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Jul 22, 2010 05:44 AM

Birchwood Cafe + Minneapolis interior design--what gives?

Had my first meal at Birchwood this past week. The local cheese plate great, if delivered with no indication as to what cheese was what, and it came with a small smoked trout fillet that sent my wife giving me permission to cook trout again (It seems I've had my share of culinary trout bombs).
The swiss chard agnolotti in a lemon-dill butter were absolutely fantastic, although I wish there were more of them. Half-price wine gave us a Jumilla with its typical southern-spanish heat (it came in at 14.5%) and vague (read: somewhat flabby) spiciness. Although for 11 dollars what do you expect?
We sat outside.
This was the keystone to our experience. Had we not snagged an outdoor table in the particularly nice weather, I have to say that the arch of it all comes down, for the primary reason that the inside seems like something of a Soviet cafeteria.
I mean, I get that it is a "cafeteria," but it doesn't have to look like one--especially given the food and service they're doling out (fantastic).
If the owners took a moment to consider putting in something like a darkened booth atmosphere around the perimeter, making it look like some place with character in which I'd be happy to spend my pennies, I think they'd have a better thing going. I've heard more than a few people suggest it seems like more of a breakfast/lunch place to them---and the interior, I'm sure, is the reason.
I've seen this happen elsewhere around town--most recently at HauteDish, whose interior is impossibly strangely laid-out, with two large televisions above the bar, directly behind which is a Gaza strip of bad carpet and then a string of low, un-private booths. The "HauteDish" dish was good, but I felt like I was at a VFW, and am in no hurry to return.
Why wouldn't these people put more effort into the surroundings?
What gives?

Birchwood Cafe
3311 E 25th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406

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  1. Interesting. Maybe I'm just less in tune with my surroundings, but I can't say I've shared the same opinion. The Birchwood seems no different than a number of other similar places -- Trotters in St. Paul and Common Roots come to mind. Chalk boards, deli cases, similar philosophies, plain wood chairs...they're all almost identical. Sure, in each case it would be cool if they installed big garage doors that would open the place up in the summer or something like that.

    Same with Haute Dish. I was there last night and I have no idea how that could possibly draw reference to a VFW. Aside from the entry area that looks like it's still waiting for a few accoutrements/pieces of art, everything was spaced out nicely -- the bar stools kept you from being on top of your neighbors, tables are nicely spaced. I think they did a good job of maintaining the historic features without looking like an interior design project. No clue at all what is "strangely laid-out" about that. I hope to God you never went to Fugaise or Chambers Kitchen (now those were strangely laid-out/decorated), or have gone to Porter & Frye, or 112 Eatery.

    To each their own I guess. Besides, to me, if the food is outstanding, I really don't care about the surroundings that much.

    1. Sometimes the Birchwood does seem kind of casual at night. But I think they are aiming for a communal and community feeling. An open design reflects that and darkened private booths wouldn't, I think.

      Birchwood Cafe
      3311 E 25th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406

      2 Replies
      1. re: karykat

        agreed. i think it's just that old hippie thing they've got going.

        1. re: soupkitten

          As an old hippie myself, I kind of appreciate it! :)

      2. I think the decor at Birchwood is intended to give it a light, casual, neighborhood feel, like a place where people are welcome to hang out, bring kids, wear flipflops, etc. And I think to that purpose, it works fine.

        I have to say I'm surprised that you disliked the bar at Haute Dish so much, since I like the way it looks - particularly the bar itself, the banquette seating (what you call unprivate booths, maybe?), and the ceiling. It bears no resemblance to any VFW I've been in, though admittedly I've only been in two or three. The TVs I could do with out, though, I agree with you on that.

        I don't know how much effort was put into the surroundings at either restaurant, but again - I think they look the way the owners want them to look.

        On the other hand, I can think of restaurants where the decor is great but the food not particularly great - Loring Pasta Bar comes to mind.

        Birchwood Cafe
        3311 E 25th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406

        Loring Pasta Bar
        327 14th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

        4 Replies
        1. re: LiaM

          Another question since I've only been to Haute Dish once. Are the TVs normally on? Last night they weren't and they pretty much blended into the wall. I only noticed them because I was checking out the cool ceiling.

          1. re: LiaM

            I have to agree with a few of the other responses here that the Haute Dish comment is a bit ridiculous. The bar is gorgeous and makes a beautiful focal point in the front room. We sat at one of the "low, un-private booths" with no open tables on either side and felt completely comfortable with the space. I'm sure my wife would agree with the TV comment, but the back dining area is TV free, is it not?

            MSPD said it best, if the food is great, I'm much less concerned about the space (but in this instance, I think the space only adds to the appeal).

            1. re: b ster

              parker, thanks for your review of Birchwood. I will say one thing, my first impression of the place was that it was very noisy....and not sure but I think maybe they remedied that somehow...(anyone here know?) Noisiness is one thing I always dislike in a restaurant. I also agree that some booths would be nice, you don't have to be upscale or anti-hippie to have some booths

              Birchwood Cafe
              3311 E 25th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406

              1. re: faith

                I wonder if Birchwood ever rearranges its space with big tables for group events or meetings? That might be consistent with their community mission. And would be inconsistent with booths.

                Birchwood Cafe
                3311 E 25th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406

          2. The B-wood is on the verge of an expansion.

            If you could see behind the counter, the kitchen is a jumble, and as such turns out some delicious food.

            Atmosphere is what it is. It is not trying to be anything other than what it is. As such it's an original, and unboring. Too many padded chair, "atmospherey" places and not enough quality in this town generally, IMO.

            The expansion is in planning stages.

            1 Reply
            1. re: keg

              Do you know if they are planning on expanding the seating area? The kitchen? Both?