How’s this for a dish: chicken and pheasant sausage stuffed with partridge and grouse wrapped in duck skin with carrot puree, roasted carrots, and pistachio. This “Five Birds Roast” is more impressive than any turducken John Madden ever carved, and it’s proof that The Bird will serve way more than chicken when it opens at 1337 11th Street NW on Halloween at 4 p.m.
The former Logan Circle corner store has been dramatically transformed into a two-floor, joyful space decorated in a “four seasons of fowl” theme. Five local artists came together to outfit the spring, summer, winter, and fall rooms with murals and explosive color. The restaurant will eventually be able to sit 150 guests, as both a retractable roof deck and a downstairs patio are planned.
The chef folding bird inside of bird inside of bird is Michael Bonk, the culinary director for Eat Well DC. Bonk traded pork for poultry when he moved over from The Pig to serve as executive chef. This is his first time opening a restaurant, and he explains it was almost a completely different concept.
“We were looking to open a fried chicken shop,” Bonk says. “We were negotiating a lease across from Daikaya and I spent four months developing a fried chicken recipe. It was a nightmare; we didn’t get the location.” That’s when Eat Well DC principal David Winer and his partners discovered the building on the corner of 11th and O Streets NW. The concept evolved to match the address. “Now that we have a bigger space, let’s expand on chicken,” Bonk says. “Let’s get whole birds and really explore.”
While gamey birds like pheasant and quail are on Bonk’s menu, chicken is the star. “I went through close to 50 different purveyors of chickens to find the birds I wanted to use. They had to be ethically raised, free-range, and local within reason,” Bonk says. He settled on organic Senat Amish chickens from Pennsylvania. They’ll be used for many dishes, but the two Bonk predicts will be best sellers include the half fried chicken with braised greens and a spiced pickle ($17) and the whole roasted chicken for two with a salad and sides for $45. The latter allows duos to tack on a reduced price bottle of wine for $45.
Bonk explains that one-third of the menu is priced affordably for neighborhood customers while another two-thirds of the menu aims to “challenge” guests and lure diners from other parts of town. “Ostrich Sasheem,” for example, features thinly sliced raw ostrich wrapped around apple, celery, radish, and carrot with black garlic and soy ($12). “We went on our honeymoon to South Africa and got introduced to ostrich meat,” Bonk says. “I fell it love with it. It’s the leanest meat available commercially.” There’s also grilled squab with cornbread dressing, oysters, giblets, pine nuts, and foie gras gravy ($33). (Full menu below.)
Unlike The Pig, which celebrated the perfect marriage of pork and brown liquor, The Bird’s beverage program is focused on wine. “I felt like that gave me more freedom to get a little weird with the cocktail menu,” says Kyle McNeel. He serves as bar manager at The Bird and beverage director for Eat Well DC.
His concoctions are all avian references such as “Pining for the Fjords,” with aquavit, charred pear, walnut, lemon, and anise ($11). Fans of Monty Python will recognize the name from the dead parrot sketch.
Then there’s “The Owls Are Not What They Seem” from Twin Peaks with gin, stone pine, rosemary, sumac, cedar, lime, and egg white ($11).
Instead of happy hour, there’s “early bird” hour from 4-7 p.m. daily. Drinks will be marginally discounted, but each drink ordered comes with a small plate of complimentary bites, much like in Spain or Italy.
If permitting goes as planned, the restaurant will open for dinner by week’s end. Two or three weeks later they’ll launch brunch, and Bonk says there’s potential for a tasting menu down the road.
The Bird, 1337 11th St. NW; (202) 290-2821; thebirddc.com