Time Out New York
The neighborhood restaurant is a genre beloved by Brooklynites, whose Kings County pride is fueled by casual eateries—places where thoughtful food can coexist with reasonable prices and friendly service. There’s obvious comfort to be found in the bond between regulars and their go-to filling station, but it can be a curse to the ambitions of a hungry chef. After all, how good can a neighborhood joint be if only the locals take to it?
At first glance, Thistle Hill Tavern—the most recent addition to South Slope’s growing culinary cosmos—appears to be another example of the borough’s navel-gazing nostalgia. The cozy interior feels like a temple to turn-of-the-20th-century Brooklyn (dark wood, antique maps, black-and-white photos), and the seasonal New American angle—with its earnest balance of meat, fish and vegetarian-friendly offerings—is a predictable match. What’s not predictable, however, is the accomplished food—at her best, chef Rebecca Weitzman, an ’inoteca alum and winner of Food Network’s Chopped, produces dishes that are too good to be bound by a single zip code.
Though the menu doesn’t list any appetizers, tapas-like “snacks & sides” provide a good starting point. A fig-and-mascarpone crostini was delicately executed, balancing the sweetness of the thinly sliced fruit with rich, buttery cheese. Pair it with a selection from a wine list that highlights small producers, or mull your options over a local beer (Brooklyn Brewery, Kelso and Sixpoint all get nods on an otherwise limited list). Salads were more hit-and-miss than the small bites. One ill-advised heap of acrid kale, radishes, carrots and apples came drenched in a dull herb vinaigrette. But the chopped salad was a soaring counterpoint: bright and zesty, with fleshy slices of red, green and yellow heirloom tomatoes fanned out alongside a textural collage of crunchy celery, briny ricotta salata and chewy lardons, all drizzled with a cooling cucumber-coriander dressing.
While entrées include a requisite burger—house-ground, juicy and served on an oversize potato roll—you’ll find better value in Weitzman’s frequently changing lineup of Mediterranean-leaning dishes. A leg of lamb displayed a light touch, with salty feta and a citrusy bed of cracked wheat cutting through the richness of the supremely tender meat. Even better were plump Maine mussels flecked one late-summer night with tiny currant tomatoes and clusters of corn kernels. An order of french fries—cut thick and seasoned liberally with sea salt and freshly ground pepper—acted as a savory sponge for the aromatic white-wine broth.
Not everything hit the mark, though. The chef’s restraint can backfire, as in a dish of pan-seared cuttlefish; swimming in an arrabbiata-like sauce of roasted tomato and mild Calabrian chilies, the chewy mollusk needed more kick to come to life. Desserts, like a bland goat-cheese panna cotta, could be skipped in favor of farmstead cheese (choices include local and international picks) or a rich, nutty espresso made with locally roasted beans.
Thistle Hill may take some tweaking before gastro-tourists start jostling neighborhood families and young professionals for a table. Until then, South Slopers should be pleased to have a local tavern this satisfying.