As soon as we walked into Birdies Bread Co. that warm morning back in the spring of 2017, I knew we found something special. I think what I was yearning for was a place where I could enjoy a coffee while my daughter could have a small treat, a low-pressure mother/daughter date where we could enjoy each other’s company. At that time my daughter was just 3 — big enough to sit on a chair and reach the table. When we approached the counter to order, we were greeted by a friendly, smiling face. I didn’t even get past the “sourdough pain au chocolat” as I read out the selections from the pastry case to my daughter before she knew what she wanted. We sat at one of the tables in the sunny bakery and my daughter enjoyed her “chocolate croissant” with cookie-monster style abandon. Located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Birdies specialty is sourdough — which is in everything from their breads to the pastries. Grain from “the Valley” (the Annapolis Valley) is ground in-house with their beautiful stone mill that sits near the back of the bakery.
Birdies is built on the love, devotion, and bread baking skills of Jessica Best. As you take a seat in the café, there, on the wall facing the counter are two old photographs of happy, smiling people — Best’s grandparents. An excerpt from a Chronical Herald story about Best’s grandmother by local journalist and photographer, Kelly Neil, tells the story behind the origin of the Birdies name:
Best describes her grandfather Styles as a man with a great sense of humour who was never afraid to be silly around his grandchildren. His lifelong flair for bestowing nicknames on those around him led to calling his wife Vickie “Birdie,” his daughter Cathy “Bun,” and his six grandchildren “birdies” or “sweet birds.” Best says when she was in the process of opening her bakery in Dartmouth she brainstormed a list of names for the business but nothing really stuck or made sense.“Then I started thinking about nostalgia, and family, and food memories and the name Birdies hit me like a flash of lightning,” says Best.“For as long as I can remember I’ve been one of Mama and Papa’s birdies and now, when I get homesick, I can be here in this space and find comfort, because it always reminds me of my family and my home.”
Being “from away” as the Maritimers say, I feel a bit wayward at times — born and raised in Edmonton, lived much of my adult life in Ontario and now here in Nova Scotia, I think I feel like Best sometimes — looking for places that remind me of family and home. And, what I’ve come to learn during our weekly trips to Birdies is that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. It’s not unusual for people at neighbouring tables to strike up a conversation and, it always makes me smile later when my daughter refers to one of those conversations by saying, “remember what our friend said…” Now, I couldn’t tell you that friend’s name, but I can tell you that there is a comradery in Birdies that’s tough to find elsewhere.
This convivial atmosphere extends to the back of the house as well. Best employs tremendously talented and kind people. To say that my daughter is attached to the people who work there is a bit of an understatement. At the beginning, during those first visits, it was the original front of house manager, Sadie, who befriended my daughter. Sadie was happy to talk about whatever my three-year-old was of a mind to discuss, with each visit Birdies became “our place.” When Sadie left to go off to do other things, she assured Katie that she would love the next person just as much. At that time, I thought the tears would be never-ending but after meeting the new bakery manager, Ray, Katie was alright. Now a visit to Birdies isn’t complete without seeing Ray (also a talented artist whose work adorns the walls of the café), Jessica, “Maggie the Baker,” or any of the other friendly, smiling faces.
So, what about the food? I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Bridies and had bad bread. In the early days we would have our sourdough pastries and I would have a regular coffee (the only type they serve and it’s delicious!) but now we try to make it in on certain days: Fridays for the grilled cheese and soup or on Saturday mornings for a delicious breakfast sandwich on a sourdough English muffin. While each day offers the regular selection of breads and pastries there are some items that are only available at certain times during the week — take-home pizza dough, morning buns, or the chocolate chunk rye cookies. It’s always good to check their Instagram feed to see what the special of the day is because their selection of in house made sandwich, salad, and/or soup changes daily. And, if you’ve got your heart set on something then try to go as early as you can because once something is sold out then you’re out of luck.
I often joke when I’m picking out goodies to bring home that Birdies feeds us when I get tired of cooking. The Country Sourdough makes some gorgeous sandwiches, the milk buns totally make any veggie burger a little extra, and the sourdough pizza dough is devine! While we enjoy pastries there, I’m always sure to bring home a few sourdough pain au chocolat too. There is now a large refrigerator case full of offerings from Off Beet Farm, kombucha, and other delights, such as the pizza dough on Saturdays. If you’re looking for crispbreads, granola, or the like Birdies has those too, which can be found on the shelves near the cash. In case you’re wondering: their pastries made with sourdough are (dare I say it?) more delicious than any of the non-sourdough kind. But don’t take my word for it — you’ll have to go and try one for yourself!
Located at 380 Pleasant Street in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (wheelchair accessible). Open Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (but please note that the closer you get to close you might run the risk of your favourite item being sold out, so my tip is to go on the early side). The Café has a couch, tables, and a counter with stools along the window, and you’ll find seating outside during the warmer months. Cash, debit, and credit are accepted. (www.birdiesbreadco.com)