The Hippo


Apr 25, 2019








The Birch on Elm co-owner and bartender Joel Soucy. Photo credit Benjamin Hjelm.

The Birch on Elm 

Where: 931 Elm St., Manchester 
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight 
Contact: 782-5365

Uniting on Elm
Chef, bartender collaborate on Manchester restaurant

By Angie Sykeny

 When Joel Soucy and Nick Provencher began working together at The Foundry Restaurant in Manchester, it didn’t take long for them to discover their shared vision. Soucy was a bartender, Provencher was a sous chef, and together they would experiment with food and drink pairings that turned out to be a hit with customers. 

“It was an a-ha moment when we started doing those pairings,” Soucy said. “We’re both 24, and it was the first time I had met someone else who was young and passionate and voraciously hungry to learn about his craft.” 
Now the two have struck out on their own to open a new restaurant, The Birch on Elm, in the space previously occupied by Funktion Spirits and Spoonfuls at 931 Elm St. in Manchester. They held their grand opening on Friday, Sept. 16. 
Soucy, who was also a bartender at Funktion before it closed last spring, said he’s had his eye on the space since he started noticing “red flags” at the restaurant. 
“I definitely saw it coming, so the week after they put the closed sign in the window, [Nick and I] had already give them the deposit for the location,” he said. “I think it’s got incredible potential, and I really think we belong here.” 
The small, intimate restaurant seats up to 46 people in a rustic atmosphere with brick walls, dimmed lighting, pops of dark green and wooden accents featuring reclaimed wood from a Milford barn and an old canoe above the bar. The name and the overall vibe of the restaurant, Soucy said, are inspired by New Hampshire. 
“We were both born and raised in New Hampshire, and we really wanted to embrace that,” he said. 
The Birch uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, and the menu is kept purposefully simple to allow for more conversation about the food. 
It’s divided into small, medium and large plates. The small plates are light snacks such as sourdough focaccia, pumpkin bisque and a cheese board. The medium plates, with things like scallops, cauliflower fritter and duck confit ravioli, are shareable and can be treated as tapas, but they’re also “fully composed dishes with a focus and accompanying features,” Soucy said, and can be treated as a small-portion entree. The large plates are regular entrees such as pork belly noodles with broth, bok choy and egg; Arctic char with spinach, turnip and lemon; and duck with pumpkin, Brussels sprouts and pistachio. 
An essential characteristic of The Birch and part of what makes it unique, he said, is the emphasis on the bar being as important as the kitchen. 
“I feel like a lot of people will open a restaurant … and the bar is an afterthought,” he said, “when a bar is really the pulse of the heart. It’s the drummer of the band. It’s not a glamorous thing, but we pride ourselves on giving the same attention to both hands of the house.”
For drinks, The Birch offers local beers including bottled and four seasonal varieties rotating on tap, a growing wine list and a menu of classic cocktails. There is a strong focus on food and drink pairings and on personalized variations on traditional drinks. 
“It’s funny how you can start with something so basic and tweak it a little bit to add a different element and create an entirely new experience,” Soucy said. “That’s largely what my cocktail program is about.” 
While customer feedback has been positive so far, the turnout has primarily consisted of the bar crowd and people who are familiar with Soucy from his time working at The Foundry and Funktion, so the goal right now, he said, is to get the word out and attract new faces. 
“Nick has some really cool stuff going with the food that you don’t see very often,” he said, “so we can’t wait for the dining hours to pick up and for the dinner crowd to understand what’s going on here and come experience it.”  

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