This young Clintonville operation in a small, tidy and friendly cafe-like setting is still getting its sea legs but offers some standout, newer sandwiches
If you haven’t been to A Common Table lately, you haven’t really been to A Common Table.
The friendly restaurant, with seating for about 20 within slate-gray walls brightened by plants and works by a local artist, opened in February offering deli fare. Initially, a few items were prepared in-house, but the menu was primarily devoted to sandwiches fashioned with cold cuts brought in from Thumann’s, a New Jersey-based supplier.
I gave the eatery a try in early May and thought the Reuben and Buffalo chicken sandwiches I sampled were, like A Common Table then, perfectly fine, if not particularly memorable. As subsequent visits would demonstrate, the eatery has since established a more compelling identity that’s made it, well, less common.
A provocative soundtrack of Ohio-born musicians — including Lydia Loveless, Sarob and Cloud Nothings — was playing one late-July afternoon as I scanned a whiteboard heralding salads assembled with Ohio vegetables bought, I was told, at the Clintonville Farmers’ Market just across the street.
I sampled one called the Harvest Salad ($10) that was bigger than a side dish but shy of entree-sized. The medley of sweet lettuces, roasted tomato strips, cubes of mozzarella and roasted squash, carrots, cucumbers and perky pickled beets cut like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle was likable — especially when dressed with the tangy red-pepper house vinaigrette.
While eating this, I realized the regular menu had been rewritten. The new and improved document still showcases sandwiches, but I’d happily discovered the constructions had been revamped. Now, the best of the bread-bound bunch highlight generously applied, taste bud-awakening, house-cooked meats flattered by fresh, and freshly pickled, vegetables.
A great illustration of the place’s evolution is the retooled Buffalo Chicken sandwich ($9.50), which is considerably bigger and better than the previous model. Rather than offering a borderline-skimpy amount of chile-dusted deli meat as before, it stars loads of warm and tender, house-roasted chicken that’s chopped and soaked in a zippy Buffalo sauce. Add melted cheddar, fresh local greens, pickled jalapenos, herbed aioli and a crisply toasted, great-tasting, high-quality baguette from Lucky Cat Bakery in Granville, and you have a distinct and delicious meal.
The equally big Beef Brisket ($10.50), likewise tucked into a toasted baguette, is terrific. Its hot, juicy, tender and lusty slabs of flavorful meat outpace what’s served in numerous local barbecue joints. Melted Swiss, aioli and punchy house-pickled red cabbage complete the excellent package.
Baguette also embraces the place’s recommended take on a Banh Mi ($9.50). This is offered with a choice of chicken or pork, but the pulled pig meat I picked was so tender, delicious and delightfully crisped on its exterior, that I’d stick with that. Cilantro plus a wealth of pickled and fresh red peppers, chilies and cucumbers contribute contrast and brightness.
These sandwiches are filling, but if you’d like a side dish, the Pasta Salad ($3) is nice — and I’m not even a pasta-salad fan. But the basil, lemon vinaigrette and unadvertised nutritional yeast in this one lend it appealing pesto notes. The healthful, vegetable-packed Broccoli Salad ($3), with red peppers, cabbage, carrots and too much of a rich, peanut butter-forward dressing, is interesting, too.
Remember my opening sentence? Well, a couple of days before this review was due, I learned that A Common Table is changing things up again. I was assured that everything I’ve mentioned will stay the same, but the breakfast service I was going to write some nice things about has been dropped. And the place is currently offering Thursday-only hamburgers and french fries and staying open later on Thursdays.
Given this restaurant’s uncommon penchant for reinvention, perhaps a name change should be considered, too.