Commonwealth Cafe: Within the Republic of B’ham

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On the menu: Panache and freshly ground coffee, one cup at a time.

We want it to be about quality, all the way down to the decisions about the sugar, the salt and the water,” said Hubert Yaro, co-owner and operator of Commonwealth Cafe in Birmingham. “We think there are distinctions there that people notice.”

Yaro’s appreciation — it’s actually closer to reverence — for cooking’s building blocks is a glimpse into his nuanced approach to culinary preparation. He and business partner James Hayosh act as the customers’ Beefeaters — guarding their expectations — at Commonwealth.

Breakfast can be either base or intricate. Low-key items include the steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar and almond milk and toast (three bread selections served with honey butter and preserves); vanilla bean yogurt with granola; or a whole-wheat buttermilk waffle.

Feeling frisky? There are more complex (yet, not intimidating) items: a fried egg sandwich with guacamole, salsa, Pinconning cheddar and hot sauce on multigrain; Mediterranean quiche (feta, spinach, red onion and kalamata olives); or sweet potato hash.

Weekend brunch gives you a few additional options, including the Common Breakfast of Calder Dairy eggs, sweet potato hash, a warm baguette and more. Come later in the day for five-bean chili or the tomato soup and outstanding grilled cheese (Manchego, Boursin and Halloumi cheeses on ciabatta).

I especially liked the hearty, but light, Commonwealth salad, with mixed greens, marinated grape tomatoes, sunflower seeds, fennel and shaved Parmesan cheese — served with roasted shallot vinaigrette and a toasted baguette.

Though, to get a deeper sense of the Italian cum East Coast-style cafe, I’d be remiss by excluding their coffee in this review.

They take the dark, bitter compound seriously — and pride themselves on doing it well. Beans from the world’s best growers are on the menu’s rotation and roasted in-house. Take heed: Your cup — whether it’s a sweet Brazilian, a rich Ethiopian or a light Colombian — will take a couple of extra minutes to make; they only grind beans just before brewing. But, after the first sip, those lost minutes seem inconsequential. The cappuccino actually gave me pause.

Despite other responsibilities (the pair own and operate Royal Oak’s popular sushi house Ronin, too), the owners can usually be found behind the counter, chatting with their guests — or even out on the floor with the rest of the personable staff.

Hayosh and Yaro designed the Commonwealth interior themselves, giving it an unfussy, minimalist vibe with white walls and high ceilings; the wood farmhouse floors soften the space.

Everything at the restaurant errs on the side of freshness, with local and organic produce incorporated as much as possible — depending, of course, on how it improves the food.

“Our standards are high,” Yaro said sheepishly. “For the food, the ambiance, the staff; our heart and our money go into everything.” RT

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