Uncommon Common Ground

November 08, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A COMMON Ground is a restaurant critic's nightmare, because there's nothing about it to criticize other than its not having a liquor license.

The food is consistently excellent. The service is fine, too; cheerful servers take orders at the counter and then deliver food to the tables.

As far as atmosphere goes, no complaints there, either. The shabby-chic concept was invented for this comfortable rowhouse overlooking Hampden's 36th Street. After lunch, if it's nice outside, settle down on the glider on the porch. Or curl up in one of the plush old wing chairs in the sunny back room, and you're gone (if you can doze through the Snatch soundtrack).

The thoughtful people at A Common Ground even supply reading material and globes, in case you've forgotten the capital of Tajikistan. And looking to buy original art for your home? They've got that, too.

A Common Ground's core menu is limited to soup, salad, bagels, muffins, cookies and a decent variety of sandwich ingredients. Beyond that, specials and desserts of the day are whatever owner Glen Breining feels like whipping up in his basement kitchen.

Rest assured that he knows what he's doing. Before the Baltimore native bought A Common Ground last year, he worked for chef Michael Gettier, and at Pierpoint and the Daily Grind.

Breining's caramel apple pie was heavenly, served exactly hot enough to keep the caramel gooey and the crust moist. Heavenly also was his rendition of trifle, the classic dessert, which he was inspired to make after purchasing an old glass trifle bowl at the Turnover Shop in Hampden.

The tower of dense poundcake scraps interspersed with lemony pastry cream, raspberry jam and peaches looked as lovely as it tasted. And Breining's oversized peanut-butter cookies melted in our mouths when we ate them several hours after we had left the restaurant.

The nonsweets are pretty tasty, too.

Cathy the Vegetarian and I polished off four specials composed of good ingredients. Hints of herbes de Provence gave the fruity roasted-tomato soup a pleasant hint of lavender. The use of not-too-heavily-marinated artichoke hearts and crisp mesclun added interesting texture to the North African couscous salad.

A pretty selection of cucumber and tomato wedges enhanced the hummus appetizer visually and provided a mild base for the garlicky mixture of chickpea chunks, tahini, cumin, olive oil and lemon juice.

We loved the spinach pie wrapped in greaseless phyllo, and the side salad of balsamic-vinaigrette-dressed mesclun made us feel less guilty about our gluttony.

Of the menu standards, Breining's olive tapenade made a turkey sandwich distinctive. Washing it down with a frozen mocha made it sublime.

So, after this litany of praise, what's a critic to say about A Common Ground? Why, keep up the good work, of course.

A Common Ground

819 W. 36th St.


Open: For breakfast, lunch and early dinner Mondays to Thursdays, breakfast, lunch and dinner Fridays and Saturdays, breakfast and lunch Sundays

Credit cards: AE, MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $4 to $6; entrees $5 to $9

Food: ****

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

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