Thistle Hill Tavern: Locals Only Please 

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Thistle Hill Tavern
441 Seventh Ave, Park Slope, 347-599-1262
Rating:3 out of 5 L's

Although it just opened in May, Thistle Hill Tavern seems like it's been nestled on its cozy Park Slope corner forever. With sidewalk seating enclosed by wrought-iron gates (perfect for fencing in runaway toddlers), an ornate old-neighborhood entryway, and sunshine filtering through a stained-glass window with a pineapple-meets-Brooklyn Bridge motif, this place is catnip for folks who want to feed their kids local zucchini gratin while sipping a frosty pint. When we arrived at 8:30 on a weeknight, the young families were gone for the evening, but there was a 20-minute wait for a table. Business is good.

Two of the tavern's owners hail from 'inoteca on the Lower East Side, the third got into the food service business as a bartender, and the fourth is Fat Mike, from the punk band NOFX. Back in March, when local food bloggers were abuzz about the tavern's imminent opening, Fat Mike showed up at SXSW dressed as Cokie the Clown, told some extremely disturbing stories to a packed Austin club, and played a practical joke that involved pee in a tequila bottle (let's not go into details at the table). It wasn't the best publicity stunt for a guy opening a restaurant, but news of his performance probably didn't make it to the gentle, kid-friendly heart of the Slope. And even if it did, this part of the neighborhood was in such need of a place like Thistle Hill that Fat Mike's antics didn't deter anyone. (And thankfully, they're not pushing margaritas here.)

So, start with a round of ice-cold Brooklyn Pennant Ales and the delicious batter-fried fennel ($4) and zucchini pancakes ($5). Both bar snacks could stand to be a bit crispier, but simple preparations and fresh produce make the vegetable flavors sing. Add an order of spicy house-made pickled vegetables ($5) for some crunch. Next, share the roasted beet and watercress salad ($11) accented with toasted pistachios and tasty little orbs of fried blue cheese. Move on to the juicy leg of lamb ($18), complemented by a well-balanced cracked wheat salad with sweet charred eggplant, sharp arugula, creamy feta, and a smoky tomato vinaigrette. For a lighter meal, try the airy, pan-seared ricotta gnocchi ($14) with spring peas, crushed almonds, and mint.

For those avoiding meat and dairy, the hearty, house-made vegan burger ($13) is worth making a trip, but for the rest of us, the bustling Thistle Hill Tavern isn't necessarily destination-worthy. If you live within walking distance, kick the rating up to four L's—and tell your friends from outside the ten-block radius to quit taking up tables and find their own neighborhood joint.

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