Although Birchwood Cafe is now officially closed for its massive, Kickstarter-assisted renovation and expansion project, its staff will not be sitting idle. We attended a preview yesterday of the next phase of the Birchwood story: a pop-up breakfast restaurant at Verdant Tea (above) that will run daily through the month of March from 8am to noon, featuring food created by Birchwood chefs.
The menu is inspired by Shandong, the Chinese province that’s home to many of Verdant’s tea farmers, and each dish has a suggested pairing with Verdant Tea beverages such as chai steamers, green tea, black tea, rooibos, drinking chocolate, and more.
Hoisin-Glazed Bacon ($4) was crazy delicious. Made from Fischer Farms pork, this bacon is meaty, crunchy-chewy, and glazed with only a hint of the tart sweetness that is hoisin. It represents a gastronomic oddity: an improvement on just plain bacon.
Pork sausage meatballs ($4.50) pulled off the double trick of being light on the palate and luxurious with flavor — black bean paste leant a rich, deep umami, and sesame seeds provided a bit of lift and texture. If meatballs for breakfast throws you for a loop, just think of them as spherical breakfast sausages.
We adored the pop-up’s Scallion Sweet Corn Pancakes ($7) with sheep’s milk cheese and a sweet corn coulis. They were tender with a mild but palpable kick of heat and surprisingly sweet sweet corn considering how far from July we are.
A Chinese-style Crepe ($10) filled with shiitake mushrooms, black bean paste, romaine, pickled root vegetables, and cilantro split our group. It’s either too savory and heavy and rich, or it’s exactly the sort of comfort food anchor you want to build your day around.
The Potstickers ($8) provoked no such divisions. Stuffed with fennel, chives, and either marinated tofu or chicken and egg, they were lovely, soft-but-crispy pillows of flavor — not greasy, not heavy, and oddly perfect for the meal.
The Birchwood Savory Waffle ($12, pictured up top) was a traffic jam: kale, brown rice, sweet potato, kumquat preserves, cilantro butter… bacon lardons… green tea powdered sugar… and other stuff. Sweet potato. Did we mention that? Pistachios! Either highly entertaining or highly distracting. Too much for our brains first thing in the day, however.
We worried that the Drinking Chocolate ($5, above right) infused with tulsi, goji berry, rose, and coconut milk would be far too fruity and austere to satisfy our cold weather-driven hot cocoa lust, but we needn’t have fretted; it was rich and sweet and profoundly chocolatey, with the berry notes emulating the fruit undertones that creep into high cacao content chocolate bars. The accompanying Youtiao Chinese-style doughnuts ($6) strayed too close to breadsticks in both appearance and taste, but we appreciated the mental journey that they took us on. Verdant Tea owner David Duckler told our group about Chinese construction workers who can (and do) put up a skyscraper in a week’s time, fortifying themselves each morning with heavy breakfasts of youtiao.
Birchwood / Verdant Tea Pop-Up Breakfast; 8am-noon daily in March at Verdant Tea, 2111 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404; 612.223.8907
Learn more about this business on Heavy Table’s Atlas of Ethical Eating and Drinking.