The latest addition to the development boom in DC’s Columbia Heights is CommonWealth, which bills itself as “the people’s gastropub.” But one look at the menu begs the question: Who are these people?
Chef Jamie Leeds envisioned the place as “blue-collar, pubby,” but would your average diner view house-made head cheese for $8 or a tomato salad with crispy pig’s ear for $11 as anything more than a pricey novelty? Cured meats such as bresaola and fuet (a Catalan pork sausage) would be more at home at a trendy wine bar.
CommonWealth succeeds best when it exerts itself least. “Pint of prawns”—brined, heads-on prawns in a pint glass—makes for a terrific starter, while fried, lemon-stuffed olives are perfect little poppers with a Guinness. Scotch eggs—battered and deep-fried—ring true, as do fish and chips, the haddock enclosed in a wonderfully puffy beer-battered carapace. Other evocations of English pub food, such as the Cornish-pasty turnover and the meat-heavy Butcher Breakfast—are tasty if overly upscaled.
The space echoes the mixed messages. Wooden accents and a British phone-box entryway are upstaged by the clean-lined, industrial setting, buttressed by a cinder-block wall that screams “cafeteria.” Still, it’s nice to see people hanging out and using the chessboard tables, bringing a needed neighborhood vibe to a pocket of the city in transition.
CommonWealth, 1400 Irving St., NW; 202-265-1400. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.