TLO Restaurant Review: Corner Market
6:30 AM EDT on April 18, 2017
Whilst the usual suspects were touting the gentrified smoked meats of a new Midtown food truck, I decided to follow-up on a tip I received from a reader regarding a heretofore hidden fortress of BBQ delights housed within an unassuming gas station in the Northeast part of town.
The joint is called the Corner Market, 1800 N. Martin Luther King Ave., and it is the foster home to Leon’s Bar-B-Q, according to the street signage. You can also pay your bills and cash a check or two there, but what I was interested in, at least this visit, was their much mythologized smoked ribs, which, I was assured, were some of the best in the city.
A lofty claim to be sure, as everyone and their mother has that one place that’s got “the best ribs in the city,” but for some reason, this one called out to me more than others. Maybe it’s the fact that it was in a humble little gas station, like the type of BBQ joint one of the disciples of Jesus would write a parable about in the Bible; a quiet neighborhood place that didn’t advertise, brag or consort with down-nosed epicureans or failed gastrocritics.
The smell of incense and deep fryers greet you like an intangible handshake, cartoonishly drawing the sniff-sniff-sniffer towards the glass-ensconced heating case that takes up most of the counter with the numerous offerings Corner Market has to offer: those hard-to-find deep-fried BBQ brisket burritos and Cajun Jojo potatoes dancing a Viennese waltz of culinary romance briskly and effortlessly with specialty items like breaded catfish and smoked turkey legs that absolutely bastardize anything the State Fair has to offer, with idealized prices to match.
Serving a couple of police officers who knew exactly what they wanted—two-rib sandwiches, both of them—before me, I had enough time to complete my own dream plate: an old-fashioned handful of gizzards and livers, a deep-fried pork chop and, of course, the reason why I came into this joint at all, those ever succulent ribs, cuz.
Now if my mama saw me eating these Southern fried chicken gizzards and livers ($2.49), she’d probably smack them out of my hand and then smack me upside the head; it was the little things like these that killed my father and, good God Almighty, they’ll probably end up killing me too, with justifiable reason.
Coated with a deadly thick breading full of only the most tempting herbs and spices (as well as that most welcomed flavor of reheated oil that’s been used to fry numerous other products throughout the day), these gizzards and livers were as chewy and rubbery as used expect, mostly due to being under a heat-lamp for a few hours, but the earthy, gamy flavor that makes these organ meats such a delicacy were as rich and fertile as all get out, living up to the adage you can’t eat just one. Good thing they packed about a dozen in there.
Ostensibly a massive affront to the Lord and all that He has created—to take a fatty cut of pork and bread it, then deep-fry with such careless whimsy and, after dipping it in BBQ sauce, placing it directly inside the mouth for “I really should know better” consumption—seems almost like a dare for him to strike your heart dead on arrival.
But oh, what a way to go! An absolute treat outside of most soul food joints, to find a deep-fried pork chop ($2.99) like this, this savory brick of edible gold, in a gas station of all places, my jaw is still agape. Corner Market’s take has managed to retain a steady balance of hot grease and inherent juiciness in every bite, the crisp flavor of the peppery spices coming alive thanks to the taste-drenched marbling of delectable fat and well-proportioned white meat.
Before we get to the ribs, can we take a moment to talk about the BBQ sauce? Now I have no idea if this comes out of a bottle or if it is some sort of house thing, but where can I pick up a growler? Sure, it’s a bit runny, but with a wholly welcomed odd, obscure flavor that is reminiscent of a child pouring a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce into the last remnants of some Head Country, sloshing it together and then daring you to drink it. Of which I absolutely would. Seconds please.
With a sheer lust that could begin “Dear Penthouse, I never thought it could happen to me but…”, I lasciviously whispered sweet nothings and delivered playful nibbles to the glistening pink meat of these ribs ($4.39), the rich smokiness permeating every thick layer of meat and fat, dripping with a sexually greasy sweat; there was no skimping on these country-style darlings, with at least 50% more meat on the bone that I’ve managed to find anywhere else in this town.
I don’t know who Leon is nor was I able to find out—there was a massive line forming behind me and the cops were arresting someone outside—but the dude knows his ribs like nobody’s business. With bones so soft you can snap and suck out the marrow, the tender meat sloughed right off said cuts and right into my gullet with little to no energy, as moist and meaty as anything from any local BBQ joint or, in this age of vicious comparability, critically fellated food truck, if not better. Scratch that—most definitely better. ¡Cómpralo ya!
Now I'm wondering what hungry treasures I might be missing out on at other gas stations... Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.
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