If I were asked to make a list of words that mean the most to me, community would be among them. I’m someone to whom a sense of belonging matters, and being part of a community is vitally important to my well-being. What’s also on my list of favorite words? Restaurant. Obviously.
So when Community becomes the name of a new restaurant in Bethesda, I’m pretty enthused. And while I can’t technically claim Bethesda as my community, I’m there often enough for shopping, entertainment, and dining. I feel a connection.
Mark Bucher, the restaurateur who brought us Medium Rare and originated BGR, the Burger Joint, is behind the new diner. The menu leans to the traditional. There are burgers, roast chicken, and chicken pot pie. Heavier fare includes prime rib with baked potato and creamed spinach, along with pork chops, veal chops, and braised short ribs. Southern Fried Chicken tops a salad, and there’s a wedge with bacon and blue cheese. Healthy options include grilled salmon with wild rice, and a quinoa bowl filled with goodies like shaved brussels, wild rice, golden raisins, roasted beets, and pumpkin seeds. Breakfast is served at Community all day. If I can get back before New Year’s when my resolutions kick in, I have my eye on Frosted Flakes French toast and maybe a boozy milkshake.
There is a theme to Community, although you have to pay close attention. It’s an odd one indeed. I have just a vague memory of the film “Trading Places” with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. But in small print above the word Community are the words Winthorp and Valentine- their characters in the 1983 film. A back wall mural features the actors. There are also random movie quotes including “I’ll have what she’s having” and “you complete me.” Are diners aware of the concept? I only put the pieces together while doing research for this post. The mural looms large in the background, but I don’t take time to analyze its meaning.
With such an offbeat theme, I would expect more unconventional dishes. Lobster pop tarts and Tot-chos- a combo of tater tots and nachos- are two that hold promise. The menu also features a head-scratcher – PB&J with all-natural chunky peanut butter, Opus One grape jam, griddled brioche, and half a bottle of champagne for $34. I assume this ties somehow to “Trading Places,” but I need a refresh on the movie to be sure.
My meal at Community, which is shortly after the restaurant’s debut, has highs and lows. The chicken sandwich with hot sauce on a donut bun has the potential to be a sought-after hit. Unfortunately, the chicken is dry, and the donut bun is less interesting than I expect. It’s only slightly sweet, and deteriorates rapidly under the weight of the ingredients. I want more decadence in something that’s labelled a donut bun.
Ruffles make an appealing vehicle for crab dip with spinach and artichokes, but I yearn for something to give it more oomph.
The Cheeseburger has the flavor that’s missing from other dishes. Here’s where I find the wow factor. It’s nothing fancy- dry-aged beef topped with onion, cheddar, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pickles, and a special sauce. But it’s an excellent burger- worthy of a return visit.
Fudgy cheesecake is dense and darn right delicious- a splurge-worthy dessert. Sharing is strongly suggested.
Community has a fun vibe to go along with the quirky theme. Its part suburban diner and part urban cool. Light wood furniture plays nicely against tile floors, white brick, and pops of turquoise and orange give it a bright and fresh mid-century feel. And while “The Breakfast Club” might be a better diner theme than “Trading Places,” Community fills a rather nice niche as a gathering place in Bethesda.
Community, 7776 Norfolk Avenue, Bethesda, MD