Monday, February 2, 2009

Birchwood Cafe

Visited on Saturday, January 24th with Scott and Christie

Birchwood Cafe

Erin's Review
While we've gone out with Scott a few times for the blog, Christie was usually not able to come because of her crazy schedule. We finally found a time that would work for everyone and emailed them with a few options for dinner. The pickings are getting a little slim for the low key, casual, affordable restaurants that aren't too far away!

I had mostly heard of Birchwood Cafe as a breakfast place, but I saw that had a fairly decent dinner menu and they served beer and wine. I was glad Scott and Christie chose this place - it was my top pick of the ones we sent them. Birchwood has a focus on organic and sustainable ingredients, which is pretty obvious by looking at their menu.

Inside of Birchwood Cafe

When we got there, I immediately noticed the chocolate banana cream pie in the dessert case and made a note to return to get that after dinner was over. I convinced Ben to go with the Pizza night deal (2 pizzas and a pitcher of beer or bottle of wine for $30), and I got the veggie and he got the meatie. Both have since changed on the online menu, but I happened to take the description from the menu right after we went to caption my photo on flickr - lucky for me since there is no way I would have remembered anything other than black bean puree and cheese.

After ordering, we got one number for our table and sat down to enjoy our beers. Ben and Scott had the pitcher of Surly that came with our pizza night deal, and Christie and I both had Fat Tires. The pizza night would actually be a better deal with the wine because the bottles of house wine are $20 and pitchers of beer are $16.

Scott and Christie got their meals fairly quickly, but as Ben mentions below, ours took a lot longer, despite the server telling us that it would just be a minute. Even though we told Scott and Christie to go ahead and eat, it is annoying to be served at vastly different intervals from your dining companions because someone will be done way earlier than the others. I saw our pizzas sitting out and there were 2 people behind the counter that seemed to look at the ticket and not bring them to us (we were sitting right outside of the counter area). Finally, after at least 10 minutes, our pizzas came out. It wasn't a huge deal, but it seems that at places like this where you order and pay first, no one feels any sense of responsibility for your service.

Cauliflower Risotto Cakes
Christie's Cauliflower Risotto Cakes

Pork and Winter Vegetable Quesadilla
Scott's Pork and Winter Vegetable Quesadilla

Luckily, our pizzas were great so it made up for the wait. I loved my veggie - as I mentioned, it had a black bean puree, roasted corn and red peppers, and was topped with mozzarella and some guacamole. While they have since changed their veggie pizza offering, if this one ever pops up again, I'd highly recommend it!

Veggie Pizza

After finishing the meal, Scott and I headed back up to the counter to get dessert. I noticed the sign for the banana cream pie had been removed, but there were still a few pieces. The person behind the counter informed me that it was now coconut cream instead - still sounded ok to me (although not nearly as good as banana cream). Scott got Key Lime Pie. I tried a bite and it was perfectly tart and creamy. My pie was pretty good, but I really had my heart set on banana so I was a little disappointed. Oh well, I'll get over it.

Coconut Cream Pie

Despite the service mishap, I really want to go back to Birchwood to try their breakfast. I love places like this that are relaxed and affordable, and that also have wonderful food. This place reminded me a lot of Trotters Cafe, but with better decor and ambiance.

Ben's Review
We finally nailed down a night to have dinner with Scott AND his wife Christie after many attempts. We decided on Birchwood Cafe, just north of Lake St. across the river from Saint Paul.

Erin and I arrived at Birchwood and headed inside. I hadn't realized that Birchwood was a place where you order up front and then a server brings your food out when it is ready. I was a little bummed at first, just because I didn't feel like standing in line and making a quick decision, but I got over it, especially after Erin and I ordered a pitcher of Surly Furious. The dining area of Birchwood is not huge and there were only a couple open tables when we arrived. Before ordering Erin and I put our jackets on one of the tables to reserve our spot.

Inside of Birchwood Cafe

Scott and I were splitting the Furious pitcher while Erin and Christie each got a bomber of Fat Tire. Erin and I ordered the special that night of two pizzas and a bottle of wine OR a pitcher of beer for $30. I believe the pitcher of beer alone would normally be $16 so this seemed like a great deal to me.

Inside of Birchwood Cafe

The atmosphere at Birchwood is very casual, there were several children running around while their parents and friends talked and ate. This really is a neighborhood cafe, as it is five blocks north of Lake St., not really where anyone would just pass by, looking for a place to eat. I even thought we were lost on the way there, as it doesn't look like any restaurant would be tucked amongst the houses in the area.

Christie and Scott's food was brought out by a server and he told us that our pizza's would be out in a minute. Erin photographed their food and we waited for our pizza to come. And waited. And then waited some more. Finally a different server noticed our pizzas just sitting under the heat lamps (where Erin had noticed them long ago) and brought them out to us. It was annoying for Scott and Christie to have their food sitting in front of them while we were still waiting for ours. Furthermore, we had paid for the food and left a tip before we received any service. This is kind of crappy because theoretically, no individual server has any reason to try and give you the best service possible. I think in the future at these kinds of places I will not tip on the initial purchase and then leave a tip at the table.

Even though it took awhile, my pizza was still really good. The pizza I got is not on their menu online anymore but it had a combination of some veggies, some meat, and blueberries. The blueberries were a little weird to have on a pizza, but they were good, when I could keep them from rolling off my fork. I ate my whole pizza and some of Erin's (I wasn't really that hungry - it just tasted good).

Meatie Pizza

I think I would go back to Birchwood for breakfast, I get the impression that breakfast is their sweet spot. I had a good time at dinner, but it didn't knock my socks off.
  • Service: I have to say the service was poor because our food sat, waiting to be served, for several minutes while our friends already had their food.
  • Food: My pizza was great and Scott and Christie both enjoyed their food as well.
  • Drinks: Small but satisfactory beer list, something for everyone. They also have several wines. Per their liquor license you need to order food to get served alcohol. I wouldn't come to Birchwood just to drink anyways, it's not that type of place.
  • Ambiance: Very casual and relaxed, you could sit there for hours and use the free wi-fi and I don't think they would care.
  • Price: We got a great deal with our pizza and beer special and the prices otherwise are reasonable for organic and locally grown ingredients.
  • Convenience: Plenty of on street parking as Birchwood is tucked away in a neighborhood.
Birchwood Cafe
3311 East 25th Street