Venue Review: Common House
The Charlotte Observer
Pare away pretense – and three or four bucks an entrée – from most of Charlotte's upscale-casual places, and you've got Common House.
Owners Ryan Looney, Mike Fisher and Andy Robinson and chef Emily Hahn have hit a smart spot on the spectrum in just about every respect: locale, range of offerings, use of local foodstuffs, décor, price. They've even managed to offer bracing refreshment in menu language: Dishes are downright starkly titled, as in “Wings” and “Seasonal Fish” and “Fried Green Tomato BLT.”
That last one is a good example of Common House's charm: Thick-sliced Texas-toast-style bread, swiped with spicy mayonnaise, encasing thick-sliced and perfectly fried tomatoes, with a few slices of crisp apple-smoked bacon and Bibb leaves tucked in. Delicious, homey, but with enough style to pay for.
I felt the same way about a daily fish: N.C. trout cooked beautifully, over simple succotash (using speckled butter beans), with a marvelous whole-grain-mustard and butter sauce. Fried pickle spears, greaseless and crunchy, with a buttermilk ranch for dipping, also excelled. Pasta used to be a daily special, but the spaghetti carbonara proved popular enough to earn a regular spot in the lineup: Grateful Growers chorizo sparks this version, to nice effect. A roasted beet salad proved robust, with walnuts, bright parsley, a red-wine vinaigrette and not quite enough goat cheese.
Less delectable were a warm pimento cheese dip with overcooked bits of shrimp and not enough crusty bread, and too-small wings. I loved the taste of the shrimp burger, studded with roasted corn and scallions, but it fell to pieces in my hands.
You can order sandwiches anytime – terrific! – and they run $6 to $8 (including salad or fries), and there's a grilled veggie club on pumpernickel toast with sharp cheddar. And I love that on two of three visits, sauteed escarole starred among sides; this underappreciated green gets its due from Hahn.
You enter Common House from the back, not the Central Avenue side, which is a little hard for newcomers to see – and unless a staffer is near the door, it's also hard to figure out where to wait. Since the place seems to run a mite understaffed, there's often not someone in that vicinity, which means people pause and fumble once inside. It also means you can wait awhile to order, to request and get things, and have your table cleared.
The bar, with detailed woodwork and pendant lighting, is nearly as long as the dining room and offers a better-than-usual beer list. Celery-colored walls and a whole front wall of glass lighten the largest part of the dining room, while black-and-white atmospheric photographs in thick black frames and bulbous, deep-orange pendants perk up a line of booths parallel to the bar. Simple and homey, with just enough style to pay for.
1101 Central Ave.