I have officially declared Tilia “my new favorite place” to everyone I have talked to since going there twice this weekend. Yes. Twice.
All of this “my new favorite place” talk got me thinking. What is it about places that make them become one of my favorites? Because I generally have a rolling list of five or so favorites. They change slightly every once in a while, but overall I’m pretty loyal. This is my working theory on what translates into favorite status:
Has a neighborhood vibe. You can tell when a place is a neighborhood place the second you walk in. The people look familiar even though you don’t know them. They are dressed more casually. There is a more laid back vibe. Everyone’s more comfortable because they feel like they’re on their own turf. I feel this way when I walk into Broder's Pasta Bar. I feel this way when I walk into Pizzeria Lola. And I felt this way when I walked into Tilia. Both times.
Has things on the menu that you actually want to eat. This sounds odd, but there are places where you want to devour the menu, and there are places that make amazing food but don’t have super inspiring menus. Take Grand Café, for example. I love Grand Café for brunch, but I have never been there for dinner, and I don’t really want to go there for dinner. I’ve looked at the dinner menu many times, and it just…falls flat. Sure, there is a chicken entrée. There is a beef entrée. A vegetarian entrée. And not a whole lot in between. Tilia though…Tilia has things on the menu that I want to eat. That’s why I had to go twice last weekend. I knew I had to try something other than the burger on my first visit Friday night, even though I was dying for that burger. But I was also dying for the brisket, for the grilled bread with prosciutto and mozzarella, for the scallops, for the roasted chicken thighs, and for all of the things we actually ordered that night. But I thought about that burger all weekend; I had to go back for it.
A connection to the chef or owner. Steven Brown, one of the owners and “Executive Culinary Director” served part of our meal both times I was at Tilia this weekend. I happen to love when the owners and chefs are present and engaging with the patrons. It gives you a good sense of how much they care about the food they’re serving. And I think that makes it taste better. Really. Chef / owner Russell Klein of Meritage also does walk-throughs in the dining room. I’ve been asked by him a few times now how my meal was. Lucia Watson sometimes eats with friends in her own restaurant. Connection. We all want connection, whether we admit it or not.
A place that works for special occasions and weeknights. We do a lot of dining out during the work week. Ironically, we go to a lot of the same places when we’re celebrating or going out on a date night. Barrio is a great example of this. We hit it up frequently on random Tuesday nights for tacos and a margarita. We’ve also hit it up for Zach’s birthday two years in a row. Same for Broder's. We’ve spent countless weeknights at the pasta bar and were there just last night for a birthday celebration dinner. When you love a place, I think you crave the feeling you get when you walk in. And that feeling is what makes it perfect for more-special-than-weeknight occurrences.
Good food. This is an obvious one, right? So let’s get to it for Tilia. Love the menu, and love the food when it comes out. I have to say, my friend Ben made the best ordering decisions Friday night, even though everything was truly good.
We all started by sharing the spicy shrimp (only because they were sold out of the quickly-becoming-famous-in-town scallops), the fries, and the escargot. All were good. I think the fries with dipping sauce were the favorite? They’re good fries. It's good sauce.
For entrees, I had the Squash Caramelle Pasta. Medium-sized pillows of filled pasta, with a creamy and satisfying (albeit maybe a tad salty) sauce with Gorgonzola and walnuts. My friend Ben had the beef brisket and that was the entrée show-stopper at our table. It was really delicious, served with crème fraiche mashed potatoes. I immediately had food envy.
For desserts, we decided to not share. By this point, we had all fallen in love with this place. I had the Butterscotch Pot de Crème, and it was good, although it tasted more like caramel to me than butterscotch. And again, Ben again chose the real winner: the Spiced Pear Bundt Cake with Cardamom Glaze. The glaze was to die for. Must try to replicate.
Sunday night I had that Bacon Cheeseburger that I lusted for all weekend. It did not disappoint—and I had built up some pretty high expectations. It was so good that I found myself savoring it, eating it deliberately and slowly, alternating in bites of the homemade pickles served alongside. The bun was fresh, soft, and chewy. The pickle mayo was a nice touch. Bacon. Cheese. It wasn’t over the top. Simple, but really well executed.
But I think my favorite thing that I’ve had so far is the Roasted Chicken Thighs. I don’t even usually like chicken thighs. But I had heard about these, so Zach and I tried them. There was no bone in them, so that was an immediate win. They were juicy and perfectly seasoned. “Sorta jerk style,” it says on the menu. I was very sad when Zach sent one flying off the table by accident and we lost it to the floor. After seriously deliberating the five second rule, we each ended up having only one lovely chicken thigh vs the one and a half we could have had barring that accident. That was sad.
What’s next on my radar are the BLT Dogs (yes, BLT hotdogs), the scallops (that I feel like are the thing people rave most about), the Gravlax (supposed to be another winner). Oh, and brunch! They have brunch. They also have snacks. Afternoon and late night.
Very reasonably priced.
Fabulous light fixtures. A super cute bar-bar, and a super cute bar overlooking the kitchen.
This place is brilliant.