Some people, some places just have that thing. A special alchemy that comes together, you don't always know exactly how or why, that makes it far more than the sum of its parts. The Birchwood has long enjoyed this status at the little (now bigger) Seward cafe, where people treat it like a home kitchen, a creating and collaborating space, a bike team gathering place, a second home.
When owner Tracy Singleton launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to fund the much-needed expansion, she says it became the third-highest grossing Kickstarter campaign in the world. She brings it up not to boast, but to illustrate how much the place means to people, adding that the stories she heard throughout the process were as surprising as the outpouring of funds:
"One customer credits our food for his cancer recovery, others told us of friends and lovers they met in line at the deli counter, of first dates that led to marriage and kids, of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions, and of gathering at the restaurant to plan trips around the world," she writes.
By way of full disclosure, yours truly cooked at the Birchwood for a short time about a decade ago. My most enduring memory of the place are the bags and bushels and containers of farm-fresh produce we were tasked with using at all times — creating special salads, pizzas, soups, you name it, jamming all this of-this-moment local product into every bite of food, every day.
In other words, the product came before the recipes — not the other way around. In other words, as it should be. Lots of chard in the cooler that day? Then you'd be using lots of chard, naturally.
It was a ragtag little kitchen — not even a grill or a flattop — just a four burner, a wind oven, and a lots of determination. Still, customers snaked out the door daily for what that little kitchen was putting out.
Singleton's (and chef Marshall Paulsen's) dedication to "Good Real Food" is more than just commitment, it's a philosophy. Take, for instance, these gems culled from the section of the book defining that tagline:
"Good Real Food is sourced from farmers, gardeners, and producers with pure hearts and clear intentions. Good Real Food is made by the hands of those who have generous souls and the impulse to take care of people...."
It goes on from there, but pure, clear, generous, caring food sounds like the kind of thing I want to be eating, don't you?
So they've poured some of that generous spirit into this new book, simply titled The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook, and now you can have it at home for making the dishes you've come to know and love over the last 20 years.
Their devotion to hyper-seasonal cooking plays out all over the pages, not least of which where the seasons are not broken down into only four, but eight, including "scorch, dusk, frost, and thaw."
"You know that it's Scorch when the sweet corn risotto, sweet corn soup, and grilled corn with creme fraiche are featured. Come Frost, pumpkins are coated with an icy sheen — time for pumpkin hand pie," reads the book.
So, you know you want one. But you'll have to wait until October. That's Autumn, when the cinnamon apple faro pancakes and carmelitas come out.
Get one at the Birchwood, or at a bookstore near you, for $29.95.
The Birchwood Cafe
3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis