Tracy resident John Oh, a self-taught chef, has brought his not-quite-a-bar and not-quite-a-restaurant “gastropub” to downtown Tracy that offers a casual-meets-refined atmosphere that welcomes beer drinkers and wine snobs, non-fussy eaters and foodies alike.
Welcome to The Commons, a contemporary bar theme setting with a restaurant atmosphere that was just opened this June at 49 W. Tenth St. in Tracy.
There’s no strict definition to what makes a great and classic gastropub.
“It’s typically in the genre of a drinking establishment with a focus on food,” said Oh. “We put out clean, non-processed quality fare with as much local farmer contribution as possible and offer a wide selection of beer, specialty drinks, and wine.”
The experience gives bistros a run for their money as Oh’s dishes are served in a swank modern setting with hanging pin lights.
To keep his offerings as natural as can be, Oh takes advantage of the twice-weekly farmers markets in Tracy, getting regular deliveries from Scalotta Farms and Ramsey Farms for much of his produce and Knoll Farms from nearby Brentwood for eggs.
“I’m always asked, ‘What did you put in this’,” said Oh. “The answer is what I didn’t put in it.”
Oh stresses a natural product free of unneeded ingredients.
“The way I put out the food is the way I want you to have it,” Oh commented on the lack of condiments at the tables when the dishes are served. “Mustard and ketchup will kill the natural food process.”
When requested the staff provided the condiments without judgment.
And that’s not to say the dishes end up bland and tasteless – far from it.
Oh’s creations are a mix of fried dishes such as duck fat fries or mac and cheese with an Oakdale Cheese Company white cheddar Mornay and vegetable dishes of grilled artichokes or a beet salad with a whipped chevre, mint, hazelnuts, and Ramsey Family Farms of Tracy vinegar to establish a balance on the menu.
Entrée items include gourmet burger selections such as the AM burger of a 6.5 ounce pasture raised and hormone free beef patty with a sunny side up egg, bacon preserves, American cheese, served with the duck fat fries or an organic, free range hormone free chicken breast sandwich with cilantro and Jalapeno coleslaw.
“I always wanted to open a bar in town,” said Oh, a 2000 Tracy High School graduate of Korean ancestry. “In my personal life I had a morph for food and would prepare dishes for various friends and relatives.”
Through the years, Oh has taken what he was complimented on and applied it to his menu.
He points to the “KFC” (Korean Fried Chicken) wings and tacos on the menu he’s personalized.
The tacos were a conceptual idea of a Mexican-Korean fusion taking marinated chicken with a chili paste and served with shredded cabbage to cut the heat. The Korean Fried Chicken takes a family recipe over the chicken wings to enhance a bar food staple.
Like much of the food ingredients, the wine offered at The Commons is local through contacts Oh has made in the Tracy and Lodi areas.
Among many local wineries, he features an elegant Anthony and Dominc Pinot Noir from Scotto Cellars and the Scotto Family of Tracy to pair with the burgers.
Though he doesn’t consider himself “a chef” by any means, his creations are buoyed by the purity and zing of their ingredients.
“We don’t call each other chef here,” said Oh. “It’s not the taller the hat, the more experience you have. We want to put out food reasonably priced and appetizing that the customer may have never tried before.”
The Commons is open Tuesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and staying open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.