James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde has another winner on his hands with Bird in Hand.
Opened in November, the Charles Village cafe is similar to Gjerde's Artifact Coffee in Hampden, which he described as a "little, locally sourced powerhouse."
"Bird in Hand is a smaller-scale Artifact," Gjerde said.
The 40-seat cafe is a collaboration with The Ivy Bookshop, as well as Gjerde's partner Corey Polyoka. The open room is filled with scattered tables and features a selection of books, including a cookbook section with recommendations from Gjerde, such as "Bar Tartine" by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns. The space will also be used for events such as book signings and readings.
Bird in Hand is named after an Amish village in Pennsylvania and reflects the ethos of the agricultural community.
"I loved the ring of it," said Gjerde, whose other restaurants include Woodberry Kitchen and Parts & Labor. "It's sweet and humble."
The menu showcases breakfast and lunch items like maple spelt cereal, an English muffin with egg and cheddar cheese, French bread pizzas, and ham biscuits. Counter Culture Coffee is featured in a variety of drinks.
Our food was delicious. The only drawback was that we had to stand throughout our meal — every table was taken. The mostly student population wasn't keen on sharing, even though there were several vacant seats at tables occupied by a single laptop-engrossed coffee drinker.
There is an outdoor terrace with additional seating, but on a chilly day, that wasn't an option for us.
"We want it to warm up and get on the patio," said Gjerde when I asked him about the cafe's popularity.
Scene & Decor The sunlit space — distinguished with quilt-pattern designs on the walls, shelves of books and a pantry of Woodberry Kitchen canned goods — has a charming earnestness. It's library-quiet, with most patrons staring at computers or phones.
Appetizers Three delicious deviled eggs ($4) sported creamy, yellow-yolk squiggles. We could have eaten more. We really liked the kale salad ($8) with thinly sliced apple rounds dotted with benne seeds, hiding a mound of greens and pickled onions that was tossed with a wonderful ginger dressing.
Entrees We are so glad Bird in Hand is making quiche. The vegetable one ($8) was a terrific, thick wedge filled with spinach, soft cubes of turnips and sweet potatoes, and cheddar cheese, accompanied by a small side salad. (Note: The fillings do change.) The hot pastrami sandwich ($13) on lightly toasted rye was a plain-looking pleaser, featuring sauerkraut, chopped pastrami, Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese. We are great fans of cold noodles ($9) with peanut sauce, and this version was particularly good. It was served with pickled onions intertwined with the pasta and showered with fluffy greens and julienne root vegetables.
Drinks The beverage bar with Counter Culture Coffee has a variety of options, from espresso and flavored lattes to other drinks. Our mug of pour-over coffee, made with beans from the Jarama region of Rwanda ($3.50), was a delicate mahogany brew with a hint of raisins. The fruit sparklers are a must, made with fresh fruit that's cold-pressure processed in season, the cafe manager told us. Our watermelon sparkler ($2.50), with cane sugar and soda water, was an invigorating juice that captured the peak flavor of summer.
Service Patrons order at a counter, and a cheerful staff member delivers your food if you're eating there. There is also an Ivy Bookshop staff person on hand to help with books.
Dessert It's difficult to resist pastries and cakes that are attractively and temptingly displayed. A slice of upside-down peach cake ($4) was a treat, as was a hunk of slightly sticky monkey bread ($3.50)
Backstory: With the success of Artifact Coffee in Hampden and with a good working relationship with The Ivy Bookshop, Spike Gjerde opened cafe-bookstore Bird in Hand in November in collaboration with Ivy owners Ann and Ed Berlin.
Signature dish: Pastrami sandwich
Where: 11 E. 33rd St., Charles Village
Contact: 410-814-0373, birdinhandcharlesvillage.com
Open: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Does not accept reservations
Bottom line: The delicious food and interesting books deserve your attention. But be prepared to eat standing up during busy times.