They Had Us At “Birch & Barley” (Brunch in Washington DC)

September 2012

This Labor Day weekend I attended a very special wedding in Chantilly, VA. Where is Chantilly, Va? For the purpose of a Sunday morning, Chantilly is precisely “close enough” to Washington DC to justify a jaunt for brunch . A quick investigation of the DC brunch scene revealed a restaurant entitled “Birch & Barley.” As two rustically-inclined, event designers, they had us at “Birch!”

One of Birch & Barley‘s biggest claims to fame is its collection of 555 artisanal beers, of which I drank not a drop. Brunch, I repeat, I was there for brunch (I’m also such a baby when it comes to beer, but that is beside the point at 11am). The display of beers on tap dazzled me nonetheless.

Though I did not spy any birch, I immediately embraced the interior scheme of rustic brick and glass candleholders wired to the wall and columns. The menu was also a thing of beauty- thick, watercolor paper with letterpress inspired fonts and “painted” dabs demonstrating the farm-fresh egg varieties.

Warm Brioche Sticky Bun
Brown Sugar Caramel, Pecans, Cream Cheese

I’m a big fan of ordering a cinnamon roll for the table (exhibit A), and the use of brioche dough in this sweet bun added all the extra allure I needed to choose between this and the donut varieties (Toffee-Bacon, Lemon-Poppy Glazed, Bittersweet Chocolate to name just a few examples). The roll was fresh and warm, and the dough was light and squishy. The only complaint was the uneven distribution of cream cheese, which appeared in a little burst.

Note: The half & half arrived in a metal version of a [miniature] carton of milk. As the waiter said, “we really try with the details.” I applauded!

Duck Confit Quiche
Caramelized Onions, Frisee Aux Lardons, Fried Shallots

A little heavy on the duck and light on the quiche, but still a passing entree. The hash browns arrived in a Jenga-like stack of fresh herbs in a crisp, fried case. One major oversight of our waiter was a failure to tell us the entree included hash browns, since we ordered a side of them. Apparently, he took us for ravenous and gluttonous (which fair enough because we did order way too much food, including a serving of the house-smoked bacon…house-smoked!!!).

Fried Chicken & Waffles
Belgian Waffle, Buttered Pecans, Maple-Chicken Jus

We went overboard, but when we saw chicken and waffles…we just had to! I would have liked an ample supply of maple syrup to push the sweet and savory juxtaposition, but alas, it was a drier serving. Pittsburghers will be happy to note, we both enjoyed this version, but in our hearts, we knew we would have preferred the cheddar, jalapeño, cornbread waffle with bourbon-bacon maple syrup from … you guessed it… Meat and Potatoes.

Sometimes you just need a little excursion to make you appreciate the places nearer to home. That being said, the overall Birch & Barley design, the food and the wanderings outside the restaurant door made the trip well worth our while. I would sincerely love to return with a hearty beer drinker and a healthy appetite for a really great cocktail!

Leave a Reply