I am not a person with a huge amount of disposable income. I rarely buy new clothes, think twice before taking cabs, and I don’t even have cable. My one splurge however, is on my favorite pastime– dining out. Even this is usually only a once a week occurrence. Naturally then, when I pick a place, I want it to be great. I want it to count. I try not to waste dinners on repeat visits unless I love a place, or if a certain dish there keeps me coming back. You will see that is is no small detail then, when I tell you I have been to Thistle Hill Tavern in Park Slope Brooklyn, five times in two months.
I love many things on the menu but have a meaningful relationship with a very special veggie burger adorned with every bit as special salt and pepper fries.
I have been searching far and wide for the perfect, satisfying veggie burger for months now, and now that I have finally found it, I am not letting go.
“There is something very American,” BF mused thoughtfully the other day in between bites, burger in hand, “about eating a burger.”
I concur. It doesn’t even have to have ground meat. A hamburger, a veggie burger, a tuna burger, a tofu burger. Something about a patty sandwiched between a nice fresh bun, garnished with your favorite fixins, washed down with a cold pint (Thistle Hill has several on tap and more by the bottle, all shockingly reasonably priced). I can’t think of anything more satisfying. Which is why I’ve had (or at least split) the Vegan Burger (as it is called, it is really just a veggie burger with no cheese), at Thistle Hill all five times I’ve been. They just get it right. The homemade patty is flavorful but a bit delicate and tends to fall apart slightly as homemade veggie burgers tend to do. No matter, stuff it back into the always soft and fresh potato bun, smear some catchup on there to act as glue (the homemade red pepper catchup is nice, but I’m an old fashioned girl and I go for the real stuff– you know, bright red, comprised more of sugar and preservatives than tomatoes), and continue enjoying. Don’t forget to take periodic breaks for those salt and pepper fries which are liberally seasoned with their namesake. They’re nicely fried yet still somehow taste more of potato than any other fries I know. They stay warm for awhile, since they come out piping hot each time.
Lately I’ve been splitting the burger, not because it’s so huge (it is a nice generous portion though and they’re never stingy with the fries), but because there is so much else on the menu to try. Meat and fish entrée options abound for the omnivores, but there are also tons of options for vegetarians and even vegans. Not paltry little condolence prizes that you find at many places, but real, thoughtfully considered and well executed dishes. I’ve been opting lately to go for the salads, starters, and sides to round out my burger. All delicious. All generously portioned. The summer wax beans are nice at first glance. Gently charred, they still maintain their bean-taste. Then you go in for another bite, and you wonder “whatever is this sauce that they are graced with?” It’s listed on the menu as a “mustard herb aoili” but I get notes of lemon and dill. As you work your way through the plate of beans, you will find yourself swiveling the last few in the remaining aoili on the plate, getting every last drop of the lemony-rich deliciousness.
Salads are excellent, and again, generously portioned. The Arugula and Radicchio salad with heirloom tomatoes, parmesan, lemon and parsley sounds a bit steep for $10, but it is easily large enough to share for two or even three people. Fresh, impossibly flavorful, very satisfying when eaten with a bite of the thinly sliced soft fresh bread adorning the table. On another occasion, I also sampled the Shaved Green Market Salad ($12). With everything but the kitchen sink (raw kale, greens, apples, sunflower seeds, beets and carrots) in this vegetable-heavy (and vegan) salad, you feel like your skin glows after eating it.
Go easy on the bread with your salad though, you haven’t gotten to the best part! You must order from the “Sides and Snacks” portion of the menu. The charred kale is good, the zucchini pancakes are pleasant (lightly fried tasty little bites), the fresh fig and marscarpone crostini is lovely (and would also be good as a dessert) and the fried fennel is ridiculously good. It arrives in a little bowl with a wedge or two of lemon, looking like a cross between tempura and calamari. I don’t know what happens to the fennel when it hits the oil, but it seems to separate, and the sections spread out and fry up into in big golden tangles. The inside is moist and juicy. Enjoy that with a cold glass of their very balanced and not oaky chardonnay or nice and dry prosecco (both $7), and you can thank me later.
The interior of Thistle Hill is charming. Bustling and at the same time fairly cozy, depending on when you go. I’ve gone on Friday night at 8:00 and waited half an hour for a table at the small bar area, I’ve also been seated right away. Lately, as the heart of summer sneakily passes by, I’ve been into eating outside. Seating is somewhat set back and separated from the sidewalk, and you can enjoy the view of 7th avenue and you pace out your long and lingering meal. Service is attentive (with the exception of once, and in all fairness we were seated at the very end of the night, when the kitchen closes and the place turns more into a bar), waters are never empty, servers never pressure you to speed up your meal. Especially if there happens to be an open table or two around you, don’t feel bad about taking your time. Order a snack, sip on some wine or draught beer or choose from one of their creative cocktails. Have a salad and some bread, talk, relax, people watch, have another drink, let the day soften behind you as the sun sets. If you don’t get to everything you want to eat on the menu on your first visit, relax. You can always come back.
written by: kate