We finally made it to TJ's this weekend, following hound advice on where to go to celebrate my son's May graduation! It was a lovely drive across Mass. TJ's is really just a block from downtown, but one-way streets left us confused for about 5 minutes. We had reservations for the first seating, so we still had about 10 minutes to take a turn around downtown Brattleboro.
Yes TJ's is small, with 6 tables (one a double, too). How small is it? The waitress stops by the tables to pass the basket of hot bread, because there's no room to just drop it off at the table. Just as we finished, she would appear offering more: good crusty warm artisan bread. The waitress tells you the menu, which isn't prixe fixe, but all the entrees were $30 except for beef tenderloin ($35). Appetizers and desserts were a la carte at $9-10.
We started with crab cakes (very good, nice size, more crab than carbohydrate) and gorgonzola quiche with olives. The quiche was warmed up (many things seem to be - hey, there's only one chef with one assistant!) and bland: I couldn't tell that it was gorgonzola, or gruyere or anything but eggy. The crust didn't seem homemade, either; maybe it was made with oil rather than butter? 2 small green and 1 black olive completed the plate.
I had a glass of the house red, a very generous pour. The wine list looked extensive, but wine isn't my area of exepertise. They do have a good selection of beer from the microbrewery next door. My beer-snob son and 2 beers-a-year-whether-he-needs-them-or-not husband shared a large bottle of Kolsch, which they both enjoyed and the son pronounced excellent.
The entrees were excellent, most with the same thin sliced red beets found in the salads. Swordfish was very good, my scallops on polenta were warmish and overcooked, but the real star was my son's breast of pheasant stuffed with boudin noir. The breast was crisped and cooked to a perfect texture, and the boudin added a nice sage flavor for a very tasty combination.
Desserts were the obligatory creme brulee, molten chocolate cake, fruit tart with blackberry ice cream or burnt sugar ice cream. The stand-out was burnt sugar ice cream, light and deeply flavored. My husband and I got the fruit tart - same blah crust as the quiche, with a very small scoop of lightly flavored not too rich ice cream.
Good meals, excellent but not uber-great, probably because of the amount of prep needed for the chef and his assistant to keep pace, definitely not for the quality of the initial components. What stands out is that TJ's is one of the most comfortable places we have ever eaten. Small as the room is, it never felt really cramped. You could carry on a normal level conversation, and only hear a happy background buzz from the other tables. The chef actually looked happy, not the clinch-jaw macho marathon death-march pace of some kitchens I've seen.
The final bill for 2 apps, glass of wine, about 4 glasses of great beer, swordfish, scallops, pheasant, and three desserts was a jaw dropping $153! What an incredible bargain. I'll definitely come here again. Dinner plus a night's stay locally would just about equal the same meal in Boston, served with attitude. TJ's has an infinitely higher romantic quotient!
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