You’re downtown, it’s lunchtime and you’re in the mood for a good lunch, not the usual suspects of carb-laden and fried foods. Wouldn’t it be great to get a healthy meal of a protein and some veggies without having to go to a traditional sit-down restaurant and paying an “arm-and-a-leg”? Well, you can at Corner Mercantile.
What is Corner Mercantile, you ask? It is a fast casual, chef-driven restaurant where at one serving counter customers can choose from a variety of deliciously prepared proteins, vegetables, and deli salads displayed in a refrigerated glass display case. The second counter is a sandwich-making station. Additionally, there is a third counter for the barista.
At the mains and veggies station you tell the counterperson what items you would like and they will make a platter for you. They will also heat up whatever you’d like to eat hot in a quick oven behind the counter. Protein choices include rotating selections of chicken, seafood, pork, beef, and vegan items.
Vegetable and side-salad offerings change often as well, and can include smoked gouda pasta salad, kale and quinoa salad, beet salad, roasted butternut squash, seasonal fresh fruit salad, and more. The protein and sides can either be purchased as a platter with a protein choice and one or two sides, or, purchased by the pound with the per-pound price listed on each item’s mini-sign board. A variety of oval-shaped flatbread pizzas with various toppings are also displayed for sale. Vegan and gluten-free selections are noted on the menu and on the food display signs.
The sandwich-making station has several display sandwiches so customers can see what they look like, and a line of baguettes waiting to be stuffed with flavorful ingredients. There’s a daily rotisserie-cooked protein featured in a sandwich, like the BBQ spiced prime rib with East End beer cheese and crispy onions sandwich. Other interesting sandwich options include the Bloomfielder (ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, spinach, marinated Italian vegetables, and pesto mayonnaise); rotisserie chicken, bacon and Parmesan; chicken salad on a croissant, and even a vegan BLT wrap.
The decor is sleek and modern, but comfortable. Common long wooden tables make for a nice mix of people sitting together. In fairer seasons patio tables are placed outside the location at the corner of the new Tower at PNC Plaza.
Sampling the Chef’s Offerings
I faintly remember hearing something about Corner Mercantile when it opened in December of 2015. My memory was recently refreshed when I wanted to have a lunch meeting with one of our designers, Kylee, who works full time downtown. When I asked where she wanted to dine, she mentioned that she likes Corner Mercantile. I looked at their website and was intrigued by the menu of quality offerings. There are many restaurants closer to where Kylee works so I asked her if that was a little too far to go on her lunch hour. She assured me it wasn’t.
We met for lunch and perused the display case. I thought about the possible combination platter options I could construct and chose the honey chipotle glazed chicken, along with the beets, apples, pears, arugula, and white balsamic side salad. These items paired well together. The medium-sized chicken breast was tender and flavorful with grill marks. I found myself wishing for just a little more glaze on the chicken to push the flavor profile a bit more. The beet salad was a good combination of tart and sweet with the balsamic and fruit enhancing the intriguing combination.
Kylee opted for the flatbread pizza with roasted butternut squash, spinach, pumpkin, and ricotta; she also chose the Fall Kale Salad with apples, cranberries, sunflower seeds, quinoa, and white balsamic. She gave me a taste of each. The flatbread had a crisp crust and was a very different, but still good, pizza-eating experience with the slightly sweet toppings of pumpkin and butternut squash chunks. The uber-healthy Fall Kale Salad also had some good crunch with its sunflower seeds.
I visited Corner Mercantile again a few weeks later and went for the orange fennel salmon, with a side serving of sage butternut squash with onion and dried cranberries, and the smoked Gouda pasta salad. I had wanted to try the salmon, but I’m not a big fan of fennel, so the minimal glaze was just right for me, pushing only a hint of fennel. The salmon was cooked to perfection. I found it moist and delicious. The sage butternut squash and onions were a tasty combination, as was the creamy smoked Gouda pasta salad. It had small pieces of Gouda cheese throughout.
Seasonal, Sustainable, Local
On my second visit I had the opportunity for a quick chat with GM Jim Shones, who was a prepared-foods team leader for Whole Foods in Shadyside before opening Corner Mercantile for Parkhurst Dining (which is owned by Eat’n Park). He said that although Parkhurst owns Corner Mercantile, he and the staff are allowed a lot of input in regards to the menu.
Shones described Corner Mercantile as “fast casual healthy.” He continued, “We change the menu often so that it doesn’t remain static and people come back frequently. We strive to source as much food as we can locally from responsible and sustainable vendors.” Local purveyors include Turner’s Dairy, BreadWorks, Coffee Tree Roasters, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, Paragon Foods, and Mediterra Bakehouse.
The chicken, pork, beef, and salmon are raised ethically and without antibiotics or growth hormones. Seasonality of ingredients is also a main emphasis of the Corner Mercantile menu. Shones is quick to credit the other members of his team for Corner Mercantile’s success, including Executive Chef Jessica Wise and Assistant Manager Andrew Jannis. Although the restaurant has done well, no plans are in the works yet to open another location.
Salads, Breakfasts, and Beverages
Salad selections are generous and interesting at Corner Mercantile. Three current choices, for example, are: the Autumn Chicken Salad (grilled chicken breast, mixed greens, spinach, roasted Brussels sprouts, grapes, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and white balsamic dressing); the Salmon & Soba Noodle Salad (grilled salmon, mixed greens, spinach, edamame, soba noodles, corn, carrot, red cabbage, and ginger wasabi dressing); and the Fall House Salad (mixed greens, arugula, black mission figs, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, roasted butternut squash, with fig balsamic dressing). Each day there are two soup offerings as well, with one being vegetarian or vegan, and gluten-free.
Breakfast is also a focus daypart at the restaurant. Offerings include made-to-order breakfast sandwiches, quiches, breakfast burritos, egg tart, frittatas, avocado 6-grain toast, oatmeals, and smoked cheddar grits. Coffee, tea, espresso, cappuccino, and Americano are some of the beverages Corner Mercantile offers for your morning (and afternoon) perk-me-up. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 10 a.m. During that time period any size drip coffee is $1 off.
Platter prices range from $6.99 to 11.99 for a protein with one side, and $7.99 to $12.99 for a protein with two sides. Most sandwiches are between $5.99 and $7.99, while salads run from $6.99 to $8.99.
The restaurant is somewhat like a miniature food hall. You order what you want from the stations or help yourself to ready-to-go salads, soups, and refrigerated beverages such as Corner Mercantile bottled waters infused with oranges or lemons and herbs like rosemary and lemongrass.
If you’d like to see what the current selections are, go to the menu page of the Corner Mercantile website. Corner Mercantile also fills catering orders.
For my two visits of this review I mainly concentrated on the main dishes and sides, but look forward to trying their other offerings. For breakfast and lunch Downtown, Corner Mercantile offers a wide selection of high quality food at reasonable prices. I can see why Kylee enjoys dining there so much.
472 Wood St.
Monday – Thursday:
7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Story and photos by Rick Handler, executive producer of Entertainment Central.