I’m in love with Westchester’s newest gastropub: Birdsall House. Owners John Sharp and Tim Reinke, along with chef Matt Hutchins, have found just the right balance between casual and serious, in everything from the food to the decor to the service.
They make it look easy. I’m sure it hasn’t been. As they chronicled on their blog, they put in a lot of elbow grease to get this old tavern — it used to be Connolly’s — looking ship-shape, and it’s paid off. Most of it feels Art Deco, with a gorgeous, deep red-brown mahogany bar and mahogany paneling, which stretches to the ceiling in the back and goes halfway up the wall in the front and is met with a complementary golden yellow paint. Three antique glass globe lighting hang down over the bar from chains, the floor has black and white tiles, and there are booths along the east wall.
The place is comfortable and inviting in a very masculine and old-fashioned kind of way. You half-expect guys to walk in wearing trench coats and tipping their fedoras, and women to have their white gloves by their side.
Not to say this is a fancy place. Like I said, they’ve found a way to convey the serious nature of the menu without getting all taken with the formalities. When I sat at the bar last week, I was met with a big smile, and service was friendly and easygoing without being overbearing all night long. You’re meant to relax here.
My friend and I shared four dishes and a dessert.
We started with the Grilled Belgian Endive Salad:
Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. Ewes Bleu, toasted walnuts, brioche croutons, Meyer lemon and green garlic vinaigrette. I’ve had grilled endive before, but this was treated so well — just a bit of olive oil — it was as if I were tasting a brand new dish. The cheese, local, from Colombia County, and the walnuts were a great rich match for the bitter endive.
Poached chicken terrine with cornichons and caperberries:
Besides admiring the skill it takes to put together a terrine like this, I was also enamored with how airy and light it turned out. The briny bite of the pickled vegeteables and the lemony dressing all played together to make this a great refreshing appetizer. Besides chicken, the terrine his made with three kinds of diced pickled baby carrots, pickled mustard seed caviar, fennel fronds, chive and lemon. And you can see those flavors reflected in the garnishes, right down to the salad with lemon vinaigrette.
Now we move on to the heavy stuff. Here’s Deep Fried Soft Boiled Egg. It comes on Mascarpone Soft Polenta with Wilted Spinach and a Spicy Sofrito Sauce
The moment of truth:
This dish was fabulous: hearty and rich. Wild Hive was not called out on the menu as the maker of the polenta, but I knew it as soon as I tasted it. It’s just such a true corn flavor. A nice mix with the spinach and the egg, and the tang of tomatoes from the sofrito. My only complaint (and it may not be one for you) is that it was a humongous portion. We were sharing and we could not finish.
Hemlock Hill Burger on Challah Bun
Caramelized onion, mesclun, house-made ketchup, beer mustard, and malt mayonnaise
Yes. Chef Matt Hutchins, who recently graduated from the CIA and has cooked at Chez Panisse, is even making his own condiments. The ketchup, by the way, really has a kick. Great burger. And it’s so nice to see the beef come from local farm. Hemlock Hill, in Cortlandt Manor, has been farming in Westchester since 1939. It’s a natural fit for the menu at Birdsall: Hutchins is passionate about locally grown and sustainable ingredients. He’s making his own charcuterie, pickling his own vegetables and even composting.
The burger does not come with fries. You have to order those separately.
They were the only disappointing dish in the meal. You can tell they’re handcut, but they just weren’t crispy. At all. Limp and room temperature. Maybe it was because we ordered them after the burger arrived — not knowing that the burger was fry-less.
We weren’t going to have dessert, but we got to talking to chef Matt and Tim, one of the owners, and they convinced us to try the ice cream sandwich with cherry preserves:
Terrific. Looks like a chipwich, doesn’t it? This dish really conveys Birdsall’s philosophy in a nutshell. It’s playful at first glance, but once you look a little harder, you’ll find everyone’s dedication to quality is quite obvious. Matt Hutchins made the cherry preserves from scratch, and Janet Fisher, a local teacher, comes in to make the ice cream.
One thing I did not touch on was the amazing selection of craft beers. (Tim and John also own the Blind Tiger Ale House in Manhattan, which is known for specialty beers.) The Birdsall House has 20 draft lines, and carries many local beers, including from Defiant, Captain Lawrence and Southampton. They’ll give you a sample if you’re trying to decide. There’s also a nice selection of bourbon.
And one more thing before I sign off. Check out the Art Deco lighted signs for the loos:
Don’t they look like they’re having fun? Go to the Birdsall House. You will have fun, too.