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Where Birds (Occasionally) Fly

By Heather Smith · April 9th, 2008 · The Dish
Indigenous to the wilds of West Norwood, The Speckled Bird Caf233 (1766 Mills Ave., 513-841-BIRD) is nestled on the corner of Carter and Mills. With its patchwork plumage of red brick, baby blue and chartreuse -- and the appliqué of a Speckled Bird staring down from the heavens -- it's hard to miss this place, affectionately called The Bird.

If you're wondering how the café got its name, you need only go to The Bird one day when the owners, who live upstairs, let their pet birds fly free through the restaurant, mingling with guests. (This doesn't happen often.) While The Bird might be no place for the Tippi Hedrens of the world, it's perfect for the Xavier students, St. Elizabeth church members and local residents who frequent it to play Boggle, perform on the un-tuned piano or listen to live music on Saturday nights.

Once inside The Bird's nest, you get a clear idea of its preferences: mindful vintage -- with speckles. Retro, refurbished thrift chairs -- some padded, some just wooden deck -- surround tables of all sizes, including a tiny kids' table in the corner.

While The Bird's tagline is "Good coffee in West Norwood," it's clear from its menu that it has bigger ambitions.

In addition to a variety of coffee concoctions, the café also serves crepes, waffles, breads and scones on Sundays and mixed green salads, soup du jour and grilled sandwiches (paninis) on weekdays.

I observed The Bird on both crepe Sunday and grilled sandwich Tuesday. On Sunday, The Bird sang, but on Tuesday, it made only muffled peeps.

Sweet and savory crepes were the order on Sunday, as my dining partner and I indulged in the Hummingbird crepe, with decadent bananas, sweet strawberries, mild chocolate and freshly whipped cream. I'd never had a crepe so lightly and naturally sweetened. Next, we dove into the Piaf crepe, with naturally savory ingredients -- egg, mozzarella, brie, portabella and deep, buttery Hollandaise sauce -- that needed little spice. We topped all of this off with one of local chef Jean Francois' Belgian waffles ($3.30), made from pure pastry dough and ingredients imported from Belgium. My taste buds mistook the mild-mannered waffle for a heavenly cream cheese Danish drenched in vanilla.

My Tuesday lunch at The Bird wasn't quite as spectacular. With only two people on staff -- one of whom was the cook -- The Bird needed help. It took about 25 minutes to get our sandwiches (it is a coffee house). When they arrived, they didn't have the depth of flavor and the interesting culinary twists -- such as crepes with sweet curry -- that I'd come to expect from The Bird. The Pippit ($6), with freshly baked whole-grain bread, hummus, spinach, provolone and roasted red peppers was scant on hummus and low on flavor. The Reuben ($6) was tasty but traditional -- a hardy proportion of sauerkraut, fresh turkey, 1000 Island dressing and Swiss. Unfortunately, our only choices for sides were "fruit" (orange slices), potato chips and blue corn chips.

But none of this seemed to matter as much when lunch was over, and I was still sipping my homemade Indian Iced Chai Tea ($2.75), which can only be described as exciting, and my friend finished her rich latte ($3), with its distinct coffee lovers' bite. I was then reminded that, yes, I'm in a coffee house. That's what The Bird is. Fortunately for West Norwood, it's a coffee house that happens to have some of the better food of its breed.

CONTACT HEATHER SMITH: letters@citybeat.com



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