Mochas and mussels are rarely sold under the same roof, but for Birdie’s on Broad Street that is the business model. If you ask someone their thoughts on Common House’s public-facing café, you’re just as likely to hear them rave about a red clover latte as to be regaled with a tale of a raw oyster special featuring bay leaf oil and pecan milk.
The idea to blend a coffee house and oyster bar within one establishment could have easily left Birdie’s feeling like two clashing concepts in a trenchcoat. That was indeed one of the fears of restaurant manager, Jessica Wilkinson, when it opened last November: “It was a little bit frightening, as the new kids on the block, to brand and market two fairly distinct businesses together,” she says. However, one visit will leave you feeling like such versatile refinement is just what Richmond’s grandest corridor deserves.
Birdie’s begins each morning as a coffee shop, offering everything from fresh baked pastries and sourdough loaves to a full espresso bar menu. Beyond the standard brews, head barista Jana always has a rotating selection of more eccentric items. The surprisingly approachable spiced beetroot latte combines a pink color palette with the flavors of cinnamon, black pepper, and honey (as well as a surprising amount of caffeine for a non-coffee concoction). All of the café’s syrups are made in-house, including the chai which makes the shaken dirty chai latte — known as the Tweet Tweet — such a crowd pleaser.
The name Birdie’s isn’t a nod to an historic figure or a culinary reference, but it sure does build the backbone of a strong brand. Show up looking for a beverage and the cocktail menu immediately affirms the ornithological theme. Birdie’s signature drink, the Sparrow, is a take on a classic martini the staff premixes and stores in a medical grade freezer, making it theoretically the coldest cocktail in town. The Richmond Warbler, Two in the Bush, and the Thunderbird all feature a variety of locally sourced spirits and housemade bitters and syrups while hammering home the avian influence throughout the menu.
For teetotalers who would rather not advertise their preference for sobriety, Birdie’s offers two mocktails on its libations menu under the label “temperance.” A play on the alcohol-infused Elysium Punch, the Blue Bird features chamomile tea, lemon, pineapple, quatre épices, ginger and nutmeg to create a fruit-forward and spice-heavy refreshment. Served in a wine glass, the Hummingbird shows off layers of green and pink hues that are instantly Instagram-able thanks to the cucumber, lemon, simple syrup, and matcha which comprise it. With a slightly lower price and just as many intricate ingredients, those who enjoy alcohol may even give one of the bar’s two rotating zero proof concoctions a try.
The Oyster Shooter — a mix of Cirrus vodka, James River Distillery’s Øster Vit, Frank’s RedHot sauce, tomato, and a Big Island Aqua oyster — makes for the perfect transition into Birdie’s headliner menu items: its oysters. With an extensive raw bar featuring six assortments from across the eastern seaboard (three from the Northeast and three local Virginia varieties), Birdie’s has a little bit of something for everyone whether you like your oysters briny or more on the sweet side.
Common House could have easily kept the storefront as an insular space, closed off for club members as is the case with its top floor restaurant; however, the layout of the old building on Broad Street demanded a different approach. “The biggest driving force behind Birdie’s was the building itself,” explains Brian McClure, Common House’s general manager. “The bottom floor just looked like a public facing entity, and an oyster bar is the top thing the founders wanted to try and make work because both have nostalgic memories of oysters and oyster bars.”
Beyond the bivalves, Birdie’s chef de cuisine, Hunter Garvin, offers guests a diverse selection of small plates ranging from halibut crudo to a cannellini bean salad. As a testament to his time at Longoven, Garvin likes to combine creative takes with fresh flavors to deliver diners with delectable dishes. The best approach to sample your way through the menu is to come with a group and order items to share.
One of Birdie’s top sellers is the lobster roll, which is served on a housemade brioche bun and filled with an herbaceous and slightly acidic lobster salad. For those with no love for seafood, try the mushroom Philly. Its roasted oyster mushrooms are a wink to Birdie’s main attraction, but the caramelized onions, white cheddar cheese, thyme aioli, and fresno pepper relish on a housemade baguette are sure to please even the pickiest eaters.
Rather than aim to be a full-scale restaurant, Birdie’s evening fare offers patrons a first and last stop of the night option. Want a quick bite before your dinner reservation? Swing by Birdie’s. Need a nightcap before heading home? Birdie’s bar has you covered.
Birdie's is located at 305 W. Broad St. Check the website here for more information.