Beer from Birch’s on the Lake Brewhouse & Supperclub
The brewhouse at Birch’s has six styles of core beers that change all the time.
One of the best bonuses of the recent restaurant boom is that a number of old spots are getting a new life, too. I have driven by one such place, a dilapidated restaurant in Long Lake, for years, hoping that someday it would find a new and tasty purpose. And boy, has it.
The lakeside restaurant property, once known as Billy’s Lighthouse, seemed like it would have been snapped up immediately after closing in 2006. But it was an old supper club with tired bones and an outdated kitchen (not to mention a rumored ghost). It was at first slated to become condos, then it was going to be a rowing club. Plans for both fell through, and it wasn’t until last year, when chef Burt Joseph truly set his intentions upon it, that there was hope of the restaurant becoming anything more than a shell of its former self.
Joseph saw beauty and promise through the old eatery’s sorry state. He envisioned what it would become—a modern supper club with a destination brewery on the lower level. Never mind the fact that Long Lake isn’t exactly the booming gold coast of Wayzata (it’s located where 394 turns into a two-lane road). Joseph ran his popular small eatery in the area, Birch’s Restaurant & Bar, for about seven years and realized that there was a certain love for that lakeside spot that would draw people in.
Joseph and his new business partner and brewer, Brendan Greene, spent nearly a year gutting and redesigning the old Billy’s Lighthouse. Joseph closed his old spot in the center of town and opened Birch’s on the Lake Brewhouse & Supperclub. The upstairs supper club is gorgeous and unexpected. Glamorous white and brown leather booths deliver a pop of opulence to the bar area just beyond the wine wall. The dining room has a similar look that gets cozy with gray plaid booths and surrounding fireplaces. But the lake view, which is framed up with black walls sporting massive glass panes on three sides, is the best decoration of all.
Downstairs, the brewhouse is more casual and industrial. Long wooden communal tables offer seating among the tanks churning out small-batch beers. The bar is clad with 150-year-old reclaimed wood, creating an Up North, woodsy vibe. When the warm season returns, the large deck overlooking the lake will add another 40-60 seats to the mix. But Joseph is already talking about what kind of winter fun can be had on the lake, like broomball tournaments and ice golf.
The menu is roughly the same throughout the restaurant, with a few variations for lunch and dinner. There are some classics held over from Birch’s, such as the Buckhorn fried chicken—a great crispy bird that has been well honed over the years—and the herb-crusted walleye and smoked ribs will ring familiar with loyalists. Downstairs, the Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich and the double burger are great sustainers when sampling the beers. There are six core beers in rotation that change intermittently. On a recent visit, there was a Pilsen blonde, a hoppy IPA, a Berliner Weisse, a coffee-chocolate golden ale, a witbier, plus an India brown ale. The Weisse sour beer was light and perky, with the right balance to be a great eater’s beer. The chocolate blonde was a shocking surprise, pale as sunshine with a lilting sense of cocoa on the back, making it both intriguing and drinkable.
The supper club’s dishes are traditional, with a few menu items that have a modern twist. Garganelli pasta is replete with hunks of richly braised bison, walleye wild rice cakes are kicked with a bit of spicy harissa, and a crispy pork belly dish sat upon the most engaging bit of bean and corn succotash that had me scraping the plate for more of its subtle richness. Some of the sides, like Brussels with bacon and cauliflower with olives, were disappointing, and while some dishes have been a little clunky and under seasoned, overall, the food is satisfying. The dishes aren’t trying to be refined or cutting edge; instead they seem to go for the heartstrings of nostalgia, while trying to stay relevant to new eaters. To that end, the restaurant succeeds, with Joseph walking the dining room, talking to guests, and touching tables like an old supper club soul. Nice to have it back. 1310 Wayzata Blvd. W., Long Lake, 952-473-7373, birchsonthelake.com