Inside Birdie’s Journey — A Tale of Evolution and Culinary Innovation
How a Power Couple Brought East Coast Vibes to Texas
By Darcie Duttweiler
Photos by Brian Fitzsimmons
Every day at 4:30 pm, like clockwork, a long line forms outside Birdie’s. It snakes around a white brick building on the corner of East 12th and Harvey Streets.
After debuting in July 2021, Birdie’s made a splash both locally and nationally. The New York Times named Birdie’s to its list of the 50 American restaurants it was “most excited about right now.”
“Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel’s bright, graceful food [is] on the leading edge of what makes eating great in this booming town,” the article states.
And the line outside got longer — for good reason.
Chef Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel and her husband Arjav Ezekiel met while opening Danny Meyer’s Untitled at the Whitney Museum in New York City in 2015. Malechek-Ezekiel was the sous chef and Ezekiel was the dining room manager.
One night, Malechek-Ezekiel invited Ezekiel out for Negronis in their neighborhood. The hospitality pair chatted about one day opening up their own restaurant together.
“Arjav suggested we get married, and we hadn’t even gone on one date yet,” Malechek-Ezekiel laughs.
“I had a huge crush on her!” Ezekiel admits.
The duo resided in Brooklyn, but began to consider their next move. While Malechek-Ezekiel, from Tomball, wanted to return to Texas, Ezekiel aimed to open a restaurant in his hometown of Portland.
So they flipped a coin. Texas won.
More Than the “Annual Destination Dinner”
Anyone in the hospitality industry knows that opening a new restaurant is never easy. Owning and operating a restaurant is not only grueling, it’s expensive.
Ezekiel and Malechek-Ezekiel originally wanted to open a fine-dining Italian restaurant with a wood-burning oven. But while exploring Austin’s dining scene, they realized they wanted to create a neighborhood-style eatery, not the “annual destination dinner.”
“We wanted a place we could eat and drink at on a weeknight,” explains Malechek-Ezekiel. “It was as simple as that.”
Malechek-Ezekiel wanted seasonally-driven fare inspired by France and Italy that paired with natural wine using the finest ingredients. (Ezekiel jokes that the olive oil bill alone causes him discomfort.)
The team aimed to create a distinctive dining experience in Austin, fostering customer loyalty and ensuring sustainability for owners and staff.
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The duo searched their souls, researched and saved. Malechek-Ezekiel worked as a pastry chef at Jeffrey’s and Ezekiel as a server at Olamaie.
A pivotal trip to Los Angeles left a lasting impression. They found inspiration in restaurants like Sqirl and Destroyer, which offered elevated cuisine in a casual setting.
Ezekiel wondered if it could be replicated for dinner. He wanted to implement a counter-service model instead of traditional table service in the name of cost efficiency. It would allow the focus to remain on the high-quality ingredients desired by Malechek-Ezekiel.
New York Inside, Austin Outside
The result is Birdie’s, which the duo deems “fine-casual” cuisine.
Yes, you wait in line — typically with a glass of vino in hand. You order food and wine at the counter. Then you find a seat at contemporary wooden tables designed by KKDW Studios.
If the weather is cooperating, you grab a seat outside under the covered patio surrounded by crepe myrtles.
“We wanted the inside to feel like New York and the outside to feel like Austin,” says Ezekiel.
Birdie’s Is Always Changing
Your food arrives as it’s prepared, and you can order more with roaming servers that fill your glasses.
The menu changes almost daily and always seasonally, with heavier dishes in the winter and lighter dishes in the summer.
But there are a few that have stuck around, like the steak tartare, soft-serve ice cream topped with olive oil and the gooey chocolate chip cookie.
The wine list, curated by Ezekiel, also changes seasonally.
Moral of the story? You’ll have to go back again and again and try new things — and also, the tartare is one of the best in town.
While Birdie’s is laser-focused on the guest experience, the restaurant cares deeply about its staff and its career development.
The pandemic heightened this priority for the duo. Healthcare, mental health, living wages, paid days off and parental leave are non-negotiable benefits for all employees.
“We think it’s really important for people to be in good mind, good health and good spirit,” says Ezekiel. “It makes the restaurant a place that’s an enjoyable experience for our guests.”
Regularly Transforming Birdie’s
In addition to the ever-evolving menu, Malechek-Ezekiel and her kitchen team enjoy creating regular pop-ups.
The team regularly turns Birdie’s into a traditional Italian trattoria called Aiello’s, named after her grandfather. In December, it’s a French bistro pop-up. Coming this summer, it will be a Korean pop-up helmed by sous chef Heejae Galluccio.
“We discover a lot about ourselves as owners and restaurateurs,” Malechek-Ezekiel says. “And the management team learns a lot about themselves.”
“The service team and the cooks learn a lot about their own abilities to change,” continues Malechek-Ezekiel. “They’re inspired to do different things and be themselves in a really important way.”
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