If you were to say, "Commoner & Co. is a comfort food restaurant," people likely would not disagree. The menu offers a chef's take on chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, grilled cheese and pasta—the kind of menu that's a very welcome sight now that the weather has turned to crisp, cold nights.
However, digging into the dishes is kind of like eating at an aunt's house. Sometimes the dishes impress, others you'll smile politely while reaching for the salt and pepper shakers.
Owned and run by Prep & Pastry's Nathan Ares with chef Virginia Wooters (formerly of Metzger Restaurant fame), the spot was buzzworthy before it opened for taking over a former beloved Metzger space in the foothills—The Abbey. Adopting the location meant some adjustments to the layout with walls removed to open the main room up, though mostly changes are seen in the new bright color scheme.
Now with over five months under their belt and a second menu out, the spot has seemingly attracted a decent handful of fans as evidenced by the busy dining room on any given night, but the new menu could still use further adjustment.
If you start out with a cocktail, you'll find seven different options, as well as a bartender's choice drink and three takes on sangria. While the drinks, which range in price from $8 to $9, seem to hit the right cocktail trends with freshly made cordials and infusions, many are simply unbalanced.
Those who like their drinks on the sweeter side of sweet will likely take no issue with the list. Indeed, it has admirably taken up serving craft cocktails in an area of Tucson that needs it. However, even the dirty martini, which advertises the use of housemade pickle brine, uses housemade sweet pickle brine—an odd choice that's unexpected to say the least. Both the wine and beer lists are approachable and serve a little something for most tastes, so it's safer to stick to those options if you plan on stopping at one.
Setting sights on the dinner menu, starters include mussels and fries ($13), a bruschetta board ($15) and a shrimp cocktail ($12), among other choices. The shrimp in the cocktail is plump and fresh, but, and get used to me saying this, the bloody mary salsa it sits in desperately needs salt and some lime.
Similarly, the mussels and fries are prepared well—the fries are crispy, the mussels are tender and the choice to use a coconut curry sauce with ginger is an interesting take on a classic French combo. That sauce is, without a doubt, delicious and delicate, but perhaps too delicate (i.e. it could also use some salt) to add much character to the mussels themselves. Plus, there's just a reason mussels and white wine are common besties—the little mollusks need some of that acidity too.
Lastly, the bruschetta board, which offers a different selection of meats, cheese, pickles and more with grilled bread, almonds, honeycomb and other tasty bits, is bountiful, if not absurdly large. I almost never raise issue with generous portions, but even split between two, the board could be a meal on its own. It'd be nice to see a smaller option with a matching smaller price tag, but either way, the current iteration felt a little clunky in presentation.
As far as salads go, there are three ($8-$9), though none of which are particularly healthy. One has fried chicken skins in place of croutons and another is centered around burrata. If you're looking for naughty veggies, it's better to jump down to the sides section ($5 each) and get Brussels sprouts with bacon, cheesy scalloped potatoes or fried cauliflower coated in a sweet and tangy sauce. Of the three, the last option is unique, satisfying and worth the trip.
Now, without beating the point in, it's easiest to break down entrées (which run from $12 to $25) into two categories: those that need some help in the seasoning department and those that don't. The former category includes the hearty, comforting and kind of bland chicken and dumplings and the flavored-in-sauce-alone meatloaf. The latter category will leave you more content with options like the juicy braised short rib with an addicting bone marrow bread pudding and caramel jus or the tender flat iron pork with a goat cheese mousse and honey. While the meat, mousse and honey made sense together, those three components still didn't exactly make sense next to the corn and zucchini with which they're plated.
While I can't tell you what the housemade pasta will be when you visit the restaurant, I can tell you that both times I had what they were offering, I was satisfied in price, flavor and portion. On one visit, tender linguine played nicely with a creamy sauce, fresh tomatoes and shrimp.
Another place where Commoner & Co. won't disappoint is dessert, which you should plan to leave room for. However, in a section of the menu that needs little if any salt, it is kind of suspicious that this is the category that really stands out.
With salt on the mind, I will say to take my words with a grain or two or even a pinch because Commoner & Co. is certainly not a bad dining option, especially if you're up north looking for a gorgeous view of the Catalinas. If the restaurant adopts a more aggressive position on seasoning, be it salt or spice or herbs or whatever, the dishes could almost all shine. Until those tweaks happen, though, you'll still find comfort food if you're looking for it, you just might be a little bored sometimes.
Editor's Note: This review has been updated from its original content.