Columbus Monthly’s 10 Best Restaurants: Plant-Based Comune is Our No. 1 Pick
Meet Matt Harper, the chef behind Comune’s exuberant vegetarian fare. His watermelon carpaccio was the best dish we ate all year.
To hear owner Joe Galati tell it, the pandemic nearly did in Comune. “Hundred percent,” he says. “We’re not out of it. … Ask anyone about a small business, it’s like, dude, there’s no money—it’s just debt.”
Even before the pandemic, 4-year-old Comune was trying to do something admirably risky in cheeseburger-loving Central Ohio: daring to serve high-end, plant-based fare and funky wines on a corner that’s not in the heart of the Short North or Bridge Park. Which makes Comune’s survival and climb to No. 1 on our list all the more remarkable.
But along with Galati’s vision, stubborn determination and penny-pinching, he had a little luck when chef Matt Harper walked through the door.
Harper, who has been Comune’s executive chef for a little over a year, has an eyebrow-raising resume that includes four years at Atlanta’s Empire State South, where he rose to executive sous chef under James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson. In 2015, the Arkansas native moved to Philadelphia, where he immersed himself in Middle Eastern cuisine at Zahav, becoming the acclaimed restaurant’s chef de cuisine. Before his wife’s Ph.D. track brought them to Columbus, Harper was executive chef of Philly’s Kensington Quarters, which did its own butchery in-house and emphasized relationships with farmers. The latter has served Harper well at Comune, which works closely with purveyors such as Three Creeks Produce and Hershberger’s Farm.
Indeed, the best dish we ate all year started as a watermelon from Hershberger’s, a summertime ingredient we thought we knew like an old pal until Harper got hold of it.
To make Comune’s watermelon carpaccio, Harper first removes the watermelon rind and reserves it—with an economical eye toward reducing kitchen waste. The rind itself will be cooked in water and sugar and then dehydrated, turning it into watermelon rind gummies destined to be the topping for a lovely watermelon granita dessert. For the carpaccio, the watermelon flesh is lightly seasoned and slow-roasted in the oven for about 30 minutes, giving it a texture and look that quickly reads to omnivores: beef carpaccio. Crisp texture is added back to the dish in the form of sweet, diced green beans and marcona almonds. Finally, Harper adds house-made almond milk and harissa to the plate; the pair comingle beautifully for a dose of fat and heat that balances the dish.
The carpaccio is emblematic of what makes Comune special: Harper and team take high-quality produce and, using simple preparations, create dishes that surprise both vegetarians and omnivores alike. Comune does this while walking the flavor tightrope perfectly and without using meat substitutes, like seitan, as a crutch. Combine that with a hip, Scandinavian restaurant design, knowledgeable servers, thoughtful wine and cocktail menus and a great patio, and, well, you have a winner.
677 Parsons Ave., Schumacher Place, 614-947-1012, comune-restaurant.com
This story is from the “10 Best Restaurants” package in the November 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.