Birch & Barley and its upstairs beer-centric bar, Churchkey, opened near Logan Circle just last fall but it's not uncommon to see a crowd waiting outside on 14th Street for a table. As soon as they sit down they'll be welcomed with pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac's stellar bread board (and will hopefully end the meal with at least one of her oatmeal cookies).
MacIsaac's husband, Kyle Bailey, runs the savory side of the kitchen at Birch & Barley and Churchkey. The duo came to Washington from Allen & Delancey in New York. They also worked together at Cru and separately at Union Square Cafe and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Washington D.C. is lucky to have them, and they tell me they're loving their new spot.
The third member of the Birch & Barley team is beer guru Greg Engert, who I had the pleasure of chatting with several times when I lived in D.C. and he was beer-directing at other restaurants like Rustico in Alexandria, Virginia. His passion for beer is infectious, and he knows more about it than anyone I've ever met. ChurchKey has a serious beer selection: 50 on draft, the largest selection in D.C.
The dinner at Birch & Barley starts with a gratis bread board (it's $5.50 upstairs at Churchkey). MacIsaac changes up the breads often "but never the pretzels," she promises—and that's a good thing. The fat little guys are dark and caramelized on the outside, soft and yeasty within, and perfectly sprinkled with coarse salt. In keeping with the restaurant's beer bent, the dough is made with beer, and so's the wonderful whole-grain mustard alongside.
Currently joining the pretzels on the bread board are addictive Kalamata olive rolls (usually a mainstay) and slices of cinnamon loaf, not too sweet and studded with golden raisins (recently rotated in). Since all breads are made in-house, I'm eager to try the paninis and flatbreads on Churchkey's fun bar menu.
MacIsaac, who's from Hawaii, says she's partial to tropical flavors come dessert time. Her Meyer lemon meringue pie ($9.50), with crust made from house-made graham crackers and a picture-perfect swirl of torched meringue on top, is silky and tart and somehow still tastes appropriately wintry. I could have polished off a pint of the accompanying exotic spice sorbet, a fruity concoction that hits you with some heat at the finish.
Next, a couple of sweets to sample from Birch & Barley's cookie plate ($8.50). The homey baked goods also come in bigger versions at Churchkey ($3 apiece). "Hostess" cupcakes even have the signature white icing design, but the rich-yet-light chocolate cake and its cream center put the original lunchbox favorite to shame. Oatmeal cream pie involves vanilla cream cheese sandwiched between the most delicious little oatmeal cookies ever. So good, the miniature just wasn't enough—you'll want a few.
We have yet to try the rest of the menu at Birch & Barley but liked what we've sampled so far. Have you been?
Birch & Barley and Churchkey
1337 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005 (map); 202-567-2576