DesBrisay Dines

For the common good: Anti-mall’s Eatery dishes out “mighty fine” food & drink

Reuse and recycle. We take our cans to the curb and our bottles back to the beer store. But how often do we think about reusing and recycling space in a city? Of sharing a building?

Traditional churches have faced this matter, and many dwindling congregations of variable faith groups now combine forces. Empty for much of the week, these spaces are put to good use as daycare centres, schools, shelters, and Out of the Cold programs.

Looking at underused space — particularly in the downtown — seems like a brilliant idea. The Common on Elgin Street is such a place.

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The brainchild of entrepreneur Nader Salib, it opened late last year in the former sprawling salon/spa above the sibling restaurants Datsun and El Camino. Salib calls it an “anti-mall.” At the moment, it houses a coffee shop, a power juice bar, a hip clothing store and a restaurant/lounge. There are plans, I understand, for more complimentary businesses (a flower shop, say) to carve out a bit of space too.

I’ve not met Salib, but I’ve had a muffin and a breakfast sandwich from the excellent Morning Owl Coffeehouse — a morning-only business in his anti-mall — and sipped a ginger cocktail (good for the soul and for the cold I was fighting) with a smorgasbord of food at the Common Eatery. This is the restaurant/lounge that Morning Owl morphs into at 5 p.m., when the espresso machine rests for the day and the evening bar and kitchen swing into full gear, staying that way till late.

Even the arresting mural that fills the entrance was created by an ensemble of graffiti artists (a project by EnMasse). Shared space and shared art in a tall, industrial room of glass, mirror, and steel, lit with wagon wheel chandeliers. The Eatery’s long bar is lined with shiny brass stools and our communal table has curved wood-back dining chairs I covet. Don’t know who did the fun toilet bowl art (in the loos, His and Hers) but that takes a special kind of person.

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The Common’s mural by EnMasse

It may be too new, or the signage too puzzling, but the Common Eatery was a quiet on a Thursday night. It had a queue beneath it, though, of folks trying to get a seat at El Camino or Datsun. And while that pursuit is a worthy one, I felt like shouting down at the queue about the mighty fine food and drinks above them.

As for the drinks — two cocktails tried, both well crafted. What’s more, the bar offers a flute of Veuve Cliquot for 11 bucks. A mirage, surely, but the bill confirmed the listed price.

The open kitchen is helmed by Australian chef Tom Wall, about whom I know absolutely nothing, but would relish discovering more. The boy can cook. Granted, the dishes on his one page menu are easy pleasures (booze-soaker-uppers: crab cakes, short ribs, jerk wings, pork wontons…), still they are well executed, with cool twists, generously served, and prettily plated. And we ate and drank fully for not very much.

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The Common’s Scotch egg, a golden orb, ridiculously delicious

Hall’s scotch egg was a golden orb, ridiculously delicious, nothing like the greasy rubbery tennis balls that sometimes pass for this Brit pub grub. The medium-boiled egg oozing into a chorizo sausage casing was coated with panko for extra crisp. It arrived balanced on a green apple and Napa cabbage slaw, wearing a toupé of basil and served with chipotle mayo. Excellent as well, the generous crab cake sporting a sort of Caribbean vibe, dense with fish, perfectly herbed and seasoned, served with a limed-up mayo and, beneath, coconut-oiled greens.

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The Common’s Burmese inspired? toke salad

Sweet and spicy peanuts and wonton crispies lent flavour and crunch to a Burmese inspired (?) toke salad, a pretty pile of julienne jicama and mango, with shredded carrots and Napa cabbage, the mound slick and spicy with a ginger chilli vinaigrette. A dish called ‘Jodi’s Avocado’ was a refreshing salad of avocado chunks mixed with pomegranate seeds, mango, onion and jalapeno, served in their half shell skin.

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The Common’s “lambsicles” with blackberries, their grill flavour too bullying

Pork filled wontons accompanied by two sauces were meaty little winners (also available in a veggie version), as were the Bourbon BBQ sauce-basted venison ribs. Less interesting were the overcooked ‘Lambsicles’ with blackberries, their grill flavour too bullying.

Service, provided by fellas in branded black tees, was super keen and friendly.

It’s a very good use of a multi-use space, this Common Eatery. My suggestion: go use it.

Open daily, 5 p.m. to late. Small plates/tapas, $5 to $17
380 Elgin Street, 613-695-2110