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H&T does pub food right

Outstanding service and brewing are matched with quality dining at the Hart & Thistle


A crisp, chilly evening necessitates some hot comfort food, so a friend and I venture into the Hart & Thistle Gastropub and Brewery on the waterfront. Though full of booths made for large groups, we find a table tucked away in the corner next to the inviting fireplace. The restaurant is pretty calm on this Sunday evening, but filled with laughter from our neighbouring tables.

When we inquire about the pub's house-brewed craft beers, the server enthusiastically goes over the offerings in detail, describing both each beer's characteristics and the brew process. I go for the Polygamy Pale APA, a lovely amber-coloured beer with a strong citrus top-note and a rich, almost caramel undertone. My friend chooses the darker Cocoa Hops, an Indian Brown Ale with hints of coffee and chocolate. They go down like buttah. Both beers are well priced---a 14-ounce glass of each falls within five bucks.

As we assess the menu, I'm drawn to the calamari ($8), panko-crusted and served with both a tomato jam and a sweet and spicy mayo. It appears playfully presented on a tile slate, piled high with the tender squid, enclosed in a light, crisp batter. The thick tomato jam is the perfect compliment; sweet and meaty, its texture provides added depth. The accompanying mayo is rich with a touch of smoky heat. I debate about asking for more sauce, but my friend polishes off the last morsels before I get the chance.

As a main course, I go for pub fare, ordering from the seafood and chips portion of the menu, selecting the two-piece fish and chips ($8). My friend chooses another pub essential, the Thistle's Bigger Burger, served with fries ($14). Our plates arrive quickly and we're astounded by the serving size (I would never have finished a third piece of fish).

The fish is haddock, beer-battered and fried to a degree that leaves the batter crisp and the fish inside moist and flaky. The fries are fantastic---hand-cut Russet potatoes tossed with a good dose of sea salt---and just the way I like them. A word of caution here: If you're watching your blood pressure, it would be best to taste them before adding any salt. The tartar sauce is house-made. A combo of mayo and capers, it's slightly too heavy and would be improved with a touch of lemon to cut through its richness.

The Bigger burger is a monster. It's a large succulent beef patty topped with barbequed Italian sausage, melted peppered Havarti, lettuce, tomato, red onion and dill pickle. The combination of the slightly sweet sausage and spicy peppered cheese makes for a juxtaposition of flavours to excite the palate. As the meat starts sliding out, we agree that a more substantial bun is needed to match the patty's volume.

Despite the fact that we're already filled to the brim, we decide to share the apple pie a la mode, the night's dessert special at $7. Though excited for a touch of sweet to end the meal, we're disappointed with the result. Instead of a crisp, flaky crust, the serving is soggy to the point of almost being doughy. The ice cream is palatable, but it tastes like it came from the bottom of the bucket.

As we make our way back out into the dark Halifax night, our bellies are full and we're fairly content with the night's meal. Although our dessert was less than thrilling, the Hart & Thistle does pub fare justice. Not only do the tasty food and decadent craft beers warm up our bodies, but the atmosphere, coupled with our server's exuberance and welcoming demeanour, make for a pretty heartwarming experience as well.

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