Birch & Barley–Washington D.C.
I’m just going to go ahead and start my D.C. recap with a bang–the best meal I ate last week–and then go back through the others, some of which were more memorable, some more tasty, some more imbued with my love of Twin Peaks. Hawk, is there any clue you can’t sniff out? God, I love that show. So much. So so much. But this post isn’t about Twin Peaks, my love of Hawk & FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, it’s about beer and brussels sprouts and in-house charcuterie. It’s about all of the things I love the most and the chance to revel in them in a hip, low-fi, DC-area restaurant.
Birch & Barley is located on 14th Street near Logan Circle–a great location for starting the night–and it was the #1 restaurant (in my price range) that I wanted to check out while in DC for AWP. (Just to get it out of the way–I hated AWP per usual, I mean, who loves hanging out with several thousand of your direct competition? It’s one of the saddest spectacles ever. Didn’t get any better with age for me. Oh well, was worth a 2nd try, but not a 3rd anytime soon for sure.) Interestingly enough, two of our friends from Roanoke were heading towards Birch & Barley for the evening, so we decided to catch up with them and share a brew or two before eating. While Birch & Barley is a reservation-only type affair–more restaurant than bar–directly above the restaurant and owned by the same group is ChurchKey. So while G & I waited for our reservation, we shared a drink with our friends at ChurchKey–an Ayinger Brau Weisse for me, Two Gypsies: Our Side (a hybrid brew combining Stillwater’s Stateside Saison with Mikkeller’s Stateside IPA). ChurcKey as a bar is a fantastic place–dark wood, long bar, a few tables scattered around–but it was a little too hopping for me. Standing room only while wearing heels does not make for a good time, so needless to say, I was thrilled when were seated at Birch & Barley’s bar downstairs for our meal.
Birch & Barley is a long, narrow-ish space filled with plenty of birch, white space, and candles in contrast to wood floors and the occasional wall. Warm, inviting, and thoroughly comfortable, I couldn’t be happier with the space. Plus the bar, where we were seated, is just gorgeous (the taps run from ChurchKey down to Birch & Barley, but aren’t visibly labeled for the diners to see, leaving a simple network of copper pipes and handles as the backdrop for the meal). Comfortable too, which is a plus, since I prefer eating at bars opposed to tables. G & I started with drinks, of course, and I began the meal with a 4 oz taster of Pepe Nero from Goose Island Brewery in Illinois. It’s a nice balanced Saison–a little funky, rich, and dark with notes of rye and peppercorns. Later on in the evening I switched to a 4 oz of Midnight Sun frm Williams Brothers Brewing Company in Scotland. A brown porter brewed with ginger root, I found it to mesh perfectly with the later courses of the meal, the ginger adding a nice pep to the dark, silky brew.
We started with the butcher board which held a host of in-house cured meats and pickles: intestine, chicken liver mousse, sopressata, pâté de campagne, bresaola, mustard, and gherkins pickled in jalapeno juice (I’m guessing on the pickle, I forgot to clarify it with our bartender). It was really a toss-up for me on my favorites, but the chicken liver mousse, intestine, and pâté de campagne were my favorites. The sopressata and bresaola were delicious as well (word on the street is that one of Birch & Barley’s signature Sunday Brunch Bloody Marys is served with the bresaola as a drink snack), but didn’t shine as much as the others. (Just as a note, the sopressata comes from Arlington and is the one item not cured/produced in-house). The chicken liver mousse was cream as all get out and something I want to eat every morning smeared on toast. The intestine and pâté de campagne were perfect with a smidge of mustard on bread, and I felt like the integrity of the ingredients was really highlighted in their production. I’m a charcuterie whore and this board lived up to my expectations for sure.
An unexpected highlight was served while we were still snacking on charcuterie: a bread board. Points for any restaurant that servers more than just a slap or two of baguette. The bread board featured in-house pretzel rolls, foccacia, and rosemary rolls (I think…I never actually ate any of the roll, was too stuffed on everything else). Another in-house mustard was served with the board, as well as butter, and that mustard (balsamic-based, I believe) was delish with the pretzel roll. The foccacia paired nicely with the chicken liver mousse too.
Next came a side order of maple glazed roasted brussels sprouts–and what a side order it was! One of my wow-I-didn’t-expect-this experiences at Birch & Barley was the portion size of everything: G & I ordered the butcher board, one side, and one appetizer-sized plate of food. We had more than we could eat. Holy wow. Anyways, back to the brussels–as much as I’m a charcuterie whore, I’m a brussels sprouts whore, and so is G. It’s not like I haven’t roasted brussels sprouts in maple syrup before, it’s my standard trick, but these was delicious and perfect and crispy and sweet and everything I want from a brussels sprout I myself don’t have to make. Sometimes comforting, familiar food is all I want when I go out to eat. These vegetables hit the spot.
And for the main course? How about an appetizer-sized portion of their Ricotta Cavatelli? Yes please! The Ricotta Cavatelli was served with roasted pork, broccoli rabe, pine nuts, and aged provolone and was absolutely divine. The cavatelli was a great al dente with an excellent chew, smooth and creamy in its ricotta-ness, and the shredded roasted pork, broccoli, rabe, and pine nuts gave an excellent texture profile which toed the line between smooth and rich and sharp and crunch. We fought over that last piece of pasta.
All in all, an excellent, flawless meal at Birch & Barley. G & I were blown away by how full we were, and how excellently priced everything is. Granted, we never eat like a traditional American couple (whatever that means). We split everything and tend to order smaller plates, but the amount of food between the butcher & bread boards, the brussels sprouts, and the appetizer-sized pasta was phenomenal. We seriously couldn’t eat it all. Walking away with a $55 bill including drinks (the 4 oz taster pours are perfect if you’re looking for a good sample of hard-to-find beers) was something I wasn’t expecting, but something that definitely made my night. Our service was impeccable, our bartender knowledgeable, our brief chat with the manager friendly and positive, and the food and ambiance exactly what I was looking for. Next time I’m in DC, I’m definitely heading back to Birch & Barley.
Birch & Barley
Logan Circle at
1337 14th St. NW Washington D.C. 20005
Tue-Thu 5:30 pm – 10 pm
Fri-Sat 5:30 pm – 11 pm
Sun 11 am – 8 pm