An Early Look at Birch & Barley and ChurchKey

By: Eliot Stein

>> Check out more photos of the Birch & Barley and ChurchKey space in our photo slideshow 

Greg Engert leans across the table, using both hands to explain why Pilsners and lagers are meant to be served colder than barleys and stouts. His eyes widen as he talks about how he analyzes a beer’s crispness and aromatic content to determine the “purest representation of the brewer’s intention.” He interrupts his draft discourse to shout numbers up to several movers hauling kegs into what look like three oversize bank safes. “No one in the country has ever done this before,” he says.

Introducing Birch & Barley, a seasonally driven American dining room, and above it ChurchKey, a grazing-friendly upstairs bar/lounge. After a year-and-a-half delay, both beer-centric spots opened yesterday in the old Dakota Cowgirl/Ramrod space near DC’s Logan Circle. Though visitors first step into Birch & Barley’s slick dining room downstairs, the building’s focal point is found up the steps, where beer director Engert, who oversees the suds at the beer-obsessed Rustico in Alexandria, has stocked 555 beers from 30 countries. The bar offers 50 artisanal drafts and five hand-pumped, cask-conditioned beers. Beer geeks will admire the three temperature-controlled vaults—which rang in at $100,000—nestled overhead. Inside them, kegs cool at their optimal temperatures according to each brewer’s specifications. A roster of old-school cocktails—Aperol spritzes, Moscow mules—is available for those not in the mood for a pint.

This split-level venture is the first foray into DC by the Virginia-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which owns seven Northern Virginia restaurants, including Tallula/EatBar, Vermilion, and Rustico. The owners have charged executive chef Kyle Bailey and pastry chef (and wife) Tiffany MacIsaac—both formerly of New York’s Allen & Delancey—with creating the menus for the two concepts.

Upstairs at ChurchKey, gold-and-orange embroidered booths sit opposite worn leather barstools. Oversize cast-iron church lights hover from the soaring ceiling, and a 70-foot bar lined with printed church keys runs the length of the space. The vibe is relaxed but regal. The bar snacks have a similar theme: BLTs come stacked with quail eggs, tater tots are stuffed with foie gras, and the grilled cheese sandwich is topped with truffles. The menu is divided into "plates to share" (deviled duck eggs; spiced nuts), "poppers" (sweetbread poppers; arancini), "salads/sandwiches," and "flatbreads."

Downstairs at Birch & Barley, dangling lights drip down like teardrops, stiff tablecloths hold flickering candles, and a series of metal pipes from the 50 kegs upstairs resemble a grand beer organ in a cathedral of drink. Bailey says his menu is styled after the “urban American melting pot.” To that end, there’s char tartare with yuzu, ginger, and sesame chips; charred octopus with eggplant and capers; and risotto with beets and whipped goat cheese. The dessert menu features upscale comfort food such as a peanut-butter/chocolate tart with a whiskey/vanilla shake, and MacIsaac’s riffs on oatmeal-cream pie and the Hostess cupcake.

Despite being handed free rein in the kitchen, Bailey admits that his menus are designed to attract the thirsty city dwellers who’ll ultimately decide the fate of the two new spots.

“Most of the menu items for both places came together by tasting the beers and thinking of dishes that would suit them,” he says. “But when you have 555 beers, there’s not much you can create that isn’t beer-friendly.”

Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, 1337 14th St., NW; 202-567-2576, birchandbarley.com and churchkeydc.com. Birch & Barley is open Monday through Friday for lunch, Sunday through Thursday for dinner, and Saturday and Sunday for brunch (starting in November). ChurchKey is open Monday through Thursday 4 PM to 1 AM, Friday 4 PM to 2 AM, Saturday noon to 2 AM, and Sunday noon to 1 AM.

 

Birch & Barley Menu

Starters
Charred octopus (warm fingerling salad, picked eggplant, capers) $11
Arctic char tartare (yuzu gelee, ginger, basil, sesame crisp) $12
Seared foie gras (quince, pickled apples, pepper brioche) $19
Crispy polenta (mushroom ragu, artichoke hearts, taleggio fonduta) $9
Seared sea scallops (Israeli couscous, cauliflower, lemon confit) $11
Shaved fennel and apple (arugula, violet mustard, marcona almonds) $8

Pasta & Flatbreads
Vialone Nano risotto (roasted beets, wilted greens, goat cheese) $10/$15
Tagliatelle (braised rabbit, Thumbelina carrots, housemade ricotta) $13/$19
Veal-neck sausage (roasted mushrooms, pecorino flatbread) $14
Port-glazed figs (gorgonzola cremificato, prosciutto flatbread) $13

Entreés
B&B burger (prosciutto, stout cheddar, fries) $14
Crispy wild striped bass (baby fennel, artichoke, sunchoke, olive) $24
Pistachio-crusted cod (green beans, pancetta, preserved lemon) $25
Braised pork cheeks (stoneground white grits, parsnip, pearl onions) $21
Honey-glazed duck breast (leg confit, wild rice, dates, radishes) $24
Dry-aged beef rib eye (balsamic braised cabbage, potato pureé, cippolini) $30

Sides
Maple-glazed brussel sprouts $7
Carrots (blood orange, golden raisins) $6
Beet salad (citrus vinaigrette, walnuts) $5
Creamed leeks $7

Birch & Barley Desserts


Figgy toffee pudding cake, poached Seckle pear, sour-cream ice cream
Warm chocolate/peanut-butter tart, whole-milk sorbet, whiskey/vanilla shake
Sweet-cream French toast, oatmeal ice cream, caramelized banana, bacon caramel
Vermont maple mousse, popped cranberries, pumpkin ice cream
Honeycrisp-apple beignet, cinnamon chantilly, mulled-cider sorbet

Cookies and Confections

Oatmeal cream pie
Pudding pop
Molasses cookie
Chestnut-honey caramel
Fig Newton
Hostess cupcake

Selection of Sorbets

Buttermilk
Concord grape
Passion-yogurt
Cranberry
Ginger

ChurchKey Menu


Plates to Share
Roasted potato poutine (local cheddar curds, sausage gravy) $11
Spiced bar nuts (peanuts, macadamias, almonds, cashews) $8
Green eggs & ham (deviled duck eggs, duck pancetta) $3
Charcuterie and pâte plate Price TBD
French fries $4

Poppers
Foie tots (violet mustard, mache salad) $10
Tater tots $5
Mac and cheese sticks (garlic bread crumbs, tomato relish) $8
Arancini Caprese $3
Sweetbread poppers (chipotle-bbq sauce) $9

Salads and Sandwiches
Mesclun greens (cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette) $4
Shaved fennel and apple (arugula, violet mustard, almonds) $8
B&B burger and fries (prosciutto, stout cheddar) $14
Marinated shrimp panino (housemade chorizo, manchego aioli) $12
Truffled grilled cheese panino (with tomato soup dip) $7
Market vegetable panino (local goat cheese, beets, greens) $8

Flatbreads
Figs and prosciutto (gorgonzola, port) $13
Grafton cheddar and broccoli (cauliflower, pinenuts) $11
Pulled pork (peppadew, emmenthaler) $14
Quail egg BLT $15
Ricotta, fontina and taleggio (garlic, basil) $12
Gluten-free (choose from any of the above) +$2

Cocktails for Birch & Barley and ChurchKey

Aperol spritz (Aperol aperitif, Prosecco, club soda)
Negroni cocktail (Plymouth or No. 209 gin, Campari, Punt e Mes vermouth)
Brown Derby (Bourbon, fresh grapefruit juice, honey syrup)
The Leap Year (Plymouth gin, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, lemon juice)
Moscow mule (vodka, lime juice, ginger beer, angostura bitters)
Blood and Sand (blended Scotch whiskey, Cherry Herring, sweet vermouth, fresh orange juice)
The Sidecar (Cognac, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice)
El Floridita No. 1 (Bacardi, maraschino liqueur, fresh lime juice, simple syrup)
The Ward Eight (rye whiskey, fresh orange and lemon juices)
The Chimayo (tequila, unfiltered apple cider, Clear Creek crème de cassis, fresh lemon juice)

Follow the Best Bites Bloggers on Twitter at twitter.com/bestbitesblog 

 
More>> Best Bites Blog | Food & Dining | Restaurant Finder