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Originally published Friday, October 11, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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From pot pies to burgers, The Commons has comfort covered

A neighborhood gathering spot that is both casual and sophisticated, The Commons is a sort of upscale roadside cafe. Don’t try to eat one of those hulking cinnamon rolls all by yourself.


Special to The Seattle Times

The Commons 2.5 stars

American

14481 Woodinville-Redmond Road N.E., Woodinville

425-892-7012

www.thecommonscafe.com

Reservations: accepted for dinner; parties of six or more only for breakfast and lunch

Hours: 6 a.m.-midnight Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $$ (breakfast plates $7-$14, sandwiches and salads $9-$17, dinner plates $13-$23)

Drinks: full bar with classic and house cocktails; wine, beer and cider; milkshakes and coffee drinks

Service: casual, warm, with a mix of novice and experienced wait staff, and plenty of them

Parking: free in Hollywood Vineyards plaza

Sound: loud

Who should go: Refuel after wine touring, feed the family or conduct business over breakfast or lunch; works well for large groups.

Credit cards: all major

Access: no obstacles

Sample menu

House-made pretzel  $6

Farro and spinach salad  $11

Chicken strips and fries  $13

Bacon cheeseburger  $14

Chicken pot pie  $15

Most Popular Comments
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I have been to the Commons several times with my family. The food usually gets mixed... MORE
I love the place, have eaten from all areas of the menu. Yes, some prices are high, but... MORE
Sorry, I also love the Station. Have you had the pear and Gorgonzola pie with a dark... MORE

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As its name suggests, The Commons is an all-day, all-purpose neighborhood gathering place, an updated, upgraded riff on the roadside cafe of yesteryear. Your napkin is a blue-striped dish towel, menu offerings include pork belly, farro and fancy coffee, and bartenders put the local spirits to good use in craft cocktails. No one will call you “hon.”

The concept is casual but just sophisticated enough to ensure broad appeal in upscale, semirural suburban Woodinville, a neighborhood The Commons’ parent company, Heavy Restaurant Group, knows well. Back in 2001, it opened the original Purple Cafe and Wine Bar just a few doors away in the Hollywood Vineyards plaza.

The comfort-food spectrum is covered pretty thoroughly, starting with pastry chef Jessica Trujillo’s baked goods displayed at the front counter. Having succumbed to far too many of them, I can tell you the scones crumble gracefully, the muffins are moist, the chewy chocolate-chunk cookies are wickedly good, and the chocolate layer cake is wholeheartedly decadent.

Cinnamon rolls measure 4 inches square and 3 inches high, not including the half-inch or so of cream-cheese frosting that contributes to their allure. Don’t try to eat one all by yourself.

French toast jolts the sweet tooth as well. Almond extract pervaded three thick slices of brioche, topped with fresh berries and a mound of cinnamon whipped cream. Vanilla-spiked maple syrup comes on the side.

House-made bagels lack that New York-style elastic chew. I liked them better toasted and best spread with bacon-jalapeño cream cheese, which also makes a fine dip for a soft, hot pretzel.

Bits of bacon added a smoky edge to corn chowder. Thick rashers can be had as a breakfast side, along with fabulous “home fries” cooked to a kettle-chip crunch. Similar potatoes laid the foundation for a satisfying vegetable hash on the dinner menu. Topped with two sunnyside-up eggs, it is designated vegetarian, unless you add bacon, which I did.

Skinny, house-cut fries come with chicken strips, a kids-menu staple that commands respect here. These deliver real fried-chicken taste without the bother of bones and allow a more even ratio of moist flesh to rugged, well-browned crust. Gilding the lily: barbecue dipping sauce that gets its zip from Woodinville whiskey.

Chicken pot pie dispenses with both the pot and the pie crust. Instead, pulled chicken and fresh vegetables (carrots, peas and zucchini) in light gravy are ladled over a buttermilk biscuit that rivals the cinnamon rolls in size. (Portions in general approach Cheesecake Factory dimensions.)

Those tender biscuits fall apart when packed with a fried egg, sautéed spinach and fat chunks of sweetly glazed pork belly: a sandwich as rich as it is ungainly and best attacked with knife and fork.

Stacking bacon, a fried egg, pickled jalapeños and garlic aioli atop a half-pound beef patty covered with smoked cheddar creates a burger of Jenga-like precariousness. All was delicious except the bun, striped with grill marks but not quite toasted. A similarly cold and cottony, grill-striped roll cradled crab salad that tasted of lemon and tarragon but little else.

Other salads were better constructed. I especially liked the play of grains, greens and raw cauliflower in the lemon-dressed spinach and farro salad. The lightly herbed Green Goddess, lofty with bibb lettuce, and the chopped mix of raw broccolini and snap peas in buttermilk dressing, needed salt and pepper. Neither is on the table; a pepper mill is offered intermittently.

On the flip side, penne sauced with lamb ragu was a bit over-salted, though tempered with harissa and a creamy dollop of feta and ricotta cheese on top. Roasted cauliflower was so salty one bite was enough.

The Commons’ barnlike space holds upward of 100 seated at a mix of tables and counters, indoors and out. The stylish, booted-and-belted women who lunch here complement the country-chic setting, with its dove-gray wainscoting and wallpaper etched with wintry birch trees. Mellow by day, when folks are likely to bring laptops and set a spell, it’s rowdier at dinner when folks are likely to bring little ones. On first-Thursday’s Wine Walk evenings, the noise level can rival a Seahawks home game.

Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at providencecicero@aol.com.



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