Restaurants in The InTowner
The InTowner
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Restaurant Review: District Commons = Uncommonly Good

Whenever Jeff Tunks sets about creating restaurants, the public is in for a gustatory surprise. Consider his past ventures: DC Coast, Ceiba, TenPenh (now closed), Acadiana, PassionFish, and now —- with a  trumpet blare —- District Commons. Located in the West End at the juncture of Pennsylvania Avenue and 22nd Street, NW, right in the heart of GWU territory, it’s in a prime area guaranteeing a flow of patrons hungry for some good, old American grub. As an added element, Tunks and partners opened an adjoining fast-casual eatery known as Burger, Tap, and Shake — a super-busy eatery that sells, well . . .  burgers, beers on tap and milkshakes.

But it’s District Commons that is the ultimate hangout for the DC foodie looking for modern American dishes with a Tunks edge. Take, for example, the Commons’ hamburger: in quotes, this “burger” is really a heap of boneless short ribs, simply dripping barbecue flavor and goodness in their house-made bun. It’s obviously a play on the kind of burger that kicks up the burger concept several notches; short ribs, as you may know, are really dinnertime fare but can make the midday meal here a standout event.

But that’s getting ahead of the meal. Let your waiter explain the District Commons’ concept, one which takes American classics —- vegetable pot pie, shrimp and grits, grilled salmon, for example —- and puts that farm-fresh and seasonal spin on each and every dish. Menu items carefully list the source of most ingredients. If you order the “burger,” for example, you will find out that the meat came from Pineland Farms, a Maine food source known for selling natural beef.

To start, be sure to order the special hot pretzel baguette, one of the few bakery items not made on the premises, and it comes with a ramekin of beer-mustard butter. You might want to order two of these if you are joined by more than one other person.

Then immediately launch into your meal. At lunch or dinner, you might want to kick off the spread with their “The Pig Board,” an order of artisanal hams displayed on a pig-shaped wooden tray and accompanied by Vermont butter and biscuits. Despite its obvious appeal, the ham may really take a back seat to one of the hearth-baked flatbreads. Your choices include smoked bacon with Vidalia onions, roasted red peppers with goat cheese and pine nuts, and Tennessee Country prosciutto with figs and blue cheese. Tempting, yes, but the blue ribbon belongs to the lamb sausage version with roasted eggplant, kalamata olives, crumbled feta cheese, and pomegranate molasses.

As for the main part of the luncheon meal, your choices include both big and smaller entrées, from roasted chicken to rack of lamb chops or a 14-ounce strip steak, this being a rather daunting dish for midday eating. However, you will find that the dinner and lunch menu offer much the same fare — so eat it now or eat it later.

Save room for dessert, of course. And with his hat tip to an American classic sweet, you’ll cheer Jeff Tunks’ take on the Boston Cream Pie, not like those that granny made, though still classic in its flavors of chocolate cake and custard filling. But Tunks’ version is lapped with a ribbon of salty caramel sauce. Other dessert choices include devil’s food cake, funnel cakes, and rocky road sundaes.

And there you have it, though at the bar and on late nights District Commons offers a 10 p.m. family dinner special heralded by the ringing of the dinner bell. Should you be hankering for more food at that hour, you might get fried chicken, meatloaf, or pupusas, plus beers and wines — all for a shockingly affordable price. And if you really hunger for the burger-shake combo, slip next door to Tunks’ little sister restaurant, Burger, Tap, and Shake. So much food, so little time.

District Commons — An American Tavern | 2200 Pa. Ave., NW; (202) 587-8277. Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu. 5:30-10pm, Fri. to 11 pm, Sat. 5-11pm; Sun. 11am-2:30pm, 5-9pm. Dinner entrée price range: $13-$42.