In case you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard about the 14th Street restaurant/bar duo Birch & Barley/Churchkey. Seriously, the buzz around this joint on food blogs and Twitter is nearly impossible to miss. (I mean, chef Kyle Bailey won another award last week.)
For me, Churchkey is just my neighborhood bar. I live a block away (no stalkers, please) and am there so often it’s the closest thing I’ll ever experience to a Cheers. A recent Foursquare convert (I repeat, no stalkers, please), I am determined to oust Churchkey’s current mayor and proclaim my hegemony for all on the Interwebs to see. (Watch out, Steve P., I am coming for you).
Back to the food and drink, I love the beer selection (who doesn’t?). Their upscale bar food—mac-and-cheese sticks, arrancini, flatbreads, tots—is my go-to. Churchkey’s desserts also surprised me, the egg nog sundae—home-made egg nog ice cream, caramel, toffee, home-made gingersnaps and whipped cream—is literally the best dessert I’ve had in years, and, mind you, I eat dessert daily. Furthermore, I didn’t even know I liked egg nog. I loved it so much, I ate it twice in one week in January (no judgment, please).
My neighborhood gang of friends converges regularly at Churchkey, so last Sunday we did so for brunch. While the Bitches have brunched at Birch & Barley downstairs, we’ve never brunched at Churchkey. And, while Churchkey’s brunch was good, it paled in comparison to the brunch downstairs (how I know not) and our other dozens of experiences at our neighborhood pub.
Our waitress, who we’ve had before, was competent, efficient, and attentive. Coffee and water refills came quickly, as did the beers and Bloody Marys.
I opted for the Whiskey French toast, which was pretty much the only veg-friendly option on Churchkey’s smaller brunch menu. (Same kitchen, less options upstairs.) The dish was served with caramelized gala apples, walnuts, marscapone and topped with a whiskey-flavored syrup. Honestly, it was cold and lacked flavor. As far as the accoutrements go, the apples were puny (and cold), there was a dollop of of marscapone on the side, and literally two walnuts. The toast itself was sliced fluffy white bread but it lacked any notable taste—it was sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and assumably cooked in eggs and butter, but I could taste the savors of none.
Beau and I had gone to gone to Churchkey this lovely morning with hopes of ordering the infamous Luther sandwich (he wanted to eat, I wanted him to describe each bite). Sadly, we arrived too late and missed the 50-sandwich quota that morning. I’m not sure who was more devastated—the blogger or the diner.
Instead of Luthers, the gang at the table had plenty of heart-attack inducing cuisine. The first dish was the sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, which I myself had the sausage-free version of at Birch & Barley. It’s served on this amazing creme fraiche biscuit that makes the dish. Beau says: “The sausage egg and cheese sandwich was killer. It was like a morning hamburger, given how huge the sausage patty was. There’s definitely no Jimmy Dean at Churchkey, I would guess that it’s made in-house, or at least purchased through a quality supplier, given how amazing it was.”
There were two plates of Churchkey’s chicken and waffles. Between chews, the boys described the fried chicken as “juicy,” “salty,” and “perfectly cooked.” As for the waffles, beau says: “The waffles were amazing. They had a nice consistency and just the right amount of moistness.”
However, the ladies at the table took a divergent opinion, says Maureen:
“As far as the chicken and waffles go, I liked it but I wasn’t overwhelmed or really impressed. I guess I’d give it a B. It didn’t knock my socks off. The flavor was good, there just wasn’t enough to tie it together—and it definitely needed more syrup.”
Beau’s thoughts on the syrup issue: “When we asked for more syrup, the waitress asked that we first finished the little bit that she brought out. I initially took this to be sort of a rude gesture, but then realized it was because they serve real syrup and not some maple syrup flavor product, and that shit is expensive so it makes sense that they don’t want to bring out a pint to every table.”
As always, the beer selection was great, although beau was bummed they took his fave beer, Brooklyn Lager, off the tap list. However, while the beer was good, the Bloody Marys were good, but not great. They were salty and a little heavy on the horseradish. We give them a B.
The Bitches say: B. While Churchkey is our fave spot for beers, bar food, and even dessert, we’d suggest you opt for Birch & Barley over its upstairs neighbor for brunch. You’ll have to make a reservation, or wait a really long time, but it will be worth it.
1337 14th Street
Washington, D.C. 2005