Most of the frenzied coverage of Common Bond, the new Montrose bakery from acclaimed pastry chef (and native Houstonian) Roy Shvartzapel, focused on one main aspect: the baked goods. Naturally. Houston—it's often said—has been lacking a "world-class bakery" for quite some time, though we've somehow managed to make do with El Bolillo, Three Brothers, and French Riviera, among many others, all these long years.
1706 Westheimer Rd.
CultureMap called Common Bond "America's best bakery" before it even opened. The Houston Chronicle took a more rational approach, saying simply that Common Bond "aspires to be [the] best bakery, period." And when the place finally opened last month, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were deluged with photos of Common Bond's croissants—often in cross-section, the better to show off the delicate architecture inside—macarons, kugelhopfs, and more.
One thing that was rarely mentioned, however, is the fact that Common Bond serves food, too—not just baked goods. The bakery offers breakfast Tuesday through Friday from 7 to 11:30 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a weekend brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Not having heard much about the food at Common Bond, I headed out for an early lunch last Friday to check it out. Getting there at 11 a.m. proved ideal as the parking lot, the dining room, and the patio all filled up quickly.
I appreciate that Common Bond doesn't have a set lunch menu, but rather takes a seasonal approach, changing the offerings every week (and sometimes more frequently) to accommodate fresh products. The soft-shell crab "po-boy" I had last week is already gone, for instance, replaced instead with a fried oyster po-boy. Ditto my friend's slow-roasted veal sandwich with fried kale and pickled onions. Its replacement on the current lunch menu seems to be a chicken torta with cotija cheese, crema, guacamole, and pickled jalapeños.
Both of our sandwiches were terrific, helped along by the fresh-baked bread both were served on. There's something about enjoying a sandwich on bread baked right there on the premises (no, Subway...no you don't count) that heightens the whole experience. My crab was crunchy in all the right places, soft and meaty in the middle, a mound of lettuce mixed with creamy garlic mayonnaise pulling it all together under the buttery kaiser roll. Sure, it wasn't really a po-boy, but I enjoyed this modern reinterpretation nevertheless.
A side of gazpacho was similarly charming, the rich red soup shimmering with olive oil. There are few nicer ways to get a serving of vegetables in the summer than a cold bowl of gazpacho. I really hope this proves to be one of the constants on the Common Bond menu, rather than just a cameo appearance, as I've rarely tasted better in Houston.
Common Bond's airy dining room, with high ceilings and immense plate glass windows that overlook the busy intersection at Westheimer and Dunlavy, is just as delightful. A variety of different areas serve different purposes: booths tucked in the back encourage you to linger with friends over lunch; a low-slung marble counter overlooking the coffee bar is the ideal spot to grab a croissant and a cortado solo; a long, communal dining table the day I visited was serving as laptop central, with busy lunchtime workers hammering away at keyboards while they ate. The serving line is a little awkward—it's tough to see which pastries Common Bond has out for the day when you're made to order at the very front of the line—but the overall layout of the bakery is smart and inviting.
As for the pastries themselves, I hesitate to weigh in. I ordered a chocolate croissant for dessert, and had a few bites of my friend's bostock—a day-old brioche that's been soaked in almond syrup, covered in frangipane, and topped with slivered almonds. I felt ambivalent about both. My croissant was tough; the bostock was tougher, difficult to get through with even a knife and fork. I'm told I ordered incorrectly—that I should have started with a plain croissant—though isn't the point of a "world-class bakery" that you can order anything in its alluring glass case and be satisfied?
This didn't deter me from being excited about future meals at Common Bond, however, nor future baked goods. I've been told the grillades and grits at brunch are amazing, and the soft scrambled eggs at breakfast even better. And next time I'll be sure to get one of those croissants.