By Frank Sabatini Jr.
A whimsical musing posted recently on Common Stock’s outdoor signboard rang poetically wise: “Find someone that looks at you the way you look at hot chicken.”
The statement made stark sense after stepping inside and eating the Southern-inspired poultry dish.
Only in Nashville do I recall hot chicken tasting this stunning. In fact, the multi-spiced version served here, which uses cornflakes in the batter, was actually better.
Common Stock is the brainchild of good friends Brian Douglass and Anderson Clark, who opened their casual bar and eatery last fall in a Hillcrest address that has seen a train of restaurants pass through over the years: Salt & Cleaver; Cote Sud; and St. Tropez Bistro, to name a few.
The guys met while working as managers for the Los Angeles-based Hillstone Restaurant Group. Douglass is a Yale University graduate who studied economics. Clark earned his degree in hotel administration from Cornell University. Both were intent on launching a kind of neighborhood venture in which “you come back from the gym to have a beer and a burger,” said Clark, who was active with the Varsity Gay League until Common Stock began taking off.
The space shows off the brightest and airiest design compared to everything that came before it. An inviting central bar with a light-colored concrete counter top is flanked by booths and tables. Brick walls are finished in white, German schmear, and faux greenery appears in all the right places amid new lighting. The front opens to a sidewalk patio for taking in this quaint stretch of Fifth Avenue.
In addition, new kitchen appliances were installed, including a rotisserie used for a bone-in half chicken served with Peruvian aji verde sauce and Brussels sprouts.
The menu encompasses a small compendium of dishes favored and perfected by Douglass and Clark. It features a few salads; four shareable starters; a divine crispy chicken sandwich; a cheeseburger; and four entrees involving chicken, pork or flat-iron steak.
Some customers, like my sis visiting from back East, might yearn for more appetizer choices and a casual seafood item such as fish and chips. (Not a bad idea, actually.) But for this fan of focused menus, I wasn’t left wanting.
I’m sick to death of kale. Though when elevated by apples, white cheddar, almonds and maple tahini, I trust it won’t taste tiresome. And it didn’t in what was the best kale salad I’ve had in ages.
An order of “umami fries” evaded the expected drizzles of truffle oil, another hyped ingredient I wish would go away. They were instead seasoned with porcini mushroom and miso powders. Our palates didn’t actually detect either, but good french fries they were—especially when dipped in the herby house-made ranch dressing served alongside.
What seems like a banal appetizer on paper — caramelized onion dip and potato chips — turned out to be quite wonderful. The item is testimony to the owners’ “obsessive tinkering” of classic foods. In this case, the recipe is authored by Douglass.
The dip features house-made onion jam folded into liquid aminos and sour cream. It’s sprinkled with snipped herbs and served with excellent Russet potato chips that are fried to order. Waves of nostalgia and a tinge of sweetness came with every swipe.
Our hot chicken plate (served with creamy coleslaw) and the towering crispy chicken sandwich were examples of culinary perfection.
The spicy chicken — a breast and thigh — sported craggy exteriors from their cornflake batter and sat in a puddle of reddish oil infused with cayenne pepper, brown sugar and other spices. An underlying hint of smokiness added to the flavor rush.
Clark says the recipe was “born from the shadow of my grandfather who loved fried chicken.” Sis and I agreed the dish would take San Diego by storm if sold at multiple outlets. As it stands, Clark says they sell about 100 orders of the hot chicken per week.
The sandwich featured a breast filet encased in the same buttermilk-cornflake batter as the hot chicken, sans the spicy oil. It was layered with Muenster cheese, coleslaw, bacon, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes. So meticulously constructed, it stayed remarkably intact despite its full-grip girth.
Dessert equates to house-made chocolate chip cookies, a recipe from Douglass’ mother-in-law that he’s enjoyed for years. They’re hot and gooey and finished with seductive measures of sea salt.
Common Stock’s accommodating drink list extends to boutique wines from Napa, the Russian River area and Europe, as well as craft beers from local breweries, and cocktails using organic fruit juices and a tequila-sake spirit known as sabe. There’s also June Shine hard kombucha and cider from Bivouac in North Park.
Prices across the board are reasonable. They’re even better if you mosey in for drinks during happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. daily), when local draft beers are $5, and margaritas, Palomas and wines by the glass are $2 off their regular costs.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.