With their warped floors and crooked shelving, old corner stores have long defied certain standards for retail design. And let's face it: City dwellers in a fix for a gallon of milk, say, figure that humble is the price to pay for convenience.
However, that does not apply to Cornercopia, a year-old market and deli at Third and K streets SE. Albert Oh's parents once operated a no-frills corner grocery on the property; three years ago, he gutted and began refurbishing the place. Burglar bars remain but are now accented with gold-tinted flourishes. A building in Georgetown inspired Cornercopia's gleaming gray paint job.
The shop is small yet purposeful, carrying upscale staples such as Illy coffee, Brewery Ommegang beer and Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products.
So what's for dinner? Oh's mother provided recipes for her vegetable dumplings, which he serves on Tuesdays (10 for $6.99), and for her sweet bulgogi with fiery kimchi, which appears on Thursdays ($7.99).
His sister conceived the six sandwiches on the menu that come loaded with Boar's Head cold cuts and house-made condiments including garlic pesto, spicy Russian dressing and balsamic vinaigrette.
The Monument is a tower of salami, pepperoni, ham, roasted red peppers and a milky mozzarella built on ciabatta: sweet, if hard to fit in your mouth ($8.29). The Capitol, named for all the pork on the Hill, features Black Forest ham, brie and pear ($7.89). Also try the straightforward Stadium, a stack of turkey, bacon and avocado on white or wheat ($7.69).
Oh's addition of wan lettuce and tomatoes on some sandwiches is perplexing; next time, we'll ask him to hold those.
To complete the meal, we did right by a French rose (Jean-Luc Colombo, $12.99) and a pint of Trickling Springs Creamery ice cream ($4.59).
Oh's personality comes through best via Twitter (@cornercopia). In person he's quiet and efficient, happy to let his fiancee do the talking. "The majority of our business is the deli, and we were shocked by that," Danica Han explained recently. "We thought it would be groceries, beer and wine."
Which just goes to show: The corner store can withstand reinvention.
--Kristen Hinman, August 4, 2010