Birch & Barley’s Chef Kyle Bailey

Posted on August 01, 2013 by Monica Boland

Chef Kyle Bailey brings new meaning to food and craft beer pairings. As the executive chef of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Birch & Barley, ChurchKey and the brand new GBD (Golden Brown Delicious), Bailey is devoted to keeping his menus fresh and innovative. From an impressive beer collection at Birch & Barley to the fried chicken and doughnut craze at GBD, Bailey’s menus are perfect for guys.

Chef Kyle Bailey courtesy of Neighborhood Restaurant Group

Chef Kyle Bailey courtesy of Neighborhood Restaurant Group

At Birch & Barley, which was named one of the manliest restaurants in America by Men’s Health last year, Bailey works alongside Beer Director Greg Engert to pair the restaurant’s signature collection of 555 artisanal beers with seasonally driven cooking. And although the Logan Circle eatery isn’t a steak and potatoes kind of place, they do offer a pretty comprehensive menu for carnivores.

“We sell a good amount of offal,” Bailey says. “We also do a lot of butchery in-house. Every week, we butcher a 300-pound hog, a 200-pound forequarter of beef, a 60-pound lamb, 24 ducks, 12 rabbits and a few chickens.”

Bailey’s farm-to-table and made-from-scratch approach earned him The People’s Best New Chef award from Food & Wine Magazine and the honor of Rising Culinary Star from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. 

“We make everything from the bread to the pasta to the cookie crumbs under the ice cream on your dessert by hand,” he says. “The tots in ChurchKey are individually punched by hand.”

Just upstairs from Birch & Barley, ChurchKey is a charming bar and lounge with high ceilings and a laid back vibe. The menu includes high-end pub fare from flatbreads and hot plates to decadent snacks like mac & cheese sticks and the eatery’s signature tater tots. 

“[The] cuisine at Birch & Barley is American with a focus on local, seasonal and nose-to-tail cooking,” Bailey says. “ChurchKey is as well, but with a little more fun and a touch more accessible for the bar crowd.”

Bailey says that the beer selection at ChurchKey definitely draws a lot of guys, but Birch & Barley is pretty evenly split.

The chef’s versatility and dedication to fresh ingredients have been recognized by Food & Wine, The New York Times, Washingtonian Magazine and Food Arts, and Bailey’s menu has earned Birch & Barley a three-star review from The Washington Post as well as RAMW’s Best New Restaurant award in 2010.

“We strive for strong flavors like from the produce we preserve from the summer,” Bailey says. “When we open a jar of tomatoes from August in February, the flavor just blows us all away in the kitchen. We also dehydrate corn all summer to mill for polenta in the fall [and] winter. It’s something a lot of people don’t get to experience – having food with such great flavor.”

Birch & Barley’s summer menu offers delectable entrees like pan seared wolf fish served with fregula sarda (Sardinian pasta), as well as fresh chickpeas, fava beans, artichokes and pea shoots; seared beef ranch steak with English peas, toasted barley, spinach purée and spring bulb onion; and hand-cut tagliatelle with razor clams, white wine, pancetta, heirloom tomatoes, spinach and fennel.

Bailey says he really enjoys making fresh pasta and charcuterie.

“I love the idea of using every part of every piece of food,” he says. “I love not having to throw anything away.”

Though Birch & Barley’s fare has been characterized as “New American,” Bailey would prefer not to put a label on it whenever possible. He describes the food as unfussy and unpretentious.

“We’re constantly borrowing ingredients, ideas and techniques from other parts of the world. I feel like that’s what American is – the melting pot. We don’t want to be pigeonholed.”

The dynamic chef says he switches things up on the menu every day to feature the absolute best produce.

“Our food and beer menus are constantly changing, so we don’t have specials per se, but we always have something that reflects the season. My favorite beers to enjoy at the end of a shift are usually hoppy IPAs.”

Bailey and his wife, Tiffany MacIsaac – also Birch & Barley’s pastry chef – opened GBD in April. The culinary couple was inspired to start the fried chicken and fresh doughnuts joint in Dupont Circle after combining things they like to cook and others seem to enjoy at Birch & Barley and ChurchKey.

“The experience so far has been very different than what we’re used to due to combining a fast, casual model with high quality food made from scratch, but things are going great,” Bailey says. “There is definitely a little bit of a learning curve for us and the guests, like making sure we explain to people that the chicken is a little pricier than fast food fried chicken because we use hormone and antibiotic free.”

Bailey says the clientele at all three eateries varies, but he usually gets a good amount of foodies, beer nerds and neighborhood folks.

“We tried to make the experience at all the restaurants accessible, whether you’re in for a burger and a beer or a five-course tasting menu.”

What’s next for Bailey? He plans to open a new brewery and restaurant named Bluejacket in a few months and says he will focus on making it great. Other than that, the main goal is to keep cooking and having fun.

“I work a lot of hours, but I have such a great time doing it. In five years, I hope to have a knife in my hand everyday, cooking alongside my team, challenging ourselves to cook new and different stuff.”

Birch & Barley: 1337 14th St. NW, DC; 202-567-2576;

GBD: 1323 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-524-5210; 

Working with Kyle Bailey

Kyle has been my ally, partner, co-conspirator and close friend ever since the entire Birch & Barley project got underway. His culinary creativity and palate is only matched by his selfless passion and ceaseless desire to craft impressive and delicious ingredient-driven dishes. Our goal, from day one, has been to bring our talents to the table in order to create exceptional experiences around the preparation and presentation of hand-crafted food and beer. At times we plot our pairings around dishes inspired by our locally-sourced, seasonal bounty, while at other moments we find ourselves designing dishes to suit brews with which we are particularly enamored. It is always exciting, always edifying, and always ends with a few beers and plenty of laughs.

-Greg Engert Beer Director of

Birch & Barley/ChurchKey

next up:

Green Hat Gin: The Gentleman’s Drink

August 01, 2013

In October 1, 2012 Michael Lowe and John Uselton, co-owners and distillers of Green Hat Distillery bottled their first batch of Green Hat Gin. The Green Hat Distillery, located in Northeast DC is the first distillery in the district to produce the spirit in over 100 years. Since expanding their distribution from DC to Maryland and Delaware in just nine months, the duo is quickly establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the craft distilling industry, an industry that has experienced 300% growth in the past few years. “The first thing to take off were wineries in California that exploded into smaller wineries in Washington and Oregon in the 70s and early 80s,” explained John. “In the mid 80s and 90s the craft beer industry took off. Craft distilling, over the past few years, is the third wave.”

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