Commoner eggplant

Commoner & Co.'s new charred eggplant appetizer.

It’s almost as if Chef Drew Jawors was lurking in the shadows as I ate my way through Italy, Greece and Malta.

I’ve been on assignment in the Mediterranean for the past two weeks hosting a culinary and cocktail cruise through the world’s most delicious regions. Jawors’ restaurant was at the tail end of a major renovation at the time, which required a three-month closure, so it’s not hard to believe he could have been steps behind me at every port.

My hunch is based on his new menu at Commoner & Co. that launched just days before my return home. Several of his new dishes are decidedly Mediterranean in spirit, and their resemblance to the flavors I fell for while sailing across the region is uncanny.

Coincidence or not, I call it comfort for this weary traveler who desperately wants to extend the shelf life of that epicurean journey.

“Early in my career, I worked with a chef in Portland who had a heavy influence from that part of the world, and this was at a time when I was most eager to learn and take everything in,” said Jawors, executive chef at Commoner & Co., 6960 E. Sunrise Drive. “Since then I’ve been drawn to the basic nature and simplicity of this cuisine.” 

The night before we embarked, some of us participated in a four-hour Roman food and wine tour that had us dancing in the streets of the Eternal City prior to setting sail for Sicily and Naples. One of the dishes that we enjoyed along the way was Cacio e Pepe, a pasta rooted in Rome with spaghetti, pecorino cheese, and black pepper. Thankfully, Jawors saved room on his new menu for his version. 

“This dish is so simple to me, like an adult mac and cheese, and it’s already been a great seller,” he said. 

His twist was to replace the spaghetti with bucatini, a hollow straw-like pasta that I predict will enhance the slurpability of the rich dish.

The moment our ship hit Greece, with stops in Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, Nafplion and Katakolon, I remember tearing through an Eggplant Moussaka with recklessness. And I was delighted to learn that Jawors’ menu celebrates the Mediterranean traditions of this bulbous purple fruit.

His eggplant appetizer starts by charring the whole fruit until it naturally steams the interior meat, which he then mixes with a sweet honey tahini, olive tapenade, sesame seeds and feta cheese.

“This is a beautiful blend of bitter, salt, sweet and earth,” he said.

If Greece had a national protein it would have to be lamb, and I think there was a different expression of lamb on every dish I devoured on the Greek Isles. Jawors has shepherded some lamb to his new menu as well, with a braised lamb entrée that’s executed in a sambal style.

The tender shredded lamb is served atop a bed of goat cheese grits with seasonal vegetables, harissa chili paste and a mint gremolada.

While several of the restaurant’s new fall dishes activate global parts of the palate, those who prefer rustic American cuisine will surely find favor with the New York Strip, Smoked Pork Chop, Burger, Meatloaf and other dishes with closer-to-home influences. 

The next time I see Drew Jawors, I’ll demand to see his passport. And if it turns out that he was there stalking us, I’ll respectfully ask that he delete the photos from our tasting at the ouzo distillery.

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.