Commonwealth Cambridge is an impressive, sprawling space. The polished concrete floors and wood pallet-lined walls give off a rustic, industrial vibe, a stark contrast to the typical sleek and modern Kendall Square joints. The floor is littered with found objects, recycled furniture hand-picked at the Brimfield market, and loads of old school chairs from a school in Belgium. The unfinished design was the vision for Chef Steve "Nookie" Postal, and brought to life by architect and designer Eric Robinson.
On a very busy afternoon only a couple of weeks prior to opening, we were grateful to pull Nookie aside for a quick tour and chat about his aspirations for the new addition to the Kendall Square neighborhood. He explained his desire for an unfinished interior, with an intriguing blend of old, custom and new products to really give the space shape and feeling. Little things, like the re-purposed bowling alley boards made into a high chef's table, and an old Masse's hardware sign flanking the host's stand, really give the space an 'Old Cambridge' feel, and the kind of character it takes years to build.
The idea for Commonwealth came about as a response to lacking resources in the area. In a neighborhood populated predominantly by office buildings and restaurants, there is no place to really buy anything, except a good meal out. Nookie wanted to fill that hole in the market, and to create a space where consumers could pick up a quick lunch during the day, a hot meal at night, and pantry staples or last-minute ingredients for a weeknight home-cooked meal.
When you enter Commonwealth, you walk past a line of windows sourced from the old Brooklyn Navy yard, and into the spacious open market. There are tables scattered about, including one rather large and impressive re-purposed piece from Ford Motor Company. One whole wall is filled with refrigerator units, ready to hold local milk, eggs and other pantry staples. Customers can expect to find those items and more, including homemade jams and jellies, pancake mixes, and even the prepared foods you'd find served in the dining room at Commonwealth. With a heavy emphasis on New England products, these goods will be sourced locally as much as possible, and made in-house, too.
Along another wall is the cafe area, where you can pick up a morning pastry, a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, or a steaming mug of George Howell coffee. For lunch hours, there will be a selection of salads, sandwich and soup options available, as well as house-made ice creams and sorbets.
The market space opens up into the restaurant area. A host stand is marked by an iconic Cambridge sight, the old sign from Masse's Hardware, ushering you into the dining area. Straight ahead is the open kitchen and raw bar, which flows seamlessly into the bar area, and the bar area into the restaurant. To the right side sits the majority of the dining space, and to the left a private dining area, with a capacity of 20-25.The restaurant itself can hold up to 130 patrons, split between the dining tables, high tops, bar, and stunning chef's table.
The restaurant menu will be family-style, just like what you might find in your own home but minus the dishes. Foods will be comforting and wholesome, with an emphasis on classics like roast chicken and veggies, and it will all be served for communal dining.
With a roof deck set to open in 2014, and limited outdoor seating on the first level, Commonwealth is really promising to have it all. We can't wait to return when the doors are officially open for a hot meal!