Photo courtesy of CTWeekender.comAs the name implies, The Corner began as a small mom and pop breakfast place -- just around the corner in Milford. Back then, nineteen years ago to be exact, Michelle and Amer Lebel mostly catered to the neighborhood, rarely filling their homey 50 seat café.
The eggs, potatoes and toast were damn good. But the star of the show arrived with the Stuffed French Toast: split French bread, filled with fresh, sugared fruit and berries, bathed in an egg batter laced with orange zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, then deep fried to a golden brown and served under a puddle of nutty maple syrup. The luscious confection scored an immediate hit, eventually inspiring a morning menu as adventuresome, imaginative, and playful as any in Connecticut, if not the country.
Today, Michelle and Amer’s creative breakfasts have been featured on network television and celebrated in all manner of social media. Foodies from Boston to New York, as well as regulars, pack the place every morning. This corner cafe across from Milford’s City Hall is now destination dining.
But let’s return to that stuffed French Toast, still the most beloved item on the menu. We chose Strawberries and Bananas, the bread so dulcet, we were certain it was a deep-fried sweet roll. (Michelle insisted it was French bread, sweetened by the sugared fruit and syrup.) We could have ordered a Peaches and Cream version. Or one that’s Pecan Crusted. Another brimming with Apple, Cinnamon, Raisin and Cream Cheese. Or for those with a total sweet tooth – and the metabolism of a humming bird – there’s the “Trio.” In addition to a pair of stuffed French Toasts, the third leche on the plate is represented by a slice of Vanilla Cake soaked in sweet cream and crowned with fresh Strawberries. (Is that Willy Wonka grinning in the kitchen?)
If your morning taste runs far less saccharine, order the savory Indian Duck Tortilla. Pulled duck, seasoned with South Indian spices like cardamom and coriander, shares a Bacon-layered Tortilla with Scrambled Eggs and Cheese. Pan seared, the bacon and tortilla marry into one, a tasty wrap for the spicy pulled strands of duck, fluffy eggs and melted cheese. The complex contrapuntal tastes and textures serve as a lively wake-up for the pallet. Crisp and creamy, spicy and sweet, kicky and comforting, the dish becomes a sensory banquet not usually served first thing in the morning. No wonder Cooking Channel featured it when their cameras came calling to The Corner.
We also sampled the Sausage Breakfast Burrito. This hearty wrap included Chorizo Sausage in a bed of onions, peppers, tomatoes, Scrambled Eggs and melted Cheddar, embraced by a Tortilla anointed with a surprisingly light Hollandaise sauce. Again, the flavors and textures were perfectly balanced. One of our party usually dislikes Hollandaise, but agreed that this rendition was exquisite.
The Indian Duck and the Burrito reflect the Lebel’s penchant for fusing the foreign and familiar. They love bring flavors from far flung places to their little Corner of the world.
The menu features a benedict called “African Hash,” a spicy Beef and Lentil Hash that’s piled on an English muffin, then topped with Poached Eggs, Home Fries, and a Béarnaise sauce.
The foods of the American South, where Breakfast is truly King, have also inspired Michelle and Amer. Tasso is a Louisiana specialty, thought to be Southern Ham, but actually Pork shoulder meat. In their breakfast interpretation of Tasso, the Lebels slice the roasted pork thinly, then wrap it in a Flour Tortilla with Bacon, Scrambled Eggs, Tomato and Cheddar. Connecticut Creole.
And then there’s their exotic take on New Orleans cuisine -- Alligator Jambalaya. That’s right, real Alligator meat, simmered with crab, shrimp, andouille, tomatoes, and onions. The Jambala wasn’t on the menu when we visited, but we have been assured the Alligator tastes like, well, chicken, of course.
Michelle and Amer have fun in the kitchen, and some meals are served with a side of whimsy, if not mischief. Consider their weekend “Specialties” -- usually dishes built around exotic meats, such as kangaroo, elk, rattlesnake, frog legs, and buffalo.
(The couple secures those non-endangered meats from a company who provides a provenance of the animal and its humane, legal procurement.)
We asked Michelle what they were planning next.
“Zebra,” she said, playfully. “But we’re still experimenting with recipes.” The chef wondered if we would order it.
“Of course,” we lied.
Michelle told us they were constantly working on new taste combinations. “Trouble is,” she allowed, “our regulars have their favorites, so we have to keep them on the menu. Those folks were here when most of these seats were empty.”
Despite the crowds, The Corner still seats 50. The bookcases, table lamps, and antiques contribute to the homey ambience of what remains a small, hometown restaurant that makes you feel right at home.
And for the non-adventuresome, mom and pop still fry up a damn good All American breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast, with maybe a slab of bacon.
Around the corner in Milford
105 River Street 203 882-1150
M-F 7:30 am - 2:30pm
Sat &Sun 7 am – 1 pm 203 882 1150