Since opening in 2009, Bucktown / Wicker Park’s Birchwood Kitchen has become a very popular neighborhood brunch staple thanks to their use of fresh, local ingredients and comforting take on American cuisine. Towards the end of the last year, Birchwood made the transition from counter to table service and expanded their dinner hours giving them the opportunity to expand their repertoire and better connect with their customers.
Located at 2211 W. North Avenue in the Wicker Park neighborhood, Birchwood Kitchen is a short walk and set apart from the “six corners.” It’s easily accessible via the Damen Blue Line or Milwaukee, Damen, and North Avenue buses, and there’s plenty to do in the area once you’re done.
While it is a table service restaurant now, walking into Birchwood Kitchen still gives the feeling of a casual, but quite nice, neighborhood café or deli thanks to details like the trendy, modern art (that’s for sale) on the walls and the big jars above the counter filled with gigantic cookies. The rich, dark woods combined with the contrasting exposed brick and white walls give the restaurant a homey, warm feeling. Birchwood would be a perfect place for a chill date or meeting up with friends.
Dining on a Friday night at 7:00 p.m. the restaurant was fairly full, though still easy enough to get a table. The noise level was fairly low, so it’s easy to hold a conversation. I’m told that the weekend brunch rush from around 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. gets pretty crazy. When the weather is nicer, Birchwood has what looks to be a very nice garden patio that should effectively double their seating capacity.
A hostess at the front immediately seated me after entering in a cozy spot by the window. Both my waitress and the front house manager stopped by throughout the night to answer questions about the menu and food preparation—I learned how a lovely woman named Joan makes the incredible carrot cake—and see how everything was. They were extremely attentive to the point where it seemed like after every sip of water I took, there was someone there to refill my glass. The staff was constantly on the move from the open kitchen over to the tables.
Just a heads up, the Birchwood Kitchen follows in the longstanding Chicago tradition of BYOB. They do have a wide selection of beverages for anyone not interested in booze, but the staff is also happy to point you in the direction of the nearest liquor store.
What really stands out about Birchwood Kitchen is the freshness of the food. The restaurant regularly updates their menu with the seasons and prepares everything in house using locally-sourced ingredients. All of the portions are quite substantial and menu items surprisingly affordable for the area.
I started the evening with the Brie starter. Served with crisp baguette slices, the brie was paired with an apple chutney spread. The sweetness of the apple paired very well with the creaminess of the brie, while there was a little bit of a kick to round out the taste. The presentation was simple and clean, and the size was just right for two people to begin the meal.
Sherry and Mustard Braised Chicken Things
For my entrée, I chose the sherry and mustard braised chicken things that featured mushrooms, spaetzle, and crunchy kale. The chicken was absurdly tender and all things wonderful. Upon first taste, the chicken thigh dish gave me a slight nostalgic reminder of chicken soup, but updated for an adult palette.
With a lot of flavors competing for attention, what stood out the most for me was the crispy kale, which packed some serious spice. When combined with the tender chicken thigh, it seemed like a healthy version of fried chicken.
Smoked Salmon Salad
My dinner companion ordered the smoked salmon salad, which was massively piled high on top of a bagel next to another side salad of arugula. Seriously, the portions here are tremendous. I was content with my chicken, but I’m told the smoked salmon salad was very fresh tasting with a great dressing.
Ever since I walked in, I’d been eyeing the giant cookies in jars on top of the counter. The plate-sized chocolate chip cookie was perfectly soft without tasting undercooked. It’s a good thing I don’t live closer or I wouldn’t be stopping by everyday for a cookie.
I also tried the homemade carrot cake. Generally I’m not a fan of carrot cake; however, I could get used to eating this. It was very moist with excellent frosting and a “secret” ingredient: pineapple. Like the entrees, both desserts were low cost and well worth the cost.
There is absolutely no shortage of restaurants to try in the Wicker Park area with new, trendy places opening every week. Birchwood Kitchen comes across as relaxing place where you could go regularly for dinner and get great, unique food options without having to spend an arm and a leg or wait for hours. I’m very much looking forward to visiting in the summer when the patio is open and coming back for their brunch.
2211 W North Ave, Chicago, IL
773 276 – 2100
(Cover photo courtesy of Birchwood Kitchen.)
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