I will be honest, I had completely forgotten about Commonwealth, the new gastropub in Columbia Heights. I was invited to the soft opening back in the Summer and was delighted by its take on British food (read: making British food actually taste good). I also really liked the fact that Jamie Leeds and his partner Sandy Lewis vowed to use a lot of fresh, local and in season ingredients in their dishes. But somehow the restaurant fell out of my mind until I was racking my brain for a Sunday brunch option. It was cold outside and a bit gloomy, so what better back drop for brunch than a British inspired pub? The fact that Commonwealth was only two stops away on the Metro didn’t hurt either, so we headed out after dropping off my purchases from the Takoma Park Farmers Market (for more on my market visit, head on over to DC Foodies).
I was actually surprised when we entered the restaurant because the place looked a bit different from my last visit. Where there was once bare walls were now murals and royal crests. The space now had a much more pub type feeling and was very inviting. There wasn’t a wait for a table, so we were seated immediately near the window (hence the great light for the Blackberry photos you see here). Unlike some restaurants who offer brunch, Commonwealth offers you the option of ordering from their regular menu as well as the brunch menu. And like my first visit, our waiter was attentive right from the start…both of these things were good signs in my book. Looking at the menu, I saw there was classic British fare like the Butcher’s Breakfast and Egg in a Hole, as well as a twist on breakfast with a baked pancake served with apples, currants, syrup and creme fraiche. The Boy opted for the Egg in a Hole while I went for the baked pancake.
While waiting for our food to arrive, the waiter brought out a board of bread, butter and jam. I am still not 100% sure what type of jam it was, but it was delicious. The bread was thick cut and had a slightly nutty quality to it (almost as if it were a whole grain bread). Coupled with the fresh butter and jam, the bread was an excellent accompaniment to my tea ,in lovely cups might I add (and I shamelessly asked the waiter the name brand of them…some people collect stamps, I collect tea mugs).
When our food arrived, I was immediately struck by the shear portion sizes. This was a hearty, work horse breakfast being presented before us. The egg in a hole was accompanied by enough home fries to keep one potato farmer in business for a month. My baked pancake was the size of a large dinner plate and the side order of streaky bacon was enough to feed a family of four. This was a LOT of food. I tried the pancake without the syrup first to get a taste of the actual dish without any embellishments. It was a fluffy pancake with an echo of cinnamon, baked to a golden brown. I took another bite, adding a bit of the apple and creme fraiche to it. The creme fraiche was, like the name suggests, very fresh and had a slight hint of sweetness to it. The apples were carmelized, giving them a somewhat smoky flavor that worked well with the coolness of the creme fraiche. I made the unfortunate mistake of adding the syrup to the pancake, something that was completely unnecessary. The flavors of the pancake itself and the toppings are well matched to each other, rendering the syrup useless.
The bacon was unlike most bacon I’ve had in the U.S. but reminded me instantly of the breakfast meats of my childhood in Germany. Thick cut and largely devoid of any fat, the bacon was all business…and cooked to a smoky crispness. If you are used to the thinner cuts of bacon found in most American homes, this bacon will come as a chewy surprise to you. For my personal tastes, I prefer the thick slices of bacon over the thinner, more fat riddled slices that seem more common to the American breakfast.
Now about the egg in a hole…let me start by saying I am not a huge fan of breakfast egg dishes. I am very particular about how my eggs are cooked, thus making it very hard for me to enjoy any egg dish placed before me at a restaurant. Cooked wrong, the taste and texture of eggs instantly kick in my gag reflexes. But the bread looked quite good, all thick and toasty. So I asked for a piece not contaminated by the egg. It was a nicely toasted and buttered sourdough that tasted amazingly fresh. Had it not been for the egg, I would have definitely asked for another bite. I pinched a home fry and found it to be lightly (but not under) seasoned and fried to a nice golden brown. The accompanying ketchup, like most of the condiments on the table, were pointless due to the deft care taken in the kitchen with the spices.
The meal was an absolute hit all around and the attentive service of the wait staff only made it better. I never once felt rushed, yet the waiter always managed to show up right as one of us needed something. Commonwealth has managed to create a great neighborhood joint with a unique twist: excellent food.