Writer: Amelia Jeffers
Photography: Meghan Kerr, Brian Kaiser
“Comune” translated from italian means common, but Comune the restaurant is anything but. Nestled into a snug corner of a thoughtfully designed development in Schumacher Place just outside of German Village, Comune, its ownership and staff seem to connect more with the playful take on the spellings of community and communal – with an identity rooted in individual expression and ownership among team members, a “rising tide lifts all ships” approach toward fellow restaurant industry professionals, and a space that projects minimalist design but maximizes shared resources. One visit to the elevated and inspired vegetarian eatery offers even the most skeptical midwestern a delightful departure from the ordinary.
The spare white decor is marked by fresh greenery, hinting at the plant-forward cuisine to come. Gratefully, my visit occurred on a beautiful late summer evening, so my guest and I availed ourselves of the charming patio. With neighbors like Lindey's and Barcelona, any patio in German Village is understandably met with high expectations, and Comune's does not disappoint. Cozy nooks are carved out of a pergola that is strategically positioned to buffer the vibe of the adjacent brewery. Heavy plantings offer a natural soundproofing and cool shade in the heat of the day.
The design and concept of Comune are not only uncommon, but definitely a communal effort. While working through several iterations of the concept, co-owner Joe Galati unashamedly called on friends and peers who were already established in the Columbus indie fine dining scene to ask for feedback and advice. Jumping from an established corporate career with a highly successful retail giant, Galati knew what he didn't know. And, unlike the cutthroat fiercely competitive and isolationist world of fashion, he found the restaurant community to be surprisingly open, supportive and quite willing to share what was and wasn't working in their own businesses. From Greg at Watershed, he got an opportunity to review a relevant profit and loss statement; from Jen and Sang at The Table he had a stellar example of commitment to the team, industry as a whole, and the community with their zero-waste initiatives and pandemic activism on behalf of furloughed restaurant workers.
The result is sophisticated and confident without feeling fussy or restrained. The menu is creative and satisfying, and the whole is refreshingly pragmatic – perfectly aligned with Galati's leadership style. Finding a talented Chef to execute this vision would be tough in any environment, but lucky for Comune, just as they were about to re-open after the pandemic shutdown an inquiry arrived via email from an Arkansas native with strong agricultural sensibilities and a resume touting stints with a James Beard award-winning chef in Atlanta before making his own mark at Zahav and Kensington Quarters in Philly. A trailing spouse, Chef Matt Harper had made the most of each transfer – cutting his teeth then honing his craft before landing the top spot at Comune as the third Executive Chef for the establishment. This summer saw Harper's first full menu development, met with proper enthusiasm and well-deserved acclaim.
The warm-weather offerings include the expected seasonal ingredients like watermelon (served as vegan carpaccio and garnished with harissa, green beans and crunchy marcona almonds) and peaches (featured in a salad with cucumbers, greed goddess dressing, wheat berries, feta and pickled jalapeno). Unexpected dishes like semolina cavatelli with tomato, shredded lions mane, ricotta, calabrian chili and crispy garlic and ratatouille with naked cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, soubise and pesto offer satiating choices for the ravenous adventurer. Harper is wise to maintain fan-faves that predate him, even while making them his own, like the bread + spread (a heavenly koji pita alongside three seasonal dips) and the tahdig, a crispy rice seasoned with saffron, amba tahina, grilled corn salad and sesame. Special shout-out from someone who values a Chef who knows how to handle a fresh root: the coal-roasted hasselback beets with kale tabbouleh, maitake and herbed yogurt were amazing.
Desserts at Comune are obviously not an afterthought. Delectable choices were highlighted by the knafeh, a chocolate-infused middle eastern pastry dished up with blueberries, coconut-vanilla ice cream and pistacios and the peach sorbet with coconut whipped cream, poached peaches and almond cake.
The creative craft cocktail menu provides an escape from the ordinary with seductive seasonal selections like a perhaps hand (avèze, strawberry top blanc vermouth, agave and bubbles), a mender of things (reposado tequila, cognac, strawberry, angostura + peychaud’s bitters), and
summer silence (suntory toki japanese whisky, apple brandy and passionfruit liqueur). For those wanting a wine pairing, Comune offers a curated list of producers who operate with a shared care and intention. The natural options harken back to a time before winemaking became so commercialized, with choices produced using minimal intervention from the maker, often with regenerative, organic or bio-dynamic agricultural practices, relying on native yeasts and minimal use of sulfites.
Joe Galati has as much of a cult following among his staff as his restaurant experiment enjoys among Columbus' epicurean set. Our server's loyalty to her team and Galati was not only evident in her execution of our experience but it was positively contagious. It's tough to leave Comune without a feeling of joining the team, and rooting for great success. Though Galati chalks the optimistic and tenacious culture up to a Columbus food community that fosters fearless creativity, it is evident that a consistent, humble and methodical determination is at least a bit of the secret sauce for this first-time business owner.
Comune is available for dine-in service from Tuesday through Saturday, 5p-10p. For more information or to check out the fall menu, visit comune-restaurant.com.