The Third Bird gives comfort food the highbrow treatment
The (third) bird is the word.
The Third Bird, the latest addition to Kim Bartmann's veritable restaurant empire, feels like a secret clubhouse. Its entrance is situated in an alleyway off Harmon Place, with no signage indicating a restaurant. Understated furnishings elicit a too-cool-for-school vibe, and the staff treats customers with a familiarity rarely found outside decades-old greasy spoons.
Like Bartmann's other spots, the Third Bird uses local and organic ingredients, but what separates it from its siblings is what happens next. The kitchen is run by Lucas Almendinger (an alum of Union Fish Market and W.A. Frost) and churns out a short menu of highbrow comfort food. Both lunch and dinner menus are heavy on hors d'oeuvres, and rounded out by an extensive beer and liquor list (which upcoming Merchant sommelier Bill Summerville helped craft). The brunch menu features classic breakfast staples with a couple of lunch and dinner menu favorites.
The decor is quirky and rustic. A bird-man mural (by local artist Steven Noble) is painted in fuchsia on the entry wall, and a menagerie of small mirrors hangs nearby. The dining room is dotted with brown wooden tables and black wooden chairs, and a white ash bar overlooks the kitchen.
The chilled watermelon soup is a nouveau take on gazpacho.
We started with the chilled watermelon soup ($6), a fresh take on gazpacho. The sweet watermelon broth is balanced out by jalapeños that keep the soup from tasting like a melted snow cone. The cooling cilantro plays off the piquant jalapeños in the same way it does in banh mi, while charred tomatoes provide a smoky tang, and pickled rind adds a savory crunch reminiscent of vidalia onions.
The buffalo fries are so wrong, yet so right.
The buffalo fries ($7) make for a nice twist on a sports bar staple. The fries are crisp and crunchy -- more substantial than the trendy skinny starchers sweeping the town -- and are closer in size to classic American fries. The powdered buffalo seasoning is applied conservatively, and the pungent blue cheese lends a creamy texture to the crunch, while shaved celery absorbs the fatty flavors and makes the fries feel a tad healthful.
We made the mistake of ordering the bison burger ($11) medium-rare; it would have tasted better with a little more pink. That said, the handmade patty is sizable and the pleasant, muted flavor of the bison shone through. While iceberg lettuce is often a staple of low-rent fast-food joints, its inclusion here provides a superb crunch that complements the zingy Thousand Island dressing.
The fried chicken club ($11) is a welcome reinterpretation of the classic. Though the chicken felt too cold in spots, the bird was succulent. Avocado and bacon is a no-fail combination, and the extra-creamy avocado was rich without being over-the-top. The harissa aioli adds a kick that pedestrian mayonnaise wouldn't, and the roasted tomatoes were a far cry from the mealy, light red atrocities that many restaurants around town are guilty of serving.
Contemporary riffs on American comfort food are all the rage, and the Third Bird succeeds in both interpretation and pricing. Plus, there's something especially charming about meandering down a back alley and opening an unmarked door into a bistro-diner hybrid.
The Third Bird 1612 Harmon Place 612-767-9495
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