Birdhouse: A preview of Stewart Woodman's new restaurant

While other restaurants languish with elastic opening dates, Stewart and Heidi Woodman aren't wasting any time opening the doors at Birdhouse. It seemed the second the announcement of Duplex's closing hit the press, rumors started swirling that a name chef had swooped in. A short while later there was confirmation from the Woodman camp, along with the promise of healthy, sustainable food. Now, in the bat of an eye, the restaurant is ever-so-softly opening.

We were given a peek inside as they roll out the menu and charge toward the day they open to the public -- which is just around the corner. 

Stewart says their planned hard opening date is June 21. As of now, Shefzilla is using Twitter to give his fans little tidbits from his hashtag #supersoftopening.

One dish we sampled was a playful take on a vegetarian pate, a super smooth, thick pea puree buried under a layer of creme fraiche, mimicking the fat cap on a traditional meaty version.The changes to the converted house are subtle but polished. White tile glinted from the kitchen, and afternoon light shone off the polished bar.  A sample menu listed appealing dishes that ran the gamut from meaty to gluten-free and dairy-free to vegetarian and vegan. "You can throw a little meat in if you want to, but all these dishes are complete items themselves," Stewart explained . 

We sampled two juices sodas, which the new chef Ben Mauk had just emerged from preparing in the basement. It seems he's developed a mad scientist's love of the juicer. The pale-green cucumber lemon was wonderfully refreshing on a sweltering day.  "You know what would go great in this?" a compatriot asked. "Gin." Woodman laughed and agreed. Soon the full liquor license will become available, and so will the adult version of that drink.

Mauk is a Minnesota native, having gradutated from South High. He headed east, attended the Culinary Institute of Arts in Hyde Park, and went on to co-own the acclaimed Twist restaurant. Times changed, Twist closed, and Mauk spent some time working as executive chef at Bon Appetit Management Company at Stanford University. All the while he specialized in farm-to-table cooking, which caught Woodman's eye.

The quinoa croquettes with a faux mayo were a gluten-free, vegan delight. No matter how healthy you spin it, these things were addictive: hearty, crunchy, savory, and small enough to make them so easy to eat.

The menu will be conservative in size, and the portions will be modest. Same with the seating. They plan to be "aggressive" with the wine list--all sustainable wines and only serving two reds and two whites at a time. The liquor will also be as sustainable as possible. The new Birdhouse looks to be a modest and refreshing little Uptown roost.

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