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Saturday, March 27, 2010


Plaudits: 2010 RAMMY Nominee Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene, Washington City Paper's 2010 Best of DC (link)
Neighborhood: Logan Circle

The Setup

I had a desire to go see the DCist Exposed Photography exhibit and somehow I convinced Official Friend of DCWD Kelly to tag along. Figuring I don't get out to Logan Circle that often, I decided to make an afternoon of it, and took her Birch & Barley/Churchkey. Arriving at around 5, and wanting to try some craft beer, we headed upstairs to Churchkey.

The Vibe

Birch & Barley and Churchkey are two parts of the same establishment; Birch & Barley is the downstairs sit down restaurant, Churchkey is the upstairs bar where we ended up. While they share the same kitchen, it'd be unfair to rate B&B from the food upstairs, so that's the last we'll mention it. Churchkey is a place that revolves its menu around the beer it serves... and oh what a selection of beer they have. But we'll get to that later.

Churchkey's bar is long, silver with gold leaf designs and lined with high red swivel chairs. In the far end of the bar area, is mostly booth seating, which is composed of oddly high-off-the-ground orange and yellow cushion benches, and is pretty dark, even in the early evening when we went. On the other side, where we sat, are full-length windows which let the sunset in, and is made up of two-tops with rustic grey metal chairs and mustard yellow couches that line the walls, and high tables in the middle of the room (lot of high furniture in this place). One wall is just simple white brick, while the other is a bold crimson red paisley wall paper with teardrop crystal chandeliers on the wall. This contrasts with the hanging chain medieval candle chandeliers that otherwise light the room. There's a lot to love about the place, and I did. What's more, the bar was packed even at 5 in the afternoon.

The Food

We were starving by the time we got there so we ordered a lot. I got the arrancini (butternut squash and fontina risotto balls), shrimp corn dogs, and the charcuterie plate, while Kelly ordered the fig and prosciutto flatbread, replacing the gorgonzola with fontina (apparently she doesn't like strong cheeses... I can't say all my friends are foodies, haha). We'll start with hers first; despite her omission of the intended cheese, it actually was a really pleasant dish, mostly because the figs were perfect. Really well done.

The shrimp corn dogs were good as well, with the house made tartar sauce (really just tartar sauce with a little Old Bay) working with it very nicely. They were piping hot when I got them, but I wolfed them down just the same. Slightly better than that were the arrancini; they were just the right combination of crunchy and soft, melting perfectly in my mouth. The bonus part was finding pockets of fontina within the stuffing.

As for the charcuterie plate, it had five things: cured beef, pork head cheese, duck rillette, slices of genoa salami, and thin sliced mortadella (I didn't write it down, so I could be wrong, but I worked in a deli, so I'm pretty sure that's what it was), with generous helpings of tiny pickles, lightly oiled and toasted bread, and mustard (and it was the potent seeded kind, my favorite!). This was pleasant enough, for a charcuterie plate, with the winner being of course the duck rillette (though not as good as the Blue Duck sturgeon one, but also pleasant.

I should mention the beer list at this point. The draft list at Churchkey is prepostrous in its awesomeness; there must some 50 beers on tap. These are constantly rotated so you can go to Churchkey every day for a year and never seemingly have the same one twice. The beer menu, which is just as big as the bar menu, is divided and then further divided again by beer tastes: roast, malt, smoky, soft and silky, spicy and meaty. There's even a secret menu for Churchkey, where you can order some bottles that have been aged by the beer director (beer, like wine, depending how it's made, can improve with age). On this trip, we had three beers, a Uerige Sticke (a real nutty beer, and Kelly's choice), a St. Idesbald Blonde, and an Allagash Victor Ale (both mine). Obviously the beer is the reason you would go to Churchkey in the first place, and it did not disappoint.

The Verdict

There are some places where the quality of the drinks will add something to the quality of the food. Churchkey is one of those places. Don't get me wrong, the food was good. But it was the the beer, its rarity, its hyper-specificity on the menu which let you pair it well, and the wait staff's general knowledge of it, that makes Churchkey worth all the hype it's gotten. About the only downside is I could see how on a busy Saturday night, it'd be next to impossible to get a seat. But if you can, it'll be a great time.

Food Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout
Vibe: Energetic
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two) (note: depends on the number of drinks you have honestly)
Pairing: It's too bad the DCist Exposed show is over; it really was fantastic. But the Longview Gallery by 9th and N where it was held was a beautiful venue with some nice upcoming independent artists' shows.

Churchkey on Urbanspoon

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