Most restaurants go through changes over the course of time. Whether it’s learning more about what their customer base wants or just wanting to change things up, change is generally seen as being a good thing. But Thyme & Tonic in Manhattan recently underwent a change that’s pretty uncommon, even in the kosher restaurant world.
They switched from offering dairy to offering meat.
And as infrequent as that kind of switch is, it’s not as rare as the type of restaurant Thyme & Tonic remains. As a “plant-first” establishment, their standard menu is actually vegan. It’s only when the guest chooses to substitute that they are able to order otherwise (dairy in the past, meat in the present). It’s there where the switch starts to seem like it might not be the biggest deal. Most of the menu stayed the same. The option used to be to swap out the vegan cheese with real cheese. Now, the choice is whether to replace the house-made soy “chick’n” or Impossible patty with organic free-range chicken or grass-fed beef.
But serving meat came with another change; they upgraded their kosher supervision. In order to attract a wider customer base, owners Josh Borenstein and Orly Gottesman brought in Rabbi Aaron Mehlman and National Kosher Supervision (NKS). Now armed with a mashgiach tamidi and stricter supervision that is widely accepted in the community and approved by area shuls, they’ve seen an increase in Orthodox patronage.
The switch involved changing a few things, but nothing too major. A couple of ingredients needed to be up to the stricter standard, all wine is now mevushal (though the mashgiach opens everything anyway), no sherry cask whiskey is available at the bar, all vegetables are washed and checked, and the entire kitchen was kashered.
When I was invited to check out the new and improved Thyme & Tonic I decided to start with something that I thought captured the theme. The Zucchini Fries were a delight and I advise anybody who walks in to try them. The spears of zucchini were lightly fried and seasoned and would have been great on their own, but the citrus aioli that they were served with was the perfect combination of acidity and zest.
As a “plant-first” restaurant, the kitchen actually has two separate tracks. Anything ordered in its standard vegan construction is made on vegan equipment so even the strictest adherents to the diet would be able to eat it. Another track covers anything ordered with fish, chicken or beef.
If you’re looking to try something from the latter, I’d recommend the Popcorn Chicken. Served with three sauces (buffalo, barbeque and a pareve ranch), this was the best of its type that I’ve ever had. The pieces were tasty and crunchy on their own and managed to achieve the difficult balance of the chicken pieces being the correct size and the thickness of the breading being substantial but not overzealous.
These nuggets of wonderfulness are the result of brining, marinating and a triple dredge before they hit the fryer. It turns out that the process they use for their fried chicken (also used for chicken fingers and sandwiches) has been such a success that they look forward to launching a fried chicken ghost kitchen in the near future.
Getting back to the healthier side of things, I’d suggest you try the Chattanooga Chopped Salad. This is the kind of thing you expect a place like Thyme & Tonic to get right … and they absolutely do. I added grilled salmon to the top of mine (great choice, by the way) as an enhancement. It has greens (baby spinach, kale, romaine, castelfranco); veggies (broccoli, red onion); peppers (red, peperoncino); root vegetables (radish, carrot); fruit (cherry tomato, avocado); some stuff to add crunch (roasted chickpeas, grilled green beans, charred corn); and a pareve ranch dressing. Even without the fish, this might be a whole meal on its own.
With salads like this, it’s no wonder that they are close to the launch of their first ghost kitchen concept, Salad Thyme. The plan is to have 10 types of salads and salad wraps available (chicken and fish optional, of course). This may be a gamechanger for those who work in the city and want fresh, healthy, kosher food delivered to their office for lunch. It’s a wonder nobody has stepped in before now, but Salad Thyme is ready to step up.
One of the more adventurous options on the menu at Thyme & Tonic is One Night in Bangkok, their pad thai dish. Made with tamarind, mushrooms and tofu, this bowl of rice noodles will leave you wanting more. While much of Thai cooking uses non-kosher ingredients as staples, I wish more kosher restaurants would pick one plate and make it as well as this is made. It’s a palette that kosher consumers don’t have much exposure to, so it’s amazing to have it as an option.
With so many sandwiches to choose from, it may be hard to pick just one. But as I’m running out of space, I’ll just say how much I loved the Diablo Burger. Topped with charred jalapeño, onions, avocado, imitation pepper jack cheese, and chipotle aioli … this burger was a delight. It’s obviously not for the faint of heart, but you get a great balance of heat and creaminess that you won’t soon forget. The fake cheese was better than I thought it would be and definitely added to the originality of the burger. And speaking of great imitations, Thyme & Tonic is entirely gluten free, not that you’d notice by eating the bun this burger came on.
There’s so much going on at Thyme & Tonic. They’ve started hosting pre-paid Friday night meals, they are going to launch a daily (meat optional) brunch menu, and their bar (18 signature cocktails to go along with a bevy of other options) is as busy as ever. The prices are very reasonable (especially for Manhattan) and the atmosphere is one of fun times and good friends.
If you haven’t been, now’s the “thyme.”
Nati Burnside is a freelance writer living in Fair Lawn and a man of many interests. He can be reached at [email protected].