I take a great deal of pride in my homemade hamburgers. Some—my saintly wife to name names, but don’t tell her I ratted her out—might even say I’m obsessed with them. From the meat selection (ground chuck, 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio) to the bun (Martin’s potato all the way) to the toppings (Heinz ketchup on one side, Duke’s mayonnaise on the other), not a single detail goes unnoticed.
So I’m having a hard time conveying the depths of sadness I felt upon biting into the burger at Cornerstone Cheese & Charcuterie in Wayne. Because it made me feel … small … inferior … somehow, like less of a serious carnivore. Indeed, it rattled the entire foundation underpinning the most basic aspects of my existence. Because … well, it was stunning.
It all began with the meat—my goodness, the meat: a palm-thick patty, dry-aged for 30 days before being grilled over an open flame. The rest of the assembly was simple: lettuce, a few tomato slices, a tangle of caramelized onions and not much else. Frankly, nothing else was necessary. The focus here was justifiably the meat: tender, earthy and kissed with a funky tang one might consider a gift from the aging process.
There are plenty of surprises like that at Cornerstone. With its arrival, it joins Ardé and Vecchia Pizzeria and more as yet another reason to head to downtown Wayne with an appetite and a sense of adventure.
Walk into the space during the day and the light is diffuse and perfect, as if a vignette from a Pottery Barn catalog could have been shot there. Lining the shelves and counters is a finely curated selection of treats—vinegars, oils and cheeses, for example. There’s also plenty more, as well. But it’s at the chef’s counter that the real magic happens.
The seasonal dishes change regularly, and the dinner menu reads as more ambitious than the lunchtime one—roasted bone marrow with a citrus gremolata, or pan-seared bass with an apple-rosemary puree—but that doesn’t mean that the daytime offerings come off as any less riveting. The grilled sausage sandwich was anchored by a housemade fennel sausage, its casing snappy around a miraculously tender center, and joined by tart apple-and-Yuengling sauerkraut. It was balanced and delicious.
The oysters proved that the old rule about only consuming the mollusks in the months with the letter R in them is questionable at best. Because while it was the final day of April—according to orthodoxy, the tail end of the raw-oyster season—the briny and wonderful Island Creek oysters were as fresh and expressive as any I’ve had in the dead of winter. And topped with a drizzle of mignonette, here made with white wine and red wine vinegar, as well as a bit of simple syrup and the more traditional shallots and pepper, they sang a miraculous tune.
Cheeses and charcuterie are a focus at Cornerstone as well—the latter either made in house or brought in from other artisanal producers. The small chef’s board of both was plenty to snack on for two adults and two young kids, $35 did seem a bit steep for the selection of three, with accompaniments. Still, the five-year-old Gouda, the perfectly pungent bleu and the dried sausage from Chicago’s West Loop salumi kissed with Dom Perignon, joined by Hungarian honeycomb and fig-cherry compote, were rewarding enough to make me forget my quibble with its pricing. I’d be happy to get it again … and again.
Cornerstone is a BYOB, and I was told that guests are bringing in some seriously decadent wines. No wonder: Food this well conceived and beautifully prepared deserves to be paired with a great bottle or two. Even if you’re not here for dinner, I would suggest bringing a bottle of vodka for the Bloody Mary mix, a fabulously involved concoction with nearly 40 ingredients, among them porcini powder and, I’m fairly certain, pixie dust. It’s as deep and layered as any Bloody Mary I’ve tasted, and brought in from Brick and Mortar in Philadelphia, which co-owner and chef Nick Kondra helped open. (His wife, co-owner and chef Christine Doherty Kondra, completes a formidable team behind the Cornerstone concept.) And with its spear of pickled vegetable—I’m still dreaming about the cumin-streaked radishes—this is a beverage that’s a meal in its own right.
With all of this going for it, in fact, I left my recent lunch feeling energized. If you’re looking for justification to venture into Wayne, consider the ample magic being woven at Cornerstone. It’s a great addition to the town, and to the region as a whole.
Cornerstone Cheese & Charcuterie
1 West Ave., Wayne