I have lost count of how many downtown restaurants are currently operating from Broad to Water streets (including The Galley at the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum), but there are plenty. For the most part you can get whatever you want, though there are a few ethnic vacancies here and there. But the most oft-overlooked restaurants are the ones in the hotels … until now.
You may have noticed the Admiral Hotel has renovated its spot at the corner of Joachim and Government streets with stunning results, adding plenty of natural light and an enticing menu. On a cold day I took a brisk walk from the heart of downtown with Boss Rob and real estate mogul Catherine Mackey to help with the second and third opinions of the new bustling hotspot, Corner 251.
We arrived early, and as the second table to order we had our taste buds ready for the sidewalk chalkboard’s broadcast of white bean chicken chili. It sounded perfect for such a cold day. After a brief encounter with our waiter, Melvin, we were told the sign was incorrect. Today’s soup would be gumbo ($7 per cup). Two of us took the bait.
In more than a few minutes we received a sizable cup in a trendy-looking vessel with a slice of toasted bread on the side.
“Could we get some Tabasco?” inquired Rob, to which our waiter instantly replied, “We have no Tabasco. We don’t have any hot sauce out here. I’ll ask the kitchen if they can find anything.” Odd.
But I must admit the gumbo was pretty darn good, with shrimp and sausage that delightfully took up more space than the rice. I gave this one a good score and was suddenly not missing my chili. In the end Melvin came through for us and brought a small cup of “hot sauce” as we took our last spoonfuls. Turns out it was a Buffalo wing sauce, perhaps Frank’s Red Hot or something similar.
While looking at our entree options, poor Melvin had to give the same speech to a woman who came in desperate for the chili. No one changed the chalkboard menu. We were beginning to get suspicious that the chili was a “bait and switch” setup. It was working.
The rest of the menu seems fairly creative with a beet salad, burgers and sandwiches as well as small plates of shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and a fried green tomato Napoleon layered with pimiento cheese and topped with roasted red pepper coulis.
One item that caught our eye was the osso buco wing ($9). I’ve had osso buco. I know how to prepare it. I know how to shop for it. Maybe it’s different because they don’t spell “bucco” the way I do. But a wing? This sounded so weird we had to try it.
The description said “Grilled Osso Buco tossed with fig jam barbecue sauce on a bed of superfood slaw.” I know that it’s usually veal or beef shank that is the centerpiece (pun intended), but this was a chicken dish.
The plate came out and essentially amounted to three drumettes dressed in a sweet sauce. They were good, but not $3-per-wing good. I certainly didn’t get any hint of osso buco from the dish, but the bed of superfood slaw wasn’t bad. It’s chopped cabbage, carrots and Brussels sprouts, according to Melvin, tossed in a little olive oil. In this case it was not wilted but warm.
After much debate and questions about the sandwiches, Catherine decided on the honey-roasted turkey sandwich ($12). All-natural turkey, Swiss cheese, Southern chow chow, avocado, bread and butter pickles, tomato and Bibb lettuce were too much for her to pass up once we told her it comes with peppercorn bacon on warm French bread. If I know her at all, it was the chow chow that sealed the deal.
It came highly recommended but was a little disappointing. The chow chow was almost nonexistent. There wasn’t much avocado to speak of, either. The sandwich was giant, but from my sampling bite I would say it needs to be a hot sandwich with veggies added at the end. The bread was good quality, but stone cold and hard. She ended up eating it open-faced and leaving the bread while moderately enjoying the superfood slaw.
Rob had a better time with his BLT crab cake sandwich ($14). This is the most expensive sandwich on the menu and is a physically tall order, served on a handsome brioche bun. That same peppercorn bacon is the highlight with red tomato and arugula for the lettuce. Tomato aioli replaced the standard mayonnaise. The crab cake itself is sizable if you prefer that end of the scorecard, but a little on the herb-heavy side, according to Rob. I concur, and though it fell apart I didn’t find it a total loss. After all, it is still a crab cake.
For myself, the grilled salmon Reuben ($9) turned out to be the best thing on the menu. I was skeptical, but the fish was fantastic with the sauerkraut, Swiss and thousand island dressing. I can handle a good rye every now and then. This was toasted to perfection and what you didn’t see coming was the peppercorn bacon that made it a little bit better! Granted, it is a $9 sandwich, but I enjoyed it all the same.
My only disappointment was my side. My mouth was watering for “seashore fries” and I got them, but they were as cold as Catherine’s bread. Lightly coated sturdy-cut fries were golden brown and beautiful, but were no fun to eat due to their temperature. I’m not sure if the place has ketchup; I wasn’t offered any. I tried a couple dipped in the chicken wing sauce but it didn’t help. The shame of it all is that if these were hot they would be in the top three French fries in Mobile.
Here is the recap: Corner 251 sounds amazing on paper. Whoever wrote the menu has a way with words. It’s a young restaurant and maybe I came in too early. There were just too many “almost theres” to ignore.
I should say $63.80 pre-tip with a round of water is a little rich for my blood for three people on a lunch break. I know it’s a hotel restaurant with hotel prices, but on such a corner it feels like it could be another downtown favorite if these guys pull it together. Many locals would love to welcome Corner 251 into their rotation, but it needs to execute a little better at this price point.
Maybe we should let these guys get their feet under them. I’ll send them a case of hot sauce.