MANCHESTER, N.H. – A very cool and very hip new restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire is pushing some boundaries in the kitchen. With beautiful food, funky décor and craft cocktails, it looks like a trendy spot straight out of Brooklyn, Austin, or Boston. But it’s not. This is The Birch on Elm.
Serving locally sourced, creative small plates, along with some serious drinks, The Birch on Elm is a true passion project for Executive Chef Nick Provencher and General Manager Joel Soucy.
“Birch on Elm is sort of this funky little fever dream cross between a cocktail bar and a global tapas restaurant,” Joel described. “I think it’s one of the first really modern urban restaurants to come to Manchester.”
“I’d say it’s best described as globally-influenced tapas in terms of the menu for food, kind of a more modern concept of a restaurant that we have brought to a town that we felt was kind of lacking any movement in the culinary and drink scene,” Nick said.
The menu at Birch on Elm changes every 6 to 8 weeks, and it is always full of boundary-pushing surprises. There are Asian, French, and Italian influences, yet the atmosphere falls somewhere between a New England hunting lodge, and a traditional English gentleman’s club.
“You’ve got snow shoes on the wall, the 1928 Littleton canoe on the wall, the exposed brick, the exposed beams, all the soft colors and tones,” Joel described. “We also have a lot of hard wood, a lot of soft leather couches, hardwood tables, hardwood bar top. We wanted this place to be shamelessly New Hampshire.”
The truth is, New Hampshire has never really seen dishes like these. There is the Seared Avocado with toasted pumpkin seeds and pomegranate; tempura fried housemade Pickles; blistered Shishito Peppers; and one of the best plates of poutine you will ever taste, even though it is far from the French-Canadian tradition.
“Poutine is something everyone has everywhere, but we wanted to do something different. Hand-punched homemade fries, lamb and feta cheese instead of your traditional cheese curd and gravy. We made the gravy with the braising liquid from the lamb. I think they’re insane,” Chef Nick said. “We try to get people out of their comfort zone but at the same time, give them something relatable that they are comfortable with too.”
Speaking of fried morsels that may be a bit out of your comfort zone, behold the shockingly delicious Octopus Nuggets that are slow braised, tempura fried, and completely addictive.
“They actually have the consistency of scallops. They look like fried scallops, so don’t be too afraid to order octopus,” Joel assured. “It’s really approachable; it’s super delicious. Even the most avid, picky eaters love this dish.”
If you don’t want to order something quite so bold, there are standards like blue corn crusted Fish Tacos; marinated Hanger Steak with sweet potato custard; pan-fried Dumplings with local mushrooms and kimchee; and a spin on Southern-style Chicken and Waffles.
“We get our chicken from Vernon Family Farm. We take our homemade waffle recipe that we were using for brunch, added some blueberries to them, then took local maple syrup and slowly poached sage in it for a few hours to have it pick up that sage flavor,” Nick explained.
“That waffle is just so crispy on the outside, so soft on the inside. And then you get this really rich and slightly floral from the sage syrup on the top of it,” Joel continued. “You get a lot of different textures, you get a lot of different flavors. Super dope comfort food.”
Out of everything on the menu, the number one choice for both Joel and Chef Nick is the Vietnamese Banh Mi Sliders served on a housemade Chinese style steamed buns.
“We make the homemade steamed buns and fill them with house braised pork belly,” Nick said. “We get in big slabs of pork belly and then crisp it up in a pan to order with a little Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrot, some cilantro and fresh cucumber to give a little crunch to it. It’s pretty sensational. It’s my favorite thing on the menu.”
As for the dessert menu, cheesecake is always the house favorite, especially their Salted Caramel Cheesecake with pomegranate molasses. It’s familiar, but different; rich, but somehow refreshing. That is how they keep things fresh and interesting at The Birch on Elm.
“The food alone stands for itself. The drinks alone from a bar standpoint stand for themselves. The service alone stands for itself,” Joel stated. “When you get that trifecta, when you find those places that are really special that have all three, I think it’s something really special.”
You can find The Birch on Elm at 931 Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, and online at thebirch.restaurant.
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