by Charles McGuigan
Bring hither the fatted calf, for the prodigal returns . . . to Northside.
When Early Bird Biscuit Company moved off Lakeside Avenue a couple years back there was a palpable void left in the Northside, a hole so deep you couldn’t fill it. Not with anything. The biscuits were perfection, golden brown on the outside and light and airy within, and the housemade pimento cheese coupled with Applewood smoked bacon was to die for.
Back in July of 2014, Tim Laxton opened the first permutation of Early Bird Biscuit Company in a very small space (just a little over 250 square feet) at 5411 Lakeside Avenue, and every day thereafter a steady stream of customers waited each morning for the doors to open. Often, Tim would step outside, take orders, return to the kitchen to make the biscuits, and then deliver the purchases to his customers standing in the parking lot. He remained at that location for about a year and a half, and then moved to 119 North Robinson Street, a boon for the Fan District, a letdown for Northside.
Just recently, in early December, Tim opened Early Bird Biscuit at 1221 Bellevue Avenue (the Robinson Street venue will remain open). Tim had planned to open the Bellevue store last July, but there were, as usual, problems with the city.
I drop in to see Tim the day after his soft opening, and he is behind the counter pressing his weight down on a rolling pin to flatten a ball of dough from which he’ll cut perfect circles for small apple pies, one of his specialties. That rolling pin was carved from a single block of wood in the 1800s by Tim’s great-grandfather, Pa Harrison, whose wife made legions of biscuits over the years using the same tool Tim now wields. It passed through the generations doing its appointed work, and ended up in the able hands of Tim Laxton. “I use it for every single biscuit that I make here,” Tim told me years ago.
The interior of this space has the same feel of that first Early Bird Biscuit Company on Lakeside Avenue. The walls painted a pale yellow; floors covered in black-and-white linoleum tiles, one-foot squares like a checkerboard; three enamel-topped tables just like the one in the kitchen of Tim’s grandmother where her husband would sit before a platter of fresh-baked biscuits and ritualistically split one open and mash warm butter into it, then slather it with blackstrap molasses. Also this: there’s a green screen door between the front and the back of the house. A real screen door made of dense wood with layers of paint. And it doesn’t have one of those pneumatic pistons that lets the door shut with nothing more than a whisper. This screen door closes with the help of a simple mechanism—a spring, and each time the door slaps shut and the spring twangs, I am in my grandmother’s kitchen overlooking her flower-rich backyard at 28 Catharine Street in South Philly.
Though Tim will do all the baking here himself, the store will be managed by Sam Denny, who started off as a loyal customer. “Sam was one of my biggest fans,” says Tim.
Tim’s menu includes all the old favorites from the flaky buttermilk biscuit with housemade jam to biscuits with sawmill sausage gravy, and others. And for the lunch crowd there are biscuits with Tim’s unique chicken salad, or bacon and Benedictine, or apple, bacon and cheddar, or sundried tomatoes with organic greens and balsamic vinegar. One featuring Reginald’s peanut butter and housemade jam. And, of course, pimento cheese and bacon—a food of the gods.
Tim’s planning to introduce a build-own-biscuit. “I want my customers to have what they want to eat,” says Tim Laxton, as he wipes his hands on a cloth towel, then begins spooning the apple mixture in to one of the pie crusts. “It’s important to touch every part of the process,” he says.
Early Bird Biscuit Company
Tue-Fri 7 am-1 pm, Sat 7am-Noon
1221 Bellevue Avenue
Richmond, VA 23227