Restaurant Preview: Commune
“It's an authentic building in which we will serve authentic food.”
I park my car off of 17th and Baltic on a finally breezy September afternoon. I pop into the propped open door where I discover a long-haired fellow in shorts, a t-shirt and sandals installing a bread oven. Meet Kevin Jamison, the owner of Commune.
After receiving a degree in international law with a focus on food security and working for the UN, Jamison realized he wanted to hone in on sustainable agriculture and environmental protection. With the combined efforts of him and his colleagues, Community Development International was born. From there, an educational farm was built in Haiti to teach farming sustainability. Jamison later moved to Virginia Beach and began working with Farmer John of New Earth Farm. Soon his nonprofit brought an educational center to New Earth to serve as a space for hosting classes on topics like gardening, composting and cooking with solely local and seasonal ingredients. While these classes were successful, Jamison soon realized he wanted to reach the masses. Opening his own restaurant was the vehicle to educate others on the negative effects of industrial and chemical farming through the use of delicious food.
“That restaurant would serve some of the most delicious food that people have ever eaten, and at the same time that food would be healthy for them and the environment. Because—not so surprisingly—those two things just happen to go hand in hand. So, I started Commune,” Jamison says.
Commune began as a crepe pop-up out of Pendulum Fine Meats last December. Shortly thereafter the demo began on the location—a late 1940s building at 501 Virginia Beach Boulevard, which is listed on the Virginia Beach Historical Register. Construction kicked off about 4 months ago, and he hopes to officially open no later than October.
When you enter the front door from the Boulevard, you’ll see a case displaying on-the-go items like croissants and other pastries. The original 1940s beams stand strong. The counters facing the window and at the bar can seat up to 28. Combined with the 50-foot community table and other smaller tables, about 50 can be seated inside.
Much of their wooden decor—including the piece resembling the mill symbol as well as the wall surrounding the kitchen window—are pieces from the original building.
Even the gorgeous kitchen bar was crafted from a black walnut tree that fell nearby.
At the end of the hall past the dining area there’s a lovely black and white painting from Richmond artist and former VB local Marleigh Culver.
The hall takes you out to their 2,000-square-foot garden which currently holds 6 tomato varieties, 8 pepper varieties and 2 okra varieties as well as culinary and medicinal herbs like verbena, lemongrass and basil. Eventually, they hope to place tables outside and host events in the garden.
Their menu is made possible by neighboring farms that grow sustainably-raised or grown products as well as whatever bounty their garden has that day. Because Commune is devoted to producing items that are seasonal as well as what the farmers have at the time, the menu will evolve every few weeks. With Head Chef Barry Smith, former Executive Chef of Eurasia, and a team of cooks and bakers, get ready for a stellar lineup.
So what’s on the menu? Expect Breakfast Sandwiches ($9) on a sourdough brioche bun with sausage, eggs, cheddar and fresh greens. Maybe you’ll even add their chunky ketchup or smoked pepper aioli. Their Cornmeal Waffles ($9.50) are laced with chamomile butter, breakfast sausage and a fried egg—all doused in hickory syrup. If salads are more your style, expect an Heirloom Bean Salad ($14) with string beans, sorghum mustard vinaigrette and seared tuna. Find a variety of sandwiches like their Meatball ($9.50) with goat cheese, pork meatballs and greens on a sourdough roll or their Sumac Roasted Eggplant ($8) with greens, sundried tomato pesto and kefir sauce on some mean sourdough baked by Jamison’s girlfriend’s Croatian father.
There will also be a variety of sweet and savory toasts and snacks like Buttermilk Biscuits ($4.50), Fritters ($6) and Pleasure House Oysters ($2/oyster). Of course their crepes will be back! Their Galette Complete crepe ($9) with cheddar, ham and a farm egg is in short, “one of the most visually and flavorfully satisfying things one could eat,” he says. Along with delectable, conscientious eats, there will be local brews, kombucha, Virginia wine, coffee and hard-to-find teas, some grown in Pungo.
Commune’s dedication to serving food to the locals grown by the locals is what makes them stand out in the Hampton Roads food scene.
“Local isn’t a weekly special for us. It’s everything.”