Do you remember the first time you saved up for a really good meal? When you scrimped to score that Valentine’s Day reservation or hustled for a killer birthday dinner? One of my first, big ticket adult meals was at Birch & Barley. I was in college, I had a part time position that barely did the job of covering my expenses and I had a taste for beers I couldn’t afford. When I wasn’t drinking Kirkland brand beer (which at the time was cheaper than PBR, Natty Boh, almost anything you could get) I was at the local liquor store scrounging for single bottle deals and relying on friends who still had allowances.
I spent days before the reservation reading reviews (published reviews, Yelp reviews, anything I could get my hands on) and pouring over the menu. I was excited about the beer, I was excited about chef Kyle Bailey’s meat heavy menu (in the words of a friend’s mom, it was the times) and I was excited to be treated like an adult in an adult restaurant for one very adult night.
Birch & Barley has changed in the six years since I’ve first dined there. Like the the city around it, the restaurant has become friendlier to people with different diets and has expanded its palette, offering food inspired by other cuisines and cultures. The beer list is still overwhelmingly excellent, but with the help of chef Jarrad Silver, the still mostly new American menu has kept up with the times. New restaurants may thrive and die in the city, but classics like Birch & Barley aren’t just here to stay, they’re here to grow with you.
And that growth makes Birch & Barley a place to revisit. If you’re simply stopping by for some beer and snacks on the patio (because finding space at Churchkey feels consistently impossible), shaved Brussels sprouts should be at the top of your list. Garnished with bright yellow kumquat slivers and dressed with green goddess, it’s the exact opposite of every trendy bacon and soy sauce glazed Brussels sprouts dish in D.C., but just as addictive.
In fact, Chef Silver’s vegetarian options continue to stand out from the rest of the menu. The fricasse of wild mushrooms is substantial with its meaty hunks of portobello and the charred sweet potatoes pack enough flavor to sway even my sweet potatoes hating heart (the fact that they’re pistachio encrusted probably doesn’t hurt). Even the alligator pepper and parmesan laced bucatini is so decadent it will make your head spin.
On the meatier side of the menu, I’m still dreaming about the Rohan duck breast. Its combination of succulent duck slices, crunchy confit duck fritters, hummus and marcona almonds is delightful to say the least. It’s the grown up drunk food I’ve been searching for, but if you’re looking for something a bit classier, the scallops pair surprisingly well with a Belgian blond ale.
Looking for a way to end a hearty meal of brews and bites? Skip dessert (nothing here is as strong as the rest of the menu) and dive into a glass of roasty stout goodness. I went with Prairie’s Oh! Fudge, which is made with actual brownies, although I was too interested in imbibing to remember how the brownies are involved. The one thing that hasn’t changed at Birch & Barley is that you can’t go wrong with anything they serve in a glass.