When you wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the crack of noon on a Sunday, there’s nothing that says “Thank God it’s still the weekend” quite like brunch.  Whether it’s just you and a significant other or a big group outing, brunch has a certain cache that breakfast and lunch never quite attain.  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s socially acceptable to drink before noon at brunch…

Last month, we received an invitation to a bloggers’ brunch to introduce Birch & Barley’s new brunch menu.  We joined our fellow bloggers from Adventures in Shaw, The Arugula Files, Brunch and the City, and Mango & Tomato for an epic tour of the various sweet and savory offerings on the menu.  Although we didn’t get a chance to experience an average brunch service, we definitely had the opportunity to sample a wider range of dishes than we otherwise would have.

I couldn’t help but laugh as Elizabeth and our fellow writers prepared for the feast.  Each one in turn reached into her bag and pulled out…the exact same camera.  Someone needs to alert the folks at Canon that their DSLR Rebel is THE camera of choice among the DC bloggerati.

We arrived a little early for the gathering and settled into a pair of stools at the bar.  This being a beer bar, first and foremost, I decided to check out their version of the michelada.

The drink is basically a Bloody Mary with the vodka replaced by a lighter beer.  Not surprisingly, Birch & Barley’s version hit it out of the park.  The bartender was liberal with the spices and the beer’s carbonation gives the drink an effervescence that a Bloody Mary lacks.  The combination of the two makes for an easy-drinking start to brunch, and it definitely highlights the bar/restaurant’s commitment to quality beer.

From there we made our way to the table, where a veritable feast was laid before us.  Check out some of the images after the jump to decide for yourself if brunch in a beer bar is a brilliant must-do or just another positive addition to DC’s brunch scene.

The menu for brunch at Birch & Barley is pretty straightforward as brunches go.  You’ve got your egg dishes, your baked goods like pancakes and waffles, and a few perfunctory lunch options thrown in for good measure.  But Birch & Barley demonstrates the same commitment to quality that we’ve found throughout the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s family of establishments.  It shows through in touches like the local duck eggs atop the corned beef hash.

At our host’s urging, we all ordered from the main menu, and we managed to cover a decent number of dishes among the seven of us.  We had plenty to choose from, including old favorites like the Croque Madame and Chicken and Waffles as well as creative twists like the Brat Burger (patty made from spicy sausage) and the Whiskey-Vanilla French Toast.

But what’ s a brunch without cocktails and pastries?  Before we could dig into our selections, we got a chance to try Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s handiwork.  Sticky buns, stuffed with a warm, gooey cream cheese filling and topped with pecans, were an immediate hit.  But the real star of the show was the lemon-poppy seed raised doughnut served as one of an assortment of three that also included a doughnut dusted with cinnamon and sugar and an airy chocolate glazed.  There was something light and refreshing about the lemon-poppy seed treat that made you forget the fact that it had been recently fried.  It’s a good thing they’re not available by the dozen…

The baked goods were washed down with a pitcher of Birch & Barley’s “Brunch Punch,” a concoction that combines tropical tea and citrus juices with orange liqueur and Bourbon to create a tart-sweet drink that goes down way too smooth.  I’ll probably still be sticking with the michelada or one of the other Bloody Mary variants (they’ve got four!) in the future, but the punch was a welcome compliment to the sweetness of the pastries.

When our entrees arrived, the table was practically groaning with food, and the shutterbugs went to work, systematically snapping shots of every dish.  We must have been quite the sight to the other guests!  Kudos to the folks at Birch & Barley for sitting us at a table with great natural light – it just goes to show how much better food photos can be when you don’t have to take them surreptitiously in the back of a dark dining room.

Elizabeth opted for that Whiskey-Vanilla French Toast, and it didn’t disappoint.  The flavors were deep and rich, and the bread was crisped perfectly without being dried out.  Other favorites around the table included the three-egg omelette with mushrooms and that beautiful croque pictured at the beginning of this post.  The hash browns were a surprise hit.  Crispy and hot, shot through with chopped herbs and sprinkled with salt, they were an upscale version of your favorite fast-food breakfast side.  The side order we picked up barely made it around the table.

Of all the dishes we tried, the Sausage, Egg and Cheese biscuit was the least impressive.  The flavors were all there and the creme fraiche biscuit had a great texture, but the biscuit to filling ratio was off.  The biscuit was too big, and the tang of the dough overwhelmed all but the spiciest notes from the housemade sausage patty.  It was still a tasty meal, but it didn’t deliver the way other plates did.

Birch & Barley’s brunch comes in at a slightly higher price point than some of its competitors up on U Street, but we generally felt like the meal justified the expense.  With entrees running from $12 to $16 and sides clocking in at $4-$6 on average, a meal can definitely add up.  But B&B have a solution: the Boozy Brunch.  $28 gets you an order of doughnut holes, an entree of your choice, two brunch cocktails and bottomless iced tea or coffee.  It’s the perfect way to make sure you won’t be doing anything too strenuous for the rest of your Sunday.

Brunch is served all day from 11 AM to 8 PM, so you can start with an omelette and keep the fun rolling all the way to a buffalo chicken pizza for dinner if you’re so inclined.  Be sure to check the menu when you arrive, as it has changed from the one listed on the website.  Most prices seem to have stayed the same, but there are definitely new items being added that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Birch & Barley
1337 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC
Birch & Barley on Urbanspoon