room—shout neighborhood watering hole rather than whisper romantic dinner. Our refreshing cocktails had bold, pure flavors; our food, however, included some hits and misses.
The smoked chicken mentioned above was a hit. The panfried shrimp were plump and rich, with a hint of spiciness, and the duck fat–roasted potatoes could coax a vegetarian to sit in a duck blind with a shotgun. However, the weird mix of flavors in our albacore tartare—prepared with tangerines, jalapeño, and olives—really threw us off. The halibut was gorgeously crisp on the outside but nearly dry within. When even our Caesar salad tasted a bit bland, we were worried that despite its atmosphere, the restaurant wasn’t quite working.
Luckily, we went back, and on our other visits, the food knocked us out. A house-made pretzel was fresh and salty. We fought over the battered fried fish and short rib. The salad with strawberries came with the best wild designer greens ever grown, and its toasted almond slices were addictive: rich, fresh, and crisp. The burger was a beauty, too—the juiciest meat smoked on the grill and served with a big, bright orange pickled pepper and pickled onions. The food was not overly fatty, sauced, or buttery, but the fried fish, short rib, and burger delivered a satisfying fatty richness that may not fit your diet, but is nonetheless a treat when you go out to dinner.
Speaking of treats, our favorite dessert? The chocolate cake and malted milk chocolate ice cream. Let’s put it this way: If you like the flavor of chocolate malt, you had better not go there. Because it will own you.
Anyhow, apart from the taxidermy and snake boxes, there’s plenty to love at Corners Tavern. We suspect, too, that our less favorite dishes will evolve in time. Of course, whatever you have brought to your table, you’ll definitely have lots to look at.
At a Glance
What makes it special: The vibe is genuine, inviting, and sophisticated—and the food rocks, too. Don’t miss: The lounge is a fun gathering place with nooks filled with comfy, mismatched furniture and crazy art. What to order: Ale-battered fish, fries, burger, duck fat–roasted potatoes, house-made pretzel, short rib appetizer. The space: Part British pub, part Exploratorium. When to go: Early evening, when the heat of the day is abating and they open the garage doors. Bonus: There is no kids’ menu, but the kitchen will help you out with any special requests.
Contact: 1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 948-8711, cornerstavern.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner daily. Appetizers $4–$14, entrées $14–$32. Full bar.