My wife and I went out to celebrate our anniversary not too long ago, and we decided to check out a restaurant in DC called Birch and Barley for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are affiliated (and co-located) with the Church Key, a top notch beer establishment. When the Church Key first opened a couple years ago, I stopped by to check it out and have a beer with a friend, and I was blown away by the beer selection which includes 50 draught beers and 5 cask conditioned ales. Greg Engert is the beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes Birch and Barley and Church Key, and I think he does a phenomenal job.
Which brings me to reason number two: Rustico – a restaurant that is also part of the same group, which we had the privilege of eating at about a month ago. It was hands-down one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve ever had. The food was great, the beer was outstanding, and the service was top notch. (Next time I go back, I’ll write up a review). So, since I was impressed by Church Key and enthralled by Rustico, I figured Birch and Barley would be a good bet….and I was right.
The restaurant is located on 14th St. in DC near Logan Circle; it’s not super close to any metro stops, so I would recommend hopping a cab if the weather isn’t nice. I made reservations almost a month out, and the time slots had already started to fill up. It’s not a large restaurant – if I had to guess, they only have about 20 tables and a small bar area (the main bar area being upstairs at Church Key). My only complaint from the evening was that something about the acoustics of the dining room made it seem very loud to us. It’s a small enough place that you wouldn’t expect it, but we had a harder time talking that I would have preferred.
While we were looking over the menus, our waiter brought out probably the best bread board I’ve ever had. Ours had three types of bread: a whole-grain variety, rolls (sourdough maybe), and warm pretzel bread. We also started off with some Shrimp and Chorizo Flatbread, which was spicy, warm, and a nice way to whet our appetites.
While my wife and I opted to order from the a la carte menu, the table also has the option of ordering a full dinner offering from the Tasting Menu. It’s a fixed menu going from appetizer to dessert, giving patrons the chance to taste several dishes along the way. For an extra $25, they will also pair beer with each course. Not knowing this option was available, we hadn’t adequately prepared (i.e. we ate lunch), so we just split an appetizer and ordered entrees.
We both wound up ordering the Grilled Wagyu Skirt Steak, and then we split a side of the Truffled Herbed Mac & Cheese. I found the steak to be perfectly cooked (medium) with loads of flavor and juices. The Mac & Cheese was creamy and rich, which paired quite nicely with the steak. This was my first time every having Wagyu steak, but hopefully it won’t be the last.
Throughout the meal, I partook in the small 4oz pours of various beers from the Church Key draught list – they offer larger glasses, but I wanted to try more variety. They beers were extraordinary and included some hard-to-find brews from both local and imported breweries.
For dessert, we decided to split a sampler platter of House-Made Cookies and Confections. On the reservation, I had indicated that it was our anniversary, so our waiter surprised us with an extra dessert and beer pairing. I have to say his choice was better than ours. He brought out a slice of the Maple Mousse which has pumpkin ice cream, glazed cranberries, and pumpkin paper; he paired it perfectly with a Belgian beer, Scaldis Noel. The combination was amazing and even my wife who doesn’t love beer the way I do couldn’t believe how good the two went together.
So, in the end, Birch and Barley lived up to my expectations and has put the Neighborhood Restaurant Group at the top of my list when I want a fantastic meal paired with the remarkable beer. We will definitely jump at the chance to go back to Birch and Barley, Rustico, or Church Key as soon as we can.