Community Table is Democratic, Daring, Delicious
When was the last time you went to a restaurant and wanted to lick your plate clean? That’s how we felt the other night at Community Table, the remarkable locavore restaurant that opened a few months ago in Washington, CT. Highly-principled, highly-styled but down-to-earth, Community Table is one of those restaurants that boldly prints its mission statement on the first page of the menu—“to prepare the highest quality locally grown and procured ingredients and to serve our community in a casual, vibrant atmosphere”—and then follows through magnificently but humbly.
You know there’s something special happening inside when you see a middle-aged foursome wrapped in blankets on the porch on a chilly Saturday waiting for their table. You see, there is a no-reservations policy that is central to the restaurant’s identity (and there’s a basket of fleece blankets by the front door if you have to wait outside.) “We wanted it to be super democratic,” says chef Joel Viehland. “We didn’t want it to be a clubhouse for high-powered New Yorkers who would make their reservations weeks in advance. We didn’t want it to be fussy, and the only way to do that was to make it first come first served.” Without a bar for waiting and only a small vestibule that can hold perhaps a half-dozen people, Ct, as regulars call it (pronounced: “sea tea”), is bracing for its first winter. “We’re going to get some heaters for the porch,” say Viehland, who is getting his larder ready for winter, too. “I’ve been drying, preserving, freezing, and curing,” he says. “This week, we’re building cold storage.”
Viehland brings a worldly perspective to New England cuisine. He used to cook in New York and New Orleans and also worked a stint at Denmark’s Noma, which is devoted to local cuisine and has been called the world’s best restaurant. He chose northwestern Connecticut for his restaurant because the local agriculture could support his vision. “I was really distraught about getting a job at a normal restaurant,” he says. “A great normal restaurant doesn’t care where in the world its ingredients come from. A normal restaurant has three or four suppliers, I want to source as much locally as possible so I have 35 to 40 vendors I work with. It’s a lot of work. It means our menu has to be flexible—it’s cooking they way people have cooked for hundreds of years.” However, one constant is the semolina peasant bread from the Bantam Bread Co. that is served with incredibly delicious and creamy butter. “We whip it ourselves and add sea salt,” Viehland explains.
The menu is an intriguing mixture of tweaked-out comfort food—such as beef and barley borscht ($7), rabbit with celery root puree and caramelized carrots ($23), spaghetti with merguez sausage, tomatoes, eggplant, preserved lemon, cured olives and goat’s milk pecorino ($21)—and more audacious dishes like pickled vegetables in a warm, bone-marrow vinaigrette ($9) and a skate wing served with quinona, walnuts, sunflower seeds, roasted beets, cauliflower, mustard greens and apple vinegar citrus brown butter sauce ($24). When it came time to order dessert the other night, the molten chocolate cake was sold out but the fresh apple sorbet with white-chocolate yogurt cream and apple chips ($6) was as dazzling as it was refreshing.
The wine and beer list is modest because it’s local, too, which is why the restaurant invites diners to bring their own bottles and charges a corkage fee of only $5. “We know some people are used to drinking only very good French wines and we want them to be able to enjoy their meals here,” says Viehland. The restaurant is so earnestly committed to sustainability that the front of the menu pays tribute to the waterless Kohler urinal in the men’s room. “Its [sic] estimated that we will save thousands of gallons of water over a full year and yet provide a clean and odorless experience for our guests. Enjoy one or two of our local beers and give it a try!” The back of the menu lists more than a dozen farms and purveyors who contributed to the evening’s menu.
Indeed, the men’s room, like the entire restaurant, has a contemporary Scandinavia-in-New England, Dwell magazine aesthetic—a synthesis of the sensibilities of local Washington Depot architect Peter Talbot and owner Peggy Anderson who is a native of Sweden. With back-to-the-land values, an egalitarian vibe and seriously delicious food, Community Table is the quintessential country restaurant for our times.
223 Litchfield Turnpike,Washington, CT ; 860.868.9354
Thursday - Monday
Breakfast 7:30 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Dinner 5 p.m. — 10 p.m.