Commonwealth Cafe – Giving Us All That Sandwich Love

Walking into the Commonwealth Cafe is like entering a modern fairy tale. In this fairy tale, you go to Grandma’s house for lunch and two guys have taken over her kitchen. These two guys are Jim Kavanaugh and Reid Ashwill – the owners and sole employees of this fine establishment. The Commonwealth Cafe is located at 31st and Columbia Street in the Carter Park neighborhood. The decor is eclectic. When you walk in, you notice a turntable, a collection of vinyl records (vinyl donations), some ceramic knick knacks and a sign that poses the question What Would John Wayne Do? The menu is comprised of breakfast sandwiches (on house made english muffins) and regular sandwiches — both are served all day.

The owners met as chefs at Lovejoy Bakery in Portland and have differing tastes in food. Jim has a fondness for Western European cuisine. Reid’s interests are Middle Eastern Cuisine, Mediterranean Cuisine, and the American South. This eclectic mix of tastes and interests shows in the menu which has a complexity of flavors put together in a welcoming and familiar format – sandwiches. Jim and Reid are influenced and inspired by the work of other chefs. Their house made English muffin recipe is based on a recipe in David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. They played with that recipe for a couple of weeks and came up with the English muffins that they bake daily at the Commonwealth Cafe.


I went to Commonwealth Cafe with my friend, Nichole. She is the one who told me about it and she has become my trusty companion on my food adventures. We ordered the Commonwealth and the Kentucky Hot Brown. The Commonwealth was amazing. We agreed that we could eat it everyday for the rest of our lives and be happy. It had Commonwealth’s house made tomato jam, wilted greens, an over medium egg, house made maple sausage, and cheddar cheese. The soft, tangy, chewy english muffin was the perfect vehicle for this mix of fresh homemade goodness. The ingredients are sealed to the muffin with a rich, tangy, sweet tomato jam and then everything melds seamlessly together creating a collection of perfect bites of egg, greens, maple sausage, and melted cheese.


The Kentucky Hot Brown was equally well-thought out and executed. It is made of thick sliced turkey breast, garlic butter, tomato jam, bacon, bechamel sauce and served on sliced rustic french loaf. The sweet and tangy house made tomato jam mixed with the bechamel sauce creates a creamy, tangy, sweet pillow for the other ingredients to lie in. Like the Commonwealth sandwich, the ingredients in this sandwich fit together in a perfect combination of taste and texture. There are so many good things going on in this sandwich that the bacon plays a supporting role – adding a bit of smoke and crispness but not overshadowing the other ingredients. In each bite, the tomato jam/bechamel sauce, turkey, bacon, garlic butter. Each bite is a bit of heaven. This is the result of house made ingredients carefully portioned and combined.


If you have some time on your hands, there are a plethora of good ways to while away an afternoon here. There is an antique pinball machine (Do Not Tilt!) with a cup of nickels thoughtfully placed next to it for your enjoyment, and a chalk board to report your score. There are comic books. There is an area labeled “The Library” filled with all kinds of vintage goodies. My eye was caught by a full set of the Time/Life series How to Cook. When the weather warms up, Jim and Reid are planning on opening up the back patio for some serious grilling. Their overall goal is to make everything in house. They hope to one day make all their own breads. Maybe this modern fairy tale has a happy ending and a fairy godmother will arrive and make all their wishes true. In the meantime, I highly recommend you visit the Commonwealth Cafe.

Commonwealth Cafe is located at 3100 Columbia Street in Vancouver.  They are open Tuesday – Friday 9-6pm, Saturday 10-4, and Sunday 10-3.

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