10 Best Restaurants of 2019: #6 Comune

Erin Edwards
Bread + Spread

New restaurants rarely appear on our 10 Best list, and it’s rarer still when a restaurant has been buffeted by change during its debut year. But Comune, the fledgling plant-based restaurant from co-owners Joe Galati and Brook Maikut, impressed us that much thanks to its risk-taking beverage program, tranquil interior design and patio, and dishes that broaden our sensory horizons beyond humdrum bacon-and-balsamic Brussels sprouts (here’s looking at you, zhug-and-saffron crispy rice with dates). When Comune hits its stride, watch out.

On Year One

Comune’s owners reflect on their first year in the restaurant business.

How would you put Comune’s first year into words? You earned some early accolades and then head chef Ben Kanavel left.

Galati: Comune has been the most rewarding yet absolutely terrifying thing I’ve ever done, and I have been completely humbled by Columbus’ receptivity to it. When you put something out there like this, especially something that is relatively niche, you plan as much as you can, trust your gut, be relentless to your vision and then hope for the best. Scary as hell, but that fear motivates. Everyone knows restaurants have a questionable life expectancy, and as my friend says, “gird your loins.” We’ve just been trying to roll with the punches, keep our heads down and continue pushing everything forward: food, hospitality, service. So yeah, wild first year. 

How were you able to steady the ship?

Galati: We’ve really been blessed by an amazing front- and back-of-house team that care about what Comune is doing. Ben had set the kitchen team up for success the best he could prior to him leaving, but obviously everyone needed to step up in his absence, with [newly promoted head chef] Jacob [Inscore] really spearheading the effort along with support from our two sous chefs. We were about to refresh the entire menu for spring and instead needed to keep some of the classics from fall on the menu to give us time to regroup.

Who’s dining at Comune?

Galati: We always thought it would take longer for non-vegetarians to find us, but word spread fast about the food and quality. I find it funny still when someone comes in and is surprised that vegetables can have so much flavor, and that these dishes can be satiating without meat. We’ve been adopting the “plant-forward” term for a while now, which to us is just about making vegetables the hero.

The beverage program is introducing some exciting things to Columbus—from Georgian orange wines to cocktails combining ingredients like white asparagus and morels. What’s the philosophy?

Maikut: The cocktails, the wine and even our nonalcoholic options all follow the same principle of well-executed simplicity. Ben Griest drives our cocktail and elixir program, and I stay focused on our natural wine program. Ben’s background comes from over a decade in the industry, most recently working with Travis Owens at Curio. He has been instrumental in the forward-thinking, minimalist design of our cocktail menus. “Not overworking it” is a philosophy we share with the natural wine movement—allowing the fruit or flavors to speak for themselves. 

Speaking of cocktails, is there a Comune brunch in our future?

Maikut: If all goes well, yes. … Look for a pop-up trial version in the coming months.

Read about our other Best Restaurants of 2019:

1. Veritas

2. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

3. Watershed Kitchen & Bar

4. Service Bar

5. G. Michael’s Bistro & Bar

7. Refectory Restaurant & Wine Shop

8. Gallerie Bar & Bistro

9. The Guild House

10. Ambrose and Eve

677 Parsons Ave., Schumacher Place