CommonWealth Gastropub
1400 Irving St, Washington, DC 20010

(202) 265-1400

Jamie Leeds, the chef behind the casual seaside comforts of Hank’s Oyster Bar, seems constitutionally incapable of opening a generic New American restaurant designed for K Streeters who pull up in their E-Class Coupe or 911 Carrera and toss their keys to some valet working for handouts. No, Leeds has a populist streak as wide as the English Channel, which is undoubtedly why she gave her latest project, CommonWealth in Columbia Heights, this deft little descriptor: “the People’s GastroPub.” Like Hank’s, CommonWealth is a neighborhood hangout, a place so bound up in concrete and human congestion that it virtually demands that you walk, not drive, to it. You could argue that Leeds’ brand of populism precludes patrons who can’t afford $14 for fish and chips or $15 for bangers and mash, but I’d argue those prices are almost a steal compared to the quality of food found on the plate, not only with ingredients but also with kitchen skill. The nicely browned bangers are genuine Cumberland sausages, coiled and stuffed with rough-cut pork. The beer-battered fish is so lightly and uniformly fried that you’d swear it was the fish’s natural skin. The butcher plate features some of the finest offal in town, though I do wish Leeds would default back to her original recipe for head cheese, which was this rich, aromatic square of jellied pig’s head meat. The beer, I’ll grant you, is indeed pricey, upward of $8 a pint, but the list leans heavily on English imports—ales, stouts, and lagers—supplemented with a few brands brewed in America’s own commonwealth states. Compared to some other “neighborhood” restaurants in the District, CommonWealth, I’d say, is one rare haunt: It’s not only neighborly, but downright ambitious and cool.