Anyone who keeps close tabs on this blog knows I’m a 14th Street resident and absolutely love my neighborhood. (Hello, stalkers! Please don’t kill me in my sleep.) I’m still fighting—without success—for the title of Foursquare Mayor of P Street’s Whole Foods and Churchkey, around the corner. Whoever holds the Churchkey title must drink a lot of beer. I digress.
I love Churchkey for its hundreds of delicious brews, great pub food and gourmet house-made desserts. Its downstairs neighbor, the restaurant companion to the bar, Birch & Barley, serves up a much-talked-about brunch and was named one of the best restaurants in the mid-Atlantic.
We reviewed Birch & Barley’s brunch in the summer of 2010—back in the younger days of both the restaurant and the Bitches. We gave brunch a well-deserved A+ and labeled it as one of our “Best Overall” brunches for the year. But, we’d since heard rumblings from our readers about it going downhill.
With three-week reservation waits and lines outside that are hours long, had Birch & Barley gotten too big for its britches? Could the restaurant live up to my more advanced tastes and palate? After all, I’ve reviewed more than 100 brunches since then!
As always, the downstairs host was rude. I called (from bed) to ask an estimated wait time, he couldn’t provide so much as a ballpark. Then, when I arrived this male prima donna was no more kind, accommodating or friendly. Dude, lose the ‘tude, you’re a hostess. (Yeah, I said it.)
I waited upstairs in Churchkey with coffee, water and French fries—essential post-Gold Cup and Ball on the Mall hangover cures. The fries are delicious, the coffee piping hot and the Churchkey service excellent.
When we were seated downstairs, our waitress was kind, accommodating and patient as our group was more of, as they say, a “drinking party with a brunch problem” that grew in size from five to eight people. She kept our cocktails a-comin’ and started us off with complimentary pastries from the “sweets” menu.
Birch & Barley excels at alcohol and carbohydrates—don’t go if you expect to be healthy. The house-made pastries are heavenly. First up, the carrot-zucchini muffin—a healthy, moist and delicious dish that even veggie haters will enjoy. Then, the pear and blue cheese scone, a savory item for the palate that we all really enjoyed.
Of course, the best pastry is the warm brioche sticky buns, made with brown sugar caramel, pecans and cream cheese. These are absolutely to die for and alone worth the trip.
Allison and I opted for the Boozy Brunch special, which provides donut holes, two brunch cocktails, a brunch entrée and bottomless coffee and iced tea for $30. It’s a great deal—one they’ve had since the beginning—and the cocktails are strong enough that you don’t need more. If you do, they allow you to add on more cocktails to the special for a mere $2—a trick that isn’t listed on the menu.
We were fully stuffed on the complimentary carbs when they brought out the doughnut holes—another menu item that has not, and should not, change. The doughnut holes (also offered as full doughnuts but not as part of the boozy brunch) come in three flavors: toffee bacon, lemon-poppy glazed and bittersweet chocolate. The toffee bacon was a fan fave. I die for the lemon-poppy confection. The bittersweet chocolate is so much more decadent than your typical chocolate doughnut.
For cocktails, I chose the cava mimosa, made with fresh orange juice. The mimosa was good—but definitely not the best or most flavorful I’ve ever had. Allison opted for two rounds of the brunch punch, made with cherry Bourbon, St. Germain, lemon, jasmine tea, grapefruit and peach bitters. It was heavenly—an excellent brunch cocktail, if we do say so.
As I’ve eaten both the whiskey French toast and egg sandwich at Birch & Barley—and neither menu item has changed—I chose the wild mushroom omelet, without the veal neck sausage. It was made with delicious wild mushrooms and fontina cheese. It came served with a fresh simple side salad and polenta hash, which were delicious. The omelet was well-prepared and fresh, but lacked both flavor and sufficient mushrooms. I kept opening up and digging to find the cheese and mushrooms. Kind of a bummer.
As for the other dishes that day, Allison selected the fig and prosciutto flatbread, a popular menu item at all hours at the restaurant. You can’t go wrong with this dish and she certainly enjoyed it. The rest of the gang opted to booze, rather than brunch—so there wasn’t much more in the way of entrees.
That said, another Bitch at the brunch, Alex, is allergic to gluten so the restaurant whipped up a delicious gluten-free pasta, filled with veggies and in a cream sauce, just for her.
The Bitches say: A. Though we don’t think the excessive hype is necessary, Birch & Barley still serves a high-quality, gourmet brunch. We’ve had better, and the hostess should get off his high horse; hence the drop from an A+ to an A, but it’s still pretty damn delicious.
Birch and Barley
1337 14th Street N.W.
Birch and Barley is open for brunch on Sundays.