It was flirt at first sight when I initially laid eyes on the stylish new Commonwealth Sandwich Bar. Fashionable and fun, Commonwealth drastically - and bravely - upgrades a dormant space along a restaurant-poor patch between South Campus and the Short North that once housed a sloppy wing shop.
Currently inside, the tidy and tiny three-table upstart flaunts uncommon smarts. On never-untrendy exposed brick walls is viable contemporary local art. Around the ordering counter, there's pseudo rural and funky corrugated aluminum.
The cleverness extends to Commonwealth's attention-commanding, mostly sandwich menu. This kinda witty little document is instantly appealing in its clean and retro/mod form (simple black and white, implementing old-timey filigree and typewriter font without succumbing to hokeyness) and scratch-made content (house-cured bacon, house-made pickles, house-roasted chicken, house-made sauces and so on).
Toss in excellent specially brewed small-batch cane-sugar sodas (produced by Boylan) and Jeni's ice creams, and you can see why I was duly aroused.
On my first date with Commonwealth, the place lived up to much of its promise. The Sweet & Savory ($8) - which like all sandwiches arrived on attractively crunchy, buttered Texas toast-like bread and enveloped in white butcher paper with its name handwritten on it - was a winner that didn't lie about its title.
A jammy caramelized fig compote gave it the sweet component and crazy tender, succulent chicken brought the savory. These came wrapped in the warm embrace of melted swiss cheese, but the menu-mentioned bacon was MIA.
The Three Little Pigs ($9.50) was also shy an ingredient - ham (maybe it should've been The Two Little Pigs?) - but that was the only way this sandwich was shy. A wild, lusty and greasy hog fest, it was layered with unctuous, tender and juicy (if unsmoky) pulled pork and crispy bacon.
Gilding the piggy was a fried egg and what ate like overly fatty slabs of pork belly. Cutting the richness some were aggressive pickled onions and a semisweet and tangy "port wine" barbecue sauce.
Sidewise, hand-cut fries (regular and sweet potato) are $4 a pound. For me, this translated into a feeds-four truckload of lightly battered, thickish shoestringers that tasted great, but were excessively (coarse) salty and greasy.
Still, so far, so promising. Shortly thereafter, though, a trusted friend told me she had a bummer Commonwealth sandwich with "rubbery" chicken on it. I figured I needed to reinvestigate quickly.
On my second date with Commonwealth, we covertly met in a dark bar. See, you can order and receive the spunky eatery's goods through a service window opening into the next-door Village Idiot.
Kiss Me ($8.50) was the chicken sandwich I ripped into this time, and again the poultry was perfectly tender. Sure, the bird was rather overwhelmed by its many bold breadfellows - pickled onions, cucumbers and jalapenos; gorgonzola and a cilantro slaw (not much there) - but it succeeded as an outrageously entertaining alcohol-lubricated hookup. In other words, if its unbridled flavors didn't marry, they at least had a fun one-night stand.
Ditto for the similar, more oniony and meat-free A Few of My Favorite Things - a crazy collision of the above ingredients plus tomato and balsamic and minus chicken and jalapeno.
Open a couple weeks, Commonwealth is still working through the kinks. There's inconsistencies and errors (like an explosive but undercooked root veggie salad), but I'm always happy to support and encourage an interesting indie dishing up potent, homemade flavors in a risky location.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog, Under the Table, at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable/