Hotel Food, Elevated:
This past summer I wrote an article about Sunday brunch at the University Park Marriott and a very entertaining afternoon performance of the Viva La DIVA show there. Brunch was excellent, and the Viva La DIVA show was about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. But something very attractive other than the DIVAs also caught my eye: The Wakara Bar at the Marriott, and Thistle & Thyme restaurant. Neither looked like your pappy’s Marriott food and beverage spots. I was intrigued.
Thistle & Thyme
And so, I returned with my wife and stepsons recently to enjoy dinner at Thistle & Thyme. Since we wanted to get a taste of a number of different dishes from the restaurant’s menu, the kitchen staff was kind enough to divvy the dishes into manageable, “tapas” size portions rather than the usual full-size. The photos here reflect the smaller servings; the roasted chicken, for example, isn’t the standard half-chicken portion that you’d normally get as a guest. I don’t see it often, but I really like restaurants that offer half-size portions of menu items that allow customers to taste a variety of dishes, rather than on appetizer, one entree, and so on.
I hate to “tease” readers with dishes that are on regular restaurant menus … However, an appetizer conceived and prepared by new Thistle & Thyme Executive Chef Matt Tauszik (who replaced Jason Talcott who’s now Food & Beverage Director) was so interesting and so delicious, that I’m hoping it will soon become a part of the regular menu. It was a sea scallop, seared with a sprinkle of Oaxacan chocolate on a bed of pureed purple cauliflower with quinoa and micro greens. My first thought was: chocolate and shellfish???? But the slightly sweet chocolate was a welcome contrast to the slightly bitter scallop and cauliflower – a case of opposites attracting. It was a very innovative dish that helps to illustrate how different Thistle & Thyme is from many, if not most, hotel restaurants.
Freedom to Create
The chefs at Thistle & Thyme have a lot of freedom, I was told. They aren’t constrained by a top-down corporate menu. And so, dining at this hotel restaurant feels a lot more like eating in an independent, chef-focused eatery like Pallet, Martine, Tin Angel, Fireside on Regent, and others. It’s not at all what I expected at a Marriott property. So, muchos kudos to Marriott for giving their chefs the freedom to create.
Chicken and Waffles
Chicken and waffles is certainly “a thing” in American restaurants these days, from the funkiest to the finest. I’m OK with that. At Thistle & Thyme, buttermilk fried chicken is cornflake coated and served with a Liege waffle, candied bacon, fried sage leaves, maple-walnut butter, and a small carafe of thyme and pink peppercorn-infused maple syrup. I’ve tasted a lot of variations on the chicken and waffle theme, but none any better than this.
But chicken isn’t just about waffles. Personally, there is nothing I like better at the dinner table than a perfectly roasted chicken. It should be straightforward and simple. And that’s what you get here: organic chicken, perfectly roasted and served with richly-flavored chicken jus, fried leeks, and buttermilk mashed potatoes. It’s simple perfection.
Where’s the beef, you ask? Well, there’s a 44 Farms flat iron steak on the menu that comes with black bean salad, pico de gallo, avocado, and crispy tortillas. I like the Southwestern spin that the chef puts on the steak. Thistle & Thyme is very comfy with comfort food, as evidenced by menu items like deviled eggs, bacon-maple popcorn, the aforementioned chicken and waffle, roasted chicken, hot wings, “loaded” tater tots, and meatloaf. Who doesn’t love homemade meatloaf? Here, it’s bacon-wrapped and served with mashers, house-made gravy, tomato jam, and a jumbo fried lattice potato chip.
Yet another comfort food staple is the restaurant’s version of the Southern classic: shrimp and grits. Of all the dishes we enjoyed, this was the only miss. The technicolor orange hue when the plate arrived threw me a bit. It didn’t look like any shrimp and grits I’d had before. Well, it turns out that the color comes from Buffalo wing-style hot sauce, which is exactly what it tastes like. Unfortunately, the tangy hot sauce obfuscates the subtle flavor of the shrimp and the grits, making them an afterthought. It’s a dish that could use some reworking.
Save room for dessert? Hell yes! Since the missus is gluten-free, we tucked into scrumptious slices of flourless chocolate torte – the perfect ending to a near-perfect meal.
Normally, when I write about “hidden gems,” they are unique, appealing eateries typically located a bit off the beaten path. Thistle and Thyme? Well, it’s off the beaten path on Wakara Way, which requires (for me, at least) GPS nav to find. Unique? Absolutely. The menu is every bit as unique as the independent restaurants I normally review. As for “appeal,” Thistle & Thyme has tons of appeal. Free and plentiful parking, for starters. And while the University Park Marriott might not look too glam from the outside, Thistle & Thyme is a very attractive, very inviting restaurant that is anything but a cookie cutter hotel food spot.
Being a Marriott property, Thistle & Thyme might lack a hipness quotient that some diners look for. But, that’s only until the cool kids who haven’t discovered it yet do so. Check it out while it’s still our little secret.
Culinary quote of the week:
I never eat in a restaurant that’s over a hundred feet off the ground and won’t stand still. — Calvin Trillin
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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