I tore into the French dip like a famished hyena. I blame the chill wind that swept in behind me as I joined the end of the line that was already wrapping around several times indoors. I also blame the sandwich, whose flavor profile was ever so much more than I had expected. The problem is that I also tore into the smoked fish salad with a soft-cooked egg and the day’s special grilled cheese sandwich, because you cannot say no to Sandy Creek goat-milk blue cheese with roasted mushrooms on house sourdough. (They had the cheese extra that day.) They’d thrown grated hard aged cheese down on the griddle last minute, so there was a thin speckle on the crust, like a Parmesan crisp. Don’t worry. We noticed. The result was my rolling away in a warm, satisfied semi-coma.
The Headington Companies’ Commissary has been open just under a week, and I have seen people stop in the crosswalk or on the facing street corner, suddenly aware of the facade of blue and white tile by artist Jorge Pardo. I have seen passers-by looking in at those lining up for their breakfast or lunchtime fix. And I have seen the ravenous eyes of those staring down the long counter, the way they look at crusty loaves, house-cured meats, and a pastry case where tarts and croissants preen.
Commissary reminds me most of Gjelina in Los Angeles, and secondarily of Dean and Deluca or Eataly in New York, or the high-end market at the ferry terminal building in San Francisco, if all its Northern California sourcing were concentrated in one place.
The spot gathers all the power of the Headington Companies’ restaurants, turned grab-and-go. It’s sophisticated but warm, in the sense of inviting; it’s everything you want big-city life to be in your fantasies.
At breakfast, breeze in for smoked salmon on a house-made bagel. (You can get any, but you should get the one that is poppy seed blitzed.) Throughout the day, rotisserie chickens turn, and you can get them half or whole, with sauces. Soups—tomato soup with coconut milk and bell pepper and lime; beef and farro with shiitake mushrooms, ginger, and herbs; chicken with a flurry of parsley, wonderful bright lemon, and garlic—run for small prices ($5-7), considering the quality and that you can get them to go or to stay. Amongst the salads, a kale Caesar can be topped with a mountain of shredded rotisserie chicken. (Salads run $7-12.)
There is the outstanding beef dip, a little sweet from caramelized onions, a little spicy from mustard. You dip it into a smoky, spicy pho broth, the jalapeno wending its way through the liquid, which is mahogany-colored and sophisticated.
If you want to make it a picnic, there is Plugra European-style butter, gorgonzola, robiola, or Mt. Tam or Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery to snag from the cold case and then spread on a baguette you snapped up fresh. A $19 whole cheese. Is it worth it? Yes, and in the same cold case you can get a bottle of wine, a $17 vermentino or a $37 bottle of champagne. Or just fancy mineral water. And then brush away crumbs and end with one of my favorites, Dick Taylor artisan chocolate bars—brown butter nibs and sea salt or dark fig chocolate—broken off and wedged between the last morsels of baguette. Gelato—maybe pistachio or saffron-rose or prickly pear sorbet—is right by the to-go order pick-up, so you can ogle.
This, you see, could become a habit.
Dry-aging and other culinary machinations happen behind the scenes and underground. At times, the line is so long you can hardly get in the door. So long, servers can hardly get out of the kitchen, which you perceive through various panes of glass. You see and love the food before you eat it. (Those shaggy biscuits are cacio e pepe, and there’s a tomato focaccia. Yes, you need that, too.) And they validate parking. What more do you want?
You love the hours, (for now) 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. And you love the art piece, because you are, well, conditioned by The Joule.
For more about the food, see here. For more about the Cuban-born, now LA-based artist, Jorge Pardo, read here. (The story of how his own home became his first installation piece for LA’s MoCA is stupendous. If it weren’t so LA, I would say it was so very Dallas.)