Every corner store needs to stock the basics: smokes, wine, beer, tubs of pimento cheese. OK, some of these items might be optional, but downtown's favorite corner shops cater to both the college students and the neighborhood foodies, who can sometimes prove to be the very same people. Sprinkled throughout the streets south of Calhoun Street are a handful of locally owned stores that have shelves full of the staples their modern clientele demands. They'll sell the frat boys a pack of cigarettes and a suitcase of Busch beer, but they're also ready to help a harried mom get dinner on the table or let a single guy pull up a chair and sit down for a quiet meal with his newspaper.
Burbage's Self Serv Grocery
157 Broad St.
Mon.-Fri: 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat: 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
This family-run corner store is the penultimate "self-serv grocery" where you can pick up basic pantry items like mayonnaise and Triscuits. But it's also a foodie haven, with freshly made soups — okra, vichyssoise, gazpacho, squash — and nine different types of housemade sausage (andouille, lamb, and various types of Italian links), all labeled to be from "Big Al" himself (he's one of the brothers that runs the place). They've got baskets of baguettes, cheddar biscuits, raw peanuts, and fresh vegetables. They'll make tomato sandwiches to-go. The meat counter in the back has big juicy steaks, slabs of country ham, and a vat of fresh Spanish Arbequino olive oil that you can buy by the milliliter. They also stock Al's Tomato Sauce and Rio Bertolini's fresh-made pastas, making a last minute gourmet dinner as easy as pie. They cater to their Broad Street neighborhood very well, selling gum and candy to the kids who stop by on their bikes and keeping rich pâtés and terrines on hand for that last-minute cocktail party. The wine and beer selection is limited, but it's big enough to help you out on a moment's notice. You can also find a couple packs of cigarettes and a tub of housemade pimento should the need for either arise. There's no café seating in this shop. It's all designed to take away and enjoy on the piazza.
Bull Street Gourmet
60 Bull St.
Mon.-Sat: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Justin Croxall's corner shop in the heart of Harleston Village is a specialty grocery that will be happy to feed you morning, noon, and night. To that end, they've got an extensive café menu with a focus on fresh, light, and healthy fare. The salads are tossed to order with items like pine nuts, Wisconsin Mindoro blue cheese, and balsamic roasted portobello mushrooms. Our favorite is the Drunken Salad made with drunken goat cheese and sliced prosciutto. The sandwiches come piled high on ciabatta rolls and have the kind of flourishes, like cranberry mayonnaise, that make them memorable. In the morning, busy college students can duck in for the homemade granola, yogurt, and fruit parfait for $4 or make their own breakfast sandwich with choices like eggs, bacon, brie, and whole milk mozzarella. A sprinkling of tables inside and out on the sidewalk encourages lingering over a cup of coffee. In the deli cooler, they've got chilling bottles of white wine, prepared foods, and gourmet cheeses. The wine is of particular note, as Bull Street has a running deal. One side of the wine display is $9.99 per bottle or three for $28 and the other side is $7 per bottle or four for $24. You can also mix and match your own six-pack of craft beer for $10.99. They've got a great selection. Add to that some freshly baked muffins and sweets, and you've got all you need to make it a night.
131 Wentworth St.
Mon.-Sat: 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (Summer hours)
You won't find any cigarettes for sale here, but you will find a spacious dining room flanked by coolers full of beer (by the six-pack and the suitcase) and shelves full of wine. They've got bags of chips and candy, but the real draw at this corner shop is the deli in back. Freshly sliced Boar's Head meats get layered high on all kinds of bread: croissants, panini rolls, multigrain, country white, or ciabatta. The Italian is a meaty delight, stacked with prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, mozzarella, spinach, tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette. The duck confit comes on a croissant with goat cheese, apples, spinach, and a toasted walnut vinaigrette. The concoctions are creative and well executed. Check the specials board too — the last time we stopped by, they had a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with a side of gazpacho. The $3 taco special is a regular deal for a pulled pork taco with lime poppyseed slaw and pepper jack cheese. The prices are reasonable too, with the duck confit maxing out at $9. Most everything else is between $4 and $8.
Queen Street Grocery
133 Queen St.
Mon.-Thurs: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Much like Burbages, Queen Street caters as much as it can to the needs of the neighborhood around it, selling fresh produce, Normandy Farm bread, and other basic items in addition to being a pick-up site for the shareholders of the Thackeray Farms CSA. And while they have an icy cold Beer Cave and plenty of chips, the crepes are the main attraction. The big menu of sweet and savory creations is scrawled on the chalkboard above the counter, and it's quite hard to decide. The Sullivan's packs a traditionally folded French crepe with turkey, swiss, creamy avocado, and a spicy chipotle sour cream, a concoction that seems like it wouldn't work but does very well. The sweet versions feature plenty of Nutella and peanut butter and make for a fine breakfast. They've also got pressed Cuban sandwiches and our favorite touch, a made-to-order guacamole by the whole or half avocado that can be combined with all your favorite additions (lime, chiles, cilantro, red onion, et. al). A handful of tables and chairs inside and out seem to be perpetually full of happy customers, who tend to show up for the highly caffeinated cold-pressed coffee that is another specialty of the shop.