Cooking the Bodega with ABV’s Corey Cova

The mission: Create a three-course meal using $15 of ingredients from the corner store. Let's do this!

"What the hell am I going to do with this?!"

"What the hell am I going to do with this?!"

All photos by Liz Barclay

When I first encountered Corey Cova’s cooking, he was working in the food-nerd equivalent of Siberia, secreted away in a pint-size bar called Earl’s Beer and Cheese on the far reach of the Upper East Side, helming a kitchen that most NBA players wouldn’t even be able to stand inside. But word quickly got out about Cova’s knack for unlocking bar-food fantasies you never even knew you had, and soon gastronauts who would normally never dream of going anywhere above 14th Street were heading uptown to 97th and Park for grilled cheese stuffed with pork belly and kimchi, and an Eggo waffle topped with seared foie gras, aged cheddar, and house-cured coffee bacon.

As Cova tells it, a lot of that early menu—which still survives, to a large extent, in its original form—was a product of circumstance. The name dictated a focus on cheese, while kitchen and budget constraints required him to come up with dishes that would be easy to make and keep costs down. The tactic persisted when he and his partners opened ABV on the other end of the block, featuring high-low mashups like octopus and spam, and an epic foie-gras fluffernutter. Often, that meant grabbing ingredients from around the restaurant—not foraging a la René Redzepi, but urban foraging in convenience stores and bodega freezers. Those Eggos came from from the CVS on the corner of 97th and Lex, frozen hash browns were stuffed into breakfast sandwiches, and the egg foo young used in a BLT hyrbid at ABV originated inside the takeout Chinese joint across the street.

Brunch should basically be McDonald’s with drinks.

While some preparations have evolved over time, it’s not necessarily because Cova didn’t love the cheap version. Having spent time cooking on a U.S. Navy submarine (“everyone’s favorite was frozen shrimp”), he has a refreshingly down-to-earth approach to food. For example, he recently told me, “Brunch should basically be McDonald’s with drinks.” Brilliant.

I think it’s that perspective that makes Cova’s food so appealing to me. While creations like an English muffin stuffed with Calabro mozzarella, potato chips, and miso fit the stoner zeitgeist that’s all the rage these days, his oddball mashups never seemed ironic or kitschy or trendy. He just seemed like a dude who could walk into a bodega, grab a bunch of non-perishables off the shelf, and make something delicious.

So that’s exactly what we asked him to do. The challenge: Head to the nearest bodega, buy $15 of food, then take it back to the ABV kitchen to cook a three-course meal.

corey bodega challenge 8 Cooking the Bodega with ABVs Corey Cova

It was kind of like a cut-rate Quickfire Challenge; there was no car sponsor to ferry Cova halfway up the block to the store, and instead of a busty Padma, he got me not even looking my best (it’s just so dry in December, you know?). But that didn’t stop him from taking on the task with gusto.

The bodega we hit reflects its proximity to Spanish Harlem, so Cova was quick to stock up on some Latin flavor: a container of pimento peppers, a pack of chicharrónes, and a can of Kola Champagne, which seemed appropriate for a balling-on-a-budget feast. From there he scanned the shelves for awhile, Beautiful Mind-style, then grabbed a tallboy of Four Loko and declared that he was ready to roll. We decided he could use basic pantry staples—salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, and the like—from the restaurant, but no other ingredients would be allowed besides the ones he bought. Here’s what he came up with…

bodega inset Cooking the Bodega with ABVs Corey Cova

Read on to see the three dishes Cova created with his bodega haul.

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