Birdie's is a neighborhood spot that's rethinking the restaurant industry.
“We had a few Negroni’s at this bar in the East Village, and I said to him, ‘We’re going to open a restaurant one day.’”
“And without missing a beat, he responds, ‘Yeah,” and then he says, “and we’re going to get married, too.’”
They hadn’t even been on a single date.
This is how Chef Tracy Malechek, her husband, Arjav Ezekiel, and Birdie’s, one of Austin’s best new restaurants, came to be.
Tracy always dreamed about being a chef, even before she really knew what being one meant. “I always had the passion, but never cooked, I was too busy with sports,” she says, as grocery deliveries trickle into the restaurant. “Sorry, I’m the only one here three mornings a week, so I end up receiving all the deliveries.”
“When I was 10, I made this book, I still have it, where you write a story about your life,” she laughs, “and it was me opening a restaurant and there was just a hamburger on the menu.”
It continued on that way throughout the rest of her childhood. “I just loved going to different restaurants,” she says. “Over anything else, if someone asked me what I wanted to do, it was to go out to eat.”
After living in Barcelona, Tracy started cooking in Chicago, attended CIA in Hyde Park, NY, and cooked for years in NYC. She ended up at Gramercy Tavern. With that team, Tracy opened Untitled at the Whitney where she met Arjav.
Arjav, at the time, was a Captain, which means he was a leader on the front-of-house team. There were nights where it’d be just Tracy and Arjav running the restaurant, and as they became more frequent, they began to notice their similar view on what they wanted to create, from the food, to the hospitality, even to the music.
“After long shifts, we’d do that thing where you walk with someone every night and then break off, and then one night we were like, let’s grab a drink.” The rest, well, that’s history.
Moving from New York to Austin was tough. “Adjusting to the car lifestyle took a minute,” she laughs, “as did finding our community here.”
While they originally thought Birdie’s would be an Italian-American Fine Dining spot, when they arrived in Austin, they felt like something was missing.
“We really wanted a place that you could pop in on a Wednesday that was easy going, but delicious, and drink wine,” Tracy says, “so we decided to make Birdie’s that instead.”
While the menu changes constantly, reactive to the Texas seasons as well as Chef Tracy’s spontaneous cooking, the food remains relatively simple, straightforward, and always delicious. Whether it's the panisse with crushed black pepper and pecorino stacked atop one another like Jenga blocks, the rotating homemade pasta, always perfectly al dente, or their mouthwatering, plate-filling chocolate chip cookie, each bite is as delicious as the last. And with Arjav running the wine program, it’s not just a great place to eat, but to grab a drink and hang out.
“That’s kind of the whole point,” Tracy says. “We want people to feel like they’re coming into our house, for a dinner party.”
This welcoming attitude radiates throughout the entire space. Whether it’s the open kitchen, the backyard that looks as though it might be your friend’s, the demeanor of the staff, the music booming from the speakers.
Moreover, Birdie’s has a unique business model. Using the free time they had during COVID, Tracy and Arjav dialed in their concept and service model. They prioritized providing a livable wage, offering health insurance, closing twice a year to recharge our batteries, and they figured out we couldn't have a traditional business model. That's why they have the counter service model which needs less dining room team members.
Chef Tracy describes the kitchen as “one that lacks ego,” adding that “we all just want to cook delicious food.”
Best of all, Chef Tracy gets to do it all with the person she loves. “Combining being a restaurant owner, chef, and running it all with my husband,” she says, “well, I’m living the dream.”