FOOD: Chicago’s Birchwood Kitchen

Ever had a picnic indoors? You know, the quintessential layout with fresh fruit, a baguette, some delicious cheese, a bottle of wine, but under a roof? It is technically winter in Chicago, so you won’t find this lovely layout at some park, but why let that stop you? This is why I love food. Envision a full spread to pick and choose as you go, all the while people watching and chatting your fellow food cohorts on the finer points. I know a place that adheres to this aesthetic, a picnic dressed up as a counter service BYOB in Wicker Park, Chicago, IL. This place is called Birchwood Kitchen, and its a game changer.

New on their Winter Menu are “starters”, or also commonly referred to as “small plates” in this current dining age. Everything from a plate of house pickles and ricotta toasts to a chile roasted butternut squash turnover with queso fresco. They come plated with a petit salad or crostini, and make for different approach to how you start off lunch or dinner. However, hands down one of the best bites in house has to be the salmon rillette. Take crispy bread, spread the buttery poached salmon, top it with dill marinated beets, add a couple capers, then pop it in your mouth. Bright, savory, and crisp all in one bite makes you go back for another instantly. And all for $7, its ideal for hungry groups to share (get 2?) or for single indulgence, no one will judge you here.

Rounding out the first half of the menu are thoughtfully crafted salads that lend well to eating healthier, yet deliciously. The Cauliflower salad has been caramelized in a pan with a panchetta dressing and raisins, the straight definition of wide ranging flavors. You get salty with the cured ham, savory with the cabbage variety, and sweet with the raisins that plump up in the pan, soaking up the dressing. Tossed with spinach and topped with breadcrumb, forkfuls of this salad happen fast, so dig in.

With all that said, this is still the spot for essential sandwiches. Among the favorites at Birchwood Kitchen is the pot roast. It was on the menu from the year before and has been heavily praised for its return, so get one of these while you can. Start with beef, braised over night in red wine, onion, carrot, fennel, and thyme, the end result culminating in scents reminding me of a French restaurant, and tasting ridiculous. Its all served up on a crusty baguette that has a dutiful smear of cheddar-thyme spread, truly delicious and exactly what one needs in January.

Not feeling beef? No worries, the Chickpea has you covered. What resembles hummus, based more on flavor than texture, this sandwich has Mediterranean and Middle Eastern notes accompanied by fresh vegetables and pillow like bread. The garbanzo bean gets its just due by being marinated with lemons, garlic, herbs, and spices, then chopped up and made into a chunky spread. It’s applied to fresh multi-grain bread with garlic marinated shaved carrot, roasted piquillo peppers, preserved lemon, and fresh greens. Incredibly light and fresh, yet substantial enough to get you through until dinner time, the Chickpea is another throw back to a previous menu, so its return has been a welcome sight.

Brunch, the mainstay attraction, will forever be banging at this place. And the new additions to their seasonal menu hold true to their already tried and true offerings. Top on the list to get this time around are the Chilaquiles. Almost pie like, the mellow salsa soaked tortillas lend perfectly to two sunny style eggs with a diligent topping of queso fresco. Exactly what one wants after a night out in Chicago. Traditional menu items include the Croque Madame, an ode to French flavors with its dijon, gruyere, and country ham interplay, literally sandwiched between sourdough and topped with sunny eggs.

Birchwood Kitchen, in so many words, is that picnic on a sunny summer day. Perfect fare at reasonable prices (everything hovers around $10), honest in its preparation, and delicious on its delivery. Open every day but Monday, they also serve burgers up at night and are only now rounding into form. They serve Metropolis coffee, use Slagel Family Farm pork products, Jo Snow syrups and Co-op hot sauce, all lovingly made locally. This place has a wintertime stride, unbroken, so look for more innovation from the BK team in the near future. In the meantime, since it is winter and picnics are sort of out of the question (although it’s 50 degrees as I write this) park yourself at one of their tables with a window view, it’s just as good.

Birchwood Kitchen
2211 W North Avenue
Chicago, IL, 60647