The Bird & the Bread
210 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham
Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
“Munch, slurp, crunch and chow.” It’s perhaps not the most urbane way to present your victuals, these categories on Kristin Jonna’s new menu, but she and chef Jim Leonardo are trying for welcoming rather than elegant in their new upscale venue.
Jonna, of the Merchants Fine Wines family, is the owner of Vinotecca in Royal Oak and Vinology in Ann Arbor, wine bars with more limited food offerings. It’s hard to characterize her onomatopoeic menu at Bird & Bread except to say it ranges from paté to sliders, vegan (a little) to big old steak.
The eclectic “Munch” section, equivalent to appetizers, offers Marcona almonds with Manchego, fish and chips, beets with ricotta, fries with caper aioli, brisket sliders, octopus and calamari, and spinach-and-artichoke in phyllo. Most intriguing to me, though, was house-made paté, a pork-duck-chicken-liver terrine. It’s two good-size slices, ground coarse, served with a heap of purple candied onions and a pile of yellow and orange pickled vegetables.
From the “Slurps” column, a soup modestly named “onion and mushrooms (cheesy)” is like a classic French onion with mushrooms added — rich enough to derail a meal. Other soups are chicken-noodle and tomato-basil.
It’s perhaps in the “Crunch” salad department that Bird/Bread shines the brightest. Each offers something starchy, or at least crunchy, with the vegetables, such as a complex “greens & grains” with toasted amaranth and farro, or, just as good, “barley & beans” with barley risotto, chickpeas, skinny French beans and pickled cranberries that put paid to all cranberries-in-a-salad clichés. “Peas & carrots” sounds like nursery punishment food, but these skinny marinated carrots with their tops on, served with split pea purée and bacon, confounded any notions derived purely from reading.
Entrées (“Chow”) were not as consistently wonderful as other dishes, but within the range. Best, perhaps, was lamb rope sausage, prettily coiled and deliciously spicy. Paella with quail, shrimp, mussels and chorizo was smoky, the grains of rice perfectly separated.
A quinoa-stuffed onion incorporated chewy Swiss chard and a tamarind broth that avoided the sometimes-sourness of tamarind. A thick, medium-rare rib-eye was appropriately tender but not very flavorful. On a second visit, though, a different companion said all it needed was salt and pepper. The rib was served with perfect roast vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli and, I think, parsnip) and a short stack of gratin potatoes to compete with anyone’s.
The skin on a half-chicken was crisp and perfect, but the overall effect was a bit salty, and it seemed the dark meat and the light had been cooked the same amount of time, because the breast was dry. The thin and delicious gravy cried out for a biscuit, but the house-made bread here costs $5 (“tacky,” said a friend).
One of the offered sides is “grown-up green bean casserole.” The traditional casserole, if you can use such a term for a dish based on cans, uses cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onions. At first I thought Leonardo’s version was too close to the real thing. But as I dug down, past the crisp onions on top, I found caramelized onions and real mushrooms under the beans, all combining more than happily.
Mussels and some odd pizzas are offered all day, including a meat-and-potatoes pie and, I kid you not, liver-and-onions. I love eggs on a pizza so I ordered hash-and-egg, but was disappointed with the tomato tapenade and smoked duck sausage — too metallic for me.
Leonardo shines again at dessert time, with a simple trio of pôts de crème (ginger, vanilla, chocolate) and an outstanding brown sugar cake, homey yet sophisticated.
Not surprisingly, Jonna’s wine list is long, with each wine tagged as luscious, sweet, big, earthy, bubbles, crisp or smooth — and then an eighth category, “sustainable,” whose flavor is not described, just the vintner’s farming practices. I liked a crisp Portuguese blend, Tons de Duorum, whose website told me it “finishes with strident minerality” (I had written down “turpentine,” but not in a bad way). Even better was a smooth Malbec-Cabernet blend from Bordeaux.
The beer list is also long, with lots of Belgians on both the draft list ($5-$9) and the bottles ($4-$16, the latter for a 22-ounce pour). Management offers a “100 percent satisfaction guarantee” for beers and wines, as well as free tastes. Servers are encouraged to “profile” customers and pick out drinks for them. With the guarantee.
Happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. means some wines are offered for $5, as is a rotating choice of cocktails, and selected beers are half-off.
At the end of the meal, your check is brought in a little bird cage. Someone in the kitchen might even draw a smiling chef on your take-home box. Nice touches.
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