Thursday, March 15, 2007

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes recently opened in downtown Renton ( 900 S. 3rd, 425-235-1717), and they seem to have become immediately popular.
What are they doing right? And do they deserve to have a bang up business right out of the gate?

1. Cupcakes are trendy. They may be full of fat and sugar and white flour, but they're delicious and addictive. Common Ground always has about eight different varieties on hand, made on the premises, including chocolate, coconut, strawberry, vanilla, etc. They even have a sugar free, splenda sweetened cupcake, which I had and loved.

2. The place is classy looking, in an upscale hip kind of way, with comfortable leather chairs and nice wood furniture. They spent some money on this place...It's tasteful looking.

3. They use Caffe D'Arte coffee, which is one of the better roasters around here, and they have nice large ceramic cups for the "for here" orders. They do pretty "latte art", like the foam in the shape of a heart.

4. Service is friendly and efficient.

So what's not to like?

Really I have only minor quibbles. I prefer funky places for espresso, like the Jet City down the road full of tacky and kitschy stuff, places that don't even try to be sophisticated.
Not that there's anything wrong with class and sophistication. I was not uncomfortable at Common Grounds. It's a pleasant place, and the cupcakes are great.
But it's also a bit expensive.
I've always been partial to gargantuan portions, and cupcakes are like done in two bites.
A 12 oz double with a cupcake cost six dollars plus.
But it's not more expensive than Starbucks, and a better place to hang out for my money.

Friday, March 02, 2007

DC's Bar and Grill and Touchdowns

I know that I've been pretty lame as a contributor to this blog--Thanks to Freddy for picking up the slack . . . er, writing the whole thing for the past year or so. I thought I would chime in here to talk about two new restaurants in Renton that Freddy told us would be opening.

My wife and I went to Touchdowns--formerly All-City Diner (423 Airport Way, Renton, WA (425) 228-7281) twice in the past two weeks, and we also tried DC's Bar and Grill (on the East end of 3rd Street in downtown Renton). The food and service at each was surprisingly good, and I can safely say that Renton no longer has a sports-bar deficiency. They have totally different "vibes" though, which bears some explanation:

Touchdowns: This is a mega-sports bar, the kind that I was used to seeing all over the midwest when I was growing up (you may ask why I grew up in bars, but that's another story for another time). It has a bazillion TVs all over the place (there must be 15 flat screens around the bar alone), and a giant projection TV in the main room. They also have pool and darts (and pull-tabs if you like that sort of thing). It has a bit of "regular guy" kind of feel to it, and both times we've been there, a percentage of the crowd has been made up for loud drunks with a point to make--and we've only been for lunch! The food, while definitely bar food, is well prepared, with large portions, and a few surprising touches. The first time, I had the "Roast Beef on Weck"--which is a midwest staple--and it was great. The bread was fresh and tasty, and the beef was tender and cooked just right. It also came with some fresh horseradish sauce that, while painful to the sinuses, was excellent. The second time, I had the bacon cheesburger (can you tell I'm a healthy eater?), and it was outstanding. Huge, with four slices of crisp thick-cut peppered bacon. We also shared the nachos which were huge and very good. Not microwaved as far as we could tell, and with real cheese. They have some more expensive dishes on the menu (steaks, salmon, etc.) and we didn't try those, but from what we saw of the plates around us the food all looked very appetizing. Prices are about what you'd expect--~$8.99 for a burger, and the most expensive thing on the menu is a little under $20.

As a sports bar, it's pretty incredible, and if you want to see a specific game--it's your best bet, with all of those TVs in different rooms and areas, you could probably catch just about anything. They also have little audio boxes for the tables so you can listen to the sound on any of the TVs.

DC's Bar and Grill
At the east end of the 3rd Street in Renton (near the old Armando's location) , DC's Bar and Grill sits with with a little, unassuming sign, and a few neon beer signs in the window. This place reminded me of some of the little neighborhood hangouts I've visted in Brooklyn while visiting friends in NYC. It's nice, clean, smallish, and all done in wood paneling, and the servers spend a lot of time chating with you and getting to know you. It's a very friendly place, and they're clearly quite proud of it. They're happy to recommend menu items and tell you how they prepare things. I get the sense that it's a place where the owners might be a little new to the restaurant game, and they're pretty excited/worried about getting it right (which is great for the patrons). It was pretty empty when we got there (around 5:30pm), but it was 1/4 full by the time we left--Not too bad for a weeknight. They've got a more low-key approach to the "sports bar thing" than Touchdowns, with six flat panel TVs set high on the wall around the perimeter of the resturant. They also have a pool table.

The food was really good. It's a small menu and they have the obligatory bar food--According to the server they make everything from scratch except the mozzarella sticks--they also have some nice options that you wouldn't expect. I had a chicken dish with a white cream sauce over rice, and my wife had fish and chips--which (according to the server) was fresh halibut with a home-made breading. She loved it. He also told us that the burgers were great--hand made and 2/3 pounds before cooking--I think that's what I'll have next time. Prices were about the same as Touchdowns for comparable items.

Both places definitely add something to Renton, and I'd go to both again in a heartbeat. Touchdowns is more of a loud, active sportsbar (I'd hate to be in there during a Seahawks game) where you can throw a few back with Renton's more notable opinionated drunks, while DC's is more of place to have a quiet meal and watch the Mariners (if they can stop sucking), while chatting with your friends and neighbors. I'm always happy when one decent place opens in Renton--I'm ecstatic that we have two new ones.

--Tin Foil Hat