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“We want it to be a place you can have a beer and a dozen oysters or come in and eat a dozen small plates and get an incredible bottle of interesting wine and the best and coldest martini in town,” says Common House Executive Chef Matt Greene of Birdie’s.
Open both to members and the public, the forthcoming cafe by day and oyster saloon and wine cellar by night will debut on Thursday, Nov. 4, at the multilevel social club on West Broad Street in the Arts District.
Common House, a social hub where people can gather, eat, escape and connect, made its Richmond premiere in October 2020 from friends and co-founders Ben Pfinsgraff and Derek Sieg.
The Richmond location now features more than 1,500 members, with rates that begin at $150 a month, and $75 for students or members under 30.
Birdie’s marks the first public-facing concept from Common House — which also has locations in Charlottesville and Chattanooga, Tennessee — and will grant a peek into the intriguing, and what to some can feel exclusive, world of the social club and its balance between practicality and pleasure.
When Birdie’s opens, the 20-seat cafe will be a melange of life’s pleasures: fresh seafood, thought-provoking wines and a robust roast.
Greene, who originally joined the Common House team at the original location in Charlottesville, views Birdie’s as a foundation to create your own culinary destiny.
“In that way, it’s very similar to the club in that we want it to be a few different things to the guests,” he says, “not just a high-end bar or cocktail affair, but everything in between.”
Exuding hints of New York’s Grand Central Oyster Bar, the interior of Birdie’s is bright and open, with marble two-top tables that face the bustling street and a long bar accented with brass lamps, as well as a glass display that will soon be home to chilled seafood and briny bivalves.
On the menu, guests will find selections from seafood towers piled sky-high with oysters, clams, shrimp, charcuterie and lobster to a cold fried pork sandwich served with house-made salt-and-vinegar chips. Other options include a lobster roll and a vegetarian-friendly mushroom Philly, halibut crudo, a cannellini bean salad, smoked oyster little gem wedge salad, and marinated beef.
“What we came up with is that idea of an oyster bar that offers highbrow and lowbrow cuisine,” explains Greene, previously the owner of the now shuttered butcher shop J.M. Stock Provisions. “Ben [Pfinsgraff, the co-founder,] grew up in Annapolis and had this vision of the classic oyster bar he grew up going to.”
Together with Chef de Cuisine Bryan McClure, who has helmed kitchens at both TJ’s and Lemaire inside The Jefferson Hotel and worked at Pasture as well, and Sous Chef Dave Alinea, the trio worked to bring the vision to life.
“For me, what really gives them the appeal is how refreshing a great oyster can be and how simple and beautiful,” Greene says. “From a sustainability and responsibility standpoint, it’s sort of this prefect thing.”
Home to a rotating cast of a half-dozen oyster varieties, Birdie’s will offer three from the waterways of Virginia, such as Big Island, Chincoteague and Tangier Island oysters, in addition to three chef’s-choice selections from the Northeast, which currently include Blue Point from Connecticut, Pemaquid from Maine and Great White from Massachusetts.
McClure, who grew up attending the annual Urbanna Oyster Festival and visiting grandparents who lived near the river, says oysters unite people.
“When I think of oysters, I think of getting together with a bunch of people and having a good time, and the idea of an oyster bar has that same kind of appeal to me,” he says. “We took that idea and made it a part of the restaurant as well. A lot of the plates are smaller and meant to be ordered in quantities and shared with whomever you’re dining with.”
Birdie’s also features a spiral staircase leading to an underground wine cave with bottles from Virginia and around the world hand-selected by Beverage Director and sommelier Erin Scala.
Greene, Scala and McClure all lived or held jobs locally before departing for bigger cities, eventually being drawn back to the River City, a phenomenon dubbed in the dining industry as “The Richmond Curse.”
Scala previously worked at Michelin-starred restaurants including JoJo, Public and The Musket Room in New York; McClure at Chicago’s Next Restaurant, known for Grant Achatz’s molecular gastronomy and themed tasting menus; and Greene in New York under restaurateur Andrew Tarlow at Diner and Marlow & Sons.
Wine will be available for retail sale at Birdie’s, and guests will also be able to schedule private wine cellar dinners (ranging from $105 to $215) for up to eight guests with custom coursed menus and wine pairings curated by Scala, who once judged the Virginia Governor’s Cup.
As for the cafe, during the day, Birdie’s will operate as a full-service coffee bar and source beans from area roasters. There will be grab-and-go options available along with baked goods from pastry chef Mariah Posadni, who has been with Common House since the Richmond location opened.
While opening during a pandemic and figuring out how to appeal to a wider audience has had its challenges, Greene says the journey is part of the process and the end result is something he’s proud of.
“I really like the idea of building a community that isn’t just based around food and beverage but around a much larger scale of hospitality,” he says. “Not just building a community in Common House, but building a community surrounding Common House.”
Birdie’s oyster bar will be open Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight. The coffee bar will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Category: Restaurant News