DC pastry lovers – take note: Birch and Barley isn’t just about the beer.
No, there are equally great things happening in the kitchen under the skilled direction of Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac. A self proclaimed “cookie snob,” MacIsaac most recently worked as the pastry chef at Allen & Delancey in New York City before moving to DC to take the job at Birch and Barley, the newest restaurant from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.
In case you were wondering, MacIsaac prefers her cookies freshly baked and still warm from the oven – when a cookie is in its most Platonic, enjoyable state. In fact, one of her ideas for the newly opened restaurant is to have a “late night cookie bake,” where lingering customers can purchase freshly baked cookies from their waiter.
After all, after a couple beers, who wouldn’t go for a fresh, warm cookie, straight from the oven?
It’s ideas like this – creative spins on classic comfort foods – that should make Birch and Barley patrons as excited about the desserts as they are about the beer. I sat down with MacIssac at Birch and Barley last Saturday, and she impressed me with her creativity, attention to detail, enthusiasm, and, of course, her lovely desserts.
DC’s beer lovers should be pleased that MacIsaac is no beer novice herself; she and her husband Kyle Bailey, Birch and Barley’s Executive Chef, brew their own at home. “I appreciate beer for all its details,” says MacIsaac. “I think it’s so much more interesting than wine. And for the price, you can try so much more of it – it’s a small commitment.”
Her dessert menu for features classic, nostalgic desserts that are updated with thoughtful, elegant touches. Her chocolate peanut butter tart is paired with a whiskey vanilla milkshake, which she thinks will become the restaurant’s signature dessert. Her French toast is deep-fried in clarified butter and served with oatmeal ice cream. Also on the menu are caramelized bananas served with a bacon caramel sauce and a figgy toffee pudding made with black mission figs. And for the kid in you, there’s a cookie plate – complete with a gourmet “Hostess” cupcake filled with white chocolate mousse and a melt-in-your mouth oatmeal cream pie.
Some of the menu items incorporate beer, such as the honey crisp apple beignet, made with apples roasted in hard cider and battered in an oatmeal stout batter. For the table bread service, she makes a pretzel roll that uses porter, giving the bread “a rich golden color and a nice yeasty flavor.” If you need help paring a dessert or any menu item with a beer, never fear – Greg Engert, the NRG beer director, has been intensively training the wait staff on expansive beer menu, so they should be well equipped to offer food pairing suggestions.
MacIsaac also offers a rotating selection of fourteen sorbets, which is one of her favorite menu items (she even thought of opening an ice cream shop before the Birch and Barley opportunity came up). “Everyone at the table has a different favorite,” she says of the sorbet plate, which features five flavors at a time. On the day I visited, I tried concord grape, cranberry, passion fruit yogurt, vanilla buttermilk, and apple cider sorbets. “The vanilla-buttermilk sorbet gets the strongest reaction,” MacIsaac added, which was certainly true in my case. It was light and tangy and refreshing – and definitely my favorite of the bunch.
MacIsaac is committed to making everything in house at Birch and Barley, from the breads to the cookies to each component of her desserts. “I don’t see why a pastry chef should use [pre-packaged] graham cracker crumbs,” MacIsaac says. Right now, Birch and Barley’s bread program is almost entirely in house – the only thing they order out is the Ciabatta for the sandwiches at ChurchKey. And if MacIsaac has her way, soon they won’t even be doing that.
So yes, you can get excited about the beer – about the 50 beers on tap, and hundreds of beers in bottles. But also, get excited about the pastry – like a “Hostess” cupcake that actually tastes like chocolate, delicately flavored passion fruit marshmallows, and the possibility of a “build your own sundae” dessert (another one of MacIsaac’s ideas for the dessert menu). Get very excited.
You really should be.