Commonwealth is the new hot restaurant/market/take-out entry to Kendall Square. Part of the expansion of the Watermark building, the block just behind 1 Broadway is starting to liven up. I have had the opportunity to visit Commonwealth several times since it opened, and I’m going to share my thoughts on where they are today.
Commonwealth’s market is a welcome addition to Kendall Square which has, to date, lacked any kind of place to grab eggs, butter, or orange juice. Unfortunately, Commonwealth is not comparable in scale or ambition to Bee’s Knees which in my mind is the epitome of an urban high-end market. Some elements of the market are a win, like the refrigerator cases filled with home made ice cream, fresh dairy, and seasonal vegetables. But other attempts in the market fail, like the antique cast-iron stove filled with outrageously overpriced jars of Hellmann’s Mayo ($4 for 8 ounces) and bottles of Heinz Ketchup. Although you can grab a baguette and some house made jam, there is no delicatessen, butcher, or cheese monger available.
Commonwealth is a farm-to-table concept, which is all good and well, but the menu errs on the side of oversimplified. The best starter may be the home made Omni-Parker House style rolls served warm with good butter. The scallop ceviche satisfies but the meager portion hits low on value. The bowl of mussels is a better option for a seafood starter that satisfies. Main courses are split into a la carte proteins and sides. The meat and fish options are all in the $20-30 range. All sides are $10, resulting in an easy $30-40 per diner, just for the mains. Again, not a great value, but forgivable. Of the main dishes sampled, all were cooked and seasoned properly. The downfall of dinner is the largely uninventive menu. Everything being a la carte, there are no composed dishes. Items listed on the menu are exactly that, no herbs, spices, or accoutrement. I prefer to dine out for items and preparations I can not achieve simply at home, and Commonwealth does not meet that bar.
The desert menu is another a la carte offering. You choose from a selection of starches (waffle, brownie, pain perdu), ice cream flavors made in-house, and toppings (fudge, caramel, fruit). Picking out the perfect layers to build your sundae is quite enjoyable. The portions are on the small side (continuing the value question), but the flavors are all very good, especially the homemade ice creams.
Kendall Square has no shortage of lunch spots, but Commonwealth is a fantastic new option. There are typically 5 sandwiches and salads available for take-out or dining in. Of three take out attempts the sandwich portion varied, it may be that the kitchen is still dialing in the right size sandwich for the $9 price point. Sit-down lunch offers the same menu of sandwiches and salads for $12. Sandwiches are served with sides of both duck fat fries and salad greens. The ‘steak and cheese’ sandwich is simple but tasty, with deep beefy short rib flavor. The pork belly bahn mi is full of bright acidic veggies, but the pork belly varies between soft and juicy and dry and mealy. The roast beef has a welcome kick of horseradish mayo, but is otherwise just an average sandwich. Overall, Commonwealth is an affordable and enjoyable option for a work-day lunch.
Market aside, the service at Commonwealth is fantastic. The bartenders are knowledgeable and talented. Though on my night visit they were behind with mise en place and took a bit too long to prepare cocktails. Servers and runners were courteous and efficient. The team was helpful but not overly chatty, interactions were pleasantly terse. The Market staff seems to vary from jumpy to unaware. A greeter near the door is quick to chase you down and explain the footpath to follow for market, take-out, or sit-down, even if you happen to know where you are going. A couple of team members behind the market counter are standing around at lunch time, unsure of their role. Generally, though, the team is happy and accommodating.
Wood pallets. Everywhere. On the walls. On the ceiling. The tables themselves. Personally I think they over did it but some of my friends were not in agreement. Besides the pallet-overload, the Commonwealth space is nicely laid out. There is ample space for the different areas of the restaurant and market. Though there is a bit of a navigational issue around the market counter. At lunch time many people will enter the register line from the wrong side. The space has a wide-open and industrial feel that is well suited to the character of the restaurant.