Townhouse Kitchen + Bar was just about ready to open in Chinatown when the group behind the chain closed all its locations last year. "They were like four weeks from being open," says restaurateur and chef Jeff Tunks. "I guess they ran out of money... The landlord ended up locking them out." That's when Tunks and his partners at Passion Food Hospitality (Ceiba, Acadiana, DC Coast, and others) swooped in. The place was 90 percent constructed, Tunks says. "All the banquettes and booths were already here delivered. The light fixtures were delivered."
Only a few final finishes and furniture were required to turn the place into Penn Commons, a sister restaurant to Foggy Bottom's District Commons. It opens today for lunch and dinner. The two restaurants share much of the same menu, including brick pressed chicken, Nana Sue's meatloaf, and blackened Atlantic salmon. But whereas District Commons has only one "burger" (which is actually made with barbecue braised short ribs) because Burger Tap & Shake is next door, Penn Commons combines some of both menus. Penn Commons will grind the meat for its burgers in-house, but buns will be transported from the ovens at BTS. Penn Commons also has a daily changing "shaketail"—alcoholic milkshakes—like BTS, plus several sundaes. One you won't want to miss is the Salty Crunchy Sundae, with peanut and chocolate ice creams, hot fudge, whipped cream, and potato chips.
Penn Commons also has some items unique to the location, including a selection of mix-and-match spreads and dips served with grilled country bread. For $13, you can pick three from a choice of nine options like pimento cheese, chicken liver mousse, and steak tartare with Sriracha aioli—all of which come in mini jars. Other new dishes include crispy calamari with smoked tomato tzatziki and pulled pork hand pies with Carolina sauce.
While there aren't 99 bottles of beer on the wall like at District Commons, Penn Commons has 40 beers on tap and beer flights available. There are also 13 craft cocktails made with all-American spirits plus an American wine list. Select drinks are only $5 during happy hour weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and after 10 p.m.
Penn Commons plans to open on Sundays and for weekend brunch after Labor Day. Part of the reason is the ongoing difficulty of finding qualified kitchen staff, Tunks says: "It is epidemic scale right now. It is unbelievable. I've never seen it this bad." Y&H wrote about D.C.'s restaurant staff shortage last summer, which you can read here. "It's getting worse."
Check out more photos and the full dinner menu below.
Communal high-top in the bar area:
Lounge area near the entrance:
Twelve Buck Chuck:
Calamari with smoke tomato tzatziki:
Daily "pick three" dips served with grilled country bread: pickled beet relish with horseradish creme fraiche, hand-cut steak tartare with Sriracha aioli, and fresh ricotta cheese with olive oil, mint, and red chili pepper:
Pulled pork hand pies with Carolina sauce: