Do an Internet search for “Common Ground” and a number of things come up — a charity foundation, a community garden, a toy store, the occasional coffee bar. It takes considerable digging to unearth the website for Common Ground Grill & Tap, the new TCU-area restaurant.
Thankfully, the name is the only thing generic about Common Ground, a dynamic and stylish gastropub with some of the best bar food in Fort Worth.
Part of chef/restaurateur David Hollister’s trifecta of restaurants (first came Dagwoods Grinders & Growlers near Ridgmar Mall, then Dagwoods Fire Grill Tap abutting West 7th), Common Ground eschews clichés in its successful bid to insinuate into the cliquish collegiate set — it is the ground-floor tenant of an apartment building — seeking instead to build one flavor sensation upon another until you say, “Mercy me, that is some good grub.”
The menu is a tidy but remarkable thing, featuring five starters, six salads, five sandwiches and five entrees. Add a couple of soups and a trio of desserts and, behold, a one-page wonder of American cuisine from executive chef Johnny Vinaithong, peppered with innovative takes on standard dishes that are garnished with, well, some of the tastiest garnishes I’ve had in quite a while.
Such as the pickled onions, which come atop the Common Burger ($10), a juicy half-pound serving of Akaushi beef, nestled under melted smoked cheddar and wedged between doughy buns. A mountain of accompanying shoestring fries satisfied with their salty nubs, juxtaposed against this savory triumph.
The chimichurri sauce, smoky and piquant, was artfully spooned over the crispy chicken puffs appetizer ($6), which may have suffered a menu misnomer — no crispy here! — in its similarity to empanadas. Soft puff pastry gave way to shredded dark-meat chicken. A dusting of sauteed leeks added another flavor layer, and completed the deceptively simple dish.
The sweet corn soup ($6) was a subtly spicy textural marvel, pureed corn with a couple of renegade blender-ducking kernels, swimming in a huge bowl. A jalapeño-cornbread mound in the middle dispersed quickly into the soup, melting and adding heft, texture and, I’m not going to lie, comfort on a cold night.
The braised Akaushi tri-tip, served over marvelous mashed potatoes and accentuated with perfectly cooked fat asparagus and a couple of carrots, is the most expensive item on the menu at $19, but worth every penny. The meat, expertly rendered in its pliable tenderness, was exceptional, and the potatoes were garlicky yet interesting in an unevenly textured kind of way.
I took an asparagus spear and dipped it in the horseradish sauce that came with the burger — heaven! And then I proceeded to tackle my B.L.T. ($13), a behemoth of a sandwich: thick-cut grilled sourdough, multitudes of Nueske’s bacon slices, ripe tomato and arugula, an avocado aioli, and, the selling points for me, grilled Halloumi cheese and a fried egg.
If this sounds excessive: Yes! The fried egg was likely overcooked, and the cheese was a touch burned, so the overall effect was less oozy/insane than such massive enterprises tend to be. I was able to eat the sandwich sans fork and knife. Let the record reflect that this may have been the first time in my life I was OK with an egg being non-runny.
In truth, there is nothing not to embrace at Common Ground. The house-made desserts tempted, so a brioche bread pudding ($4) was summoned. The chopped dates and maple-toasted pecans were sublime; in no time, the gooey, dense bread was disturbingly dispatched.
The dining room decor doesn’t mess around either. Lacquered green tables, comfy high-backed chairs and a small bar yield a handsome aesthetic, and large windows overlooking busy University Drive connote what my dining partner called an East Coast-urban kind of feel.
But who really cares where you’re transported with Vinaithong’s winning food? I just know it’s my new favorite place near where I live. In fact, if I could move into an apartment upstairs, I would.