Phoenix has plenty of drive-thrus. Even though adding them has proven controversial in areas within the footprint of the ReinventPHX initiative, preservationists have sometimes fought to save existing ones. With plenty of chains offering coffee to those in cars, it’s refreshing to see a walk-up coffee house. Birdhaus Coffeebar, located on Vernon Street where Midtown meets the Willo historic district, is a business that serves coffee and waffles from a tiny building easily reached on foot, via bicycle, or by taking light rail to Encanto / Central station a half block away.
Of course, it’s also possible to drive to Birdhaus, but the location next to a pocket park, along with a row of bike racks along the curb, sends the message that the automobile is one of many ways to reach the shop, rather than the primary or exclusive one. The small structure on Vernon has been home to another coffee house and a doughnut shop before its current incarnation as an offshoot of the neighboring Oven+Vine restaurant. Birdhaus’ menu does not echo its larger, full-service sibling but instead maintains its own narrow focus on beverages, waffles, and a few snack items.
As expected, the menu begins with coffee and espresso beverages. There’s a changing special drink announced on a sandwich board sign along the sidewalk. In keeping with the “Put a Bird on It” theme in the shop’s name and the bird houses placed in the trees nearby, the featured beverage always has an avian name. Recent variations have included the Swan, a vanilla white mocha; the Penguin, a blend of white and dark with peppermint; and the Woodpecker, a base of chai and steamed milk augmented with a shot of espresso and topped with a drizzle of espresso.
For sustenance, Birdhaus offers just a few snacks rather than a typical spectrum of pastry. Choices include hard-boiled eggs, packaged yogurt, and breakfast bars. The coffee house’s signature item, however, is a waffle made to order and served with either Nutella or maple syrup. The waffles are fluffy and yielding with just a bit of crispness on the edges. Topped with powdered sugar, they’re a light breakfast or as a substantial snack. In keeping with the Portlandia theme, think of this as a much smaller version of the famous Waffle Window from Oregon’s largest city.
One detail should be noted — particularly by fans of the prior tenants at this location. There used to be an interior space that functioned as an extension of the coffee house. That space is now occupied by an insurance office, so be advised that all seating is now outdoors. In addition, there’s no longer a customer-accessible restroom in the morning before Oven+Vine opens. For both reasons, be prepared to purchase items to go. Even with this caveat, Birdhaus’ walk-up design is a pleasant alternative to drive-thru coffee places, no matter what mode of transport is involved.
10 W. Vernon St., Phoenix AZ 85003