Twisted Thistle

In Leechburg, a cozy restaurant with above-average fare, reasonably priced

| January 30, 2013
Salmon and maitake mushrooms
- Photo by Heather Mull
Salmon and maitake mushrooms

It's no surprise that dining's "fresh, local, seasonal" credo has reached even the small towns beyond the suburbs — in some ways, it probably started there — but Twisted Thistle, in Leechburg, offers an experience truly extraordinary for a small town so far from the urban epicenter of dining chic. Its interior, a restored 1902 hotel warmed by a fireplace and lit by filament bulbs suspended from old farm pulleys, has the cozy comfort of a rustic resort lodge combined with a decorator's flair. As for the menu, a decade ago, it would have been a standout anywhere in the region, and it is not outdated now.

Moreover, such carefully conceived and prepared dishes are astonishing at these prices: filet mignon and organic salmon top out at about $25, and eight entrees, ranging from udon noodles with mushrooms to pork tenderloin with roasted root vegetables, are under $20. Alongside the contemporary American flavors that harmonize with the decor are numerous Asian-inspired dishes, most going well beyond soy-glazed meat or other obvious sops to international cuisine. The udon, for instance, are garnished with nori, and a Thai red curry includes kabocha pumpkin. Indeed, the menu offers remarkable breadth among a comprehensibly brief selection.

Such attention to detail meant that virtually everything we ordered was distinctive. Even a simple plate of spaghetti with chicken, ordered for an unadventurous member of the under-10 set, delivered a simple yet sophisticated combination of olive oil, garlic, lemon and parsley that pleased adult palates, as well. Although Jason found the garlic flavor less than perfectly fresh, this didn't detract from the vividly citrusy, aromatically herbal flavor of the oil, which coated without drowning the nicely al dente noodles. But the real secret to this dish's success was the chicken. It seemed to be a cutlet, sautéed and cut up, resulting in better flavor and texture than the bland grilled breast that's the norm for tossing in pasta. The net result was a dish that any pasta house would be proud of. The same can be said of butternut-squash ravioli, whose homemade wrappers were enhanced by a rich yet delicate sage butter.

Most seafood houses don't offer anything as compelling, let alone as perfectly executed, as Twisted Thistle's appetizer of fried-oyster po' boy sliders. Each little sandwich featured an enormous, succulent oyster, fried in a wonderfully light yet crisp batter, placed on a square of bun that seemed to be a split foccaccia, and topped with lettuce, tomato and a flavorful tartar sauce. The well-rounded flavor and texture profiles made this appetizer enormously satisfying. 

Pumpkin soup, made with kabocha and coconut cream — not milk — and topped with crispy fried shallots and sesame seeds, was perhaps too satisfying. Only a few thick spoonsful of this richly autumnal bowl were filling, but we made sure to bring home what was left. Fried shallots also lent their sweetness to a beet salad with paper-thin slices of pear, salted nuts and lime-juice dressing. Sweet, salty, earthy and tart, this was as intensely colored as it was flavored. Hush puppies, their humble nature dressed up with the rich flavors of a Maytag blue-cheese dressing and dice of thick-sliced bacon, made another intriguing and successful starter. 

A seafood standard served as an entrée, the crab cakes were above average, with plenty of lump crabmeat lightly breaded with extra-crispy panko crumbs and ably complemented by the vegetable medley alongside. Usually, there are few things more pedestrian than restaurant vegetable medleys, but Twisted Thistle's kitchen paid extra attention, rendering zucchini, summer squash, red peppers and mushrooms tender-crisp and well seasoned in butter.

Our server clarified that the "24-hour short ribs" are not, literally, roasted for 24 hours. But however long it took, the preparation resulted in an extraordinary piece of meat. The one we received was no "short" rib, but oversized and Flintstone-scale. And if some of the edges could perhaps have used fewer hours, most of the meat was smoky and enriched with all the melted sinew that makes short rib the beef of the moment. A bed of mashed potato, adorned with roasted beet and beautiful, tender Brussels sprouts, rendered flowerlike by the curling of their outer leaves, lent some refinement to this caveman treat.

Desserts are made locally by an Hungarian baker, resulting in some uniquely Eastern European possibilities for after-dinner delicacies. We tried the tiramisu, which was tall and fluffy, creamy and cocoa-ey, and enough to share among four (albeit very full) people.

With all this, plus Sunday brunch and live music in the bar on Thursday and Friday nights, we can't think of anything not to love about Twisted Thistle.

 Twisted Thistle

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Comments (13)

Showing 1-13 of 13

Might want to rethink your review city paper over priced and food isn't that good . Its another mediocre restaurant out in the stix and no one is going to drive 50 mile for common food right idea bad location

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Posted by medvedrichie on 01/30/2013 at 8:20 AM

As the photographer who shot the images above, I would like to add to this piece by explaining that the images of the old furniture and the deconstructed interior belong to the upper floors of the building in which the Twisted Thistle is housed. The building is a former hotel, which the owners (who also own nearby Lingrow Farm, a wedding and banquet facility and organic farm, which produces a lot of the fresh produce served at the restaurant in-season) are painstakingly restoring the upper 3 floors of the building into a hotel. I was lucky enough to get to peek around upstairs and snap some "before" photos of the space, which is very inspiring. I am wishing them all the best in giving the building the loving care she deserves and am looking forward to seeing the finished renovation someday. It's going to be a real asset to Leechburg and all visitors to the Kiski River area, which has amazing hiking and cycling trails these days.

Also, in rebuttal to the opinion above, I found the food that I tasted to be definitely above average in quality, thoughtfulness and presentation, as well as in efforts to serve locally sourced ingredients. Chef Michael Oshansky knows his stuff! I work on reviews for CP every week, as well as cover food for several other regional publications, and so I eat out A LOT and I completely disagree with the idea that this place is mediocre in any way. Also, I drive out to that area routinely from Pittsburgh during the summer and fall to hike in the woods and I would happily factor in a stop at Twisted Thistle after my expeditious!

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Posted by Underdog on 01/30/2013 at 11:34 AM

Accolades to to "The Thistle!" The aesthetic environment is warm and visually stimulating. The staff are friendly and eager to help. They have a solid wine list that pairs well with the menu, without a hurt on the wallet. (Very Intelligent) The food is prepared with choice ingredients as well as a unique twist on standard dishes...not to mention, the Chef's signature dishes, that prove the kitchen is a talented, tight knit organization. I have enjoyed many dishes there, though if I were to highlight, I would recommend: The New York Strip with Frites and Root Vegetable Succotash, the Pork Belly Wraps, and Duck with Oyster Sauce, Basil, Soba Noodles & Veggies, to name a few. A great dining experience, off the beaten path. You will not regret your time and money spent at The Twisted Thistle!

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Posted by Jesse Jon Salensky on 01/30/2013 at 11:47 AM

Great review! The food, atmosphere and people are so wonderful there! Everyone I told to go there was very pleased and went back. It is a homey atmosphere that I enjoy going to visit and everyone makes me feel at home. Keep up the good work, Linda, and KUDOS to all the great staff!
Madolyn Hyde

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Posted by Madolyn Hyde on 01/30/2013 at 12:30 PM

yeah ok so your no.longer letting other opinions in this you rebut them ok so you want them to get a good review ok but its still as i said before

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Posted by medvedrichie on 01/30/2013 at 12:33 PM

Medvedrichie: It's a matter of personal preference. If you don't like it, then don't return. Obviously others like this venue a good bit. I will travel to it and enjoy it. I think that a "conspiracy theory" on the thread, may be a bit extreme. You made your feelings known. Let everyone comment, from here on out. Your approach to a restaurant review is kind of immature.

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Posted by Jesse Jon Salensky on 01/30/2013 at 12:39 PM

Chef Olshanskyis a great chef but he isnt cooking at he restaurant all the time and when he is not there the food really suffers. We have experienced bland, dried out, sloppy, and even food that has made us sick. The desserts are amazing and have never missed. In our 6 trips to the thistle i would rate it a 6/10. It has promise but they have to get more consitent.

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Posted by BettyCat on 01/30/2013 at 2:13 PM

We have been to Twisted Thistle more times than I can count already (over 20), and have never had a bad experience. The food is great, but we also love the people - the owner, bartenders, managers, and servers have all been great to us. We go for dinner for 2, with family/friends, sometimes brunch with family, sometimes to hang out at the bar, and the food is always delicious (and fresh and local!), and for what you get, the price is completely reasonable. The same dishes could easily go for an additional $10/plate in a bigger market. This restaurant has made my transition from NYC much, much easier - knowing there's a cool local place with excellent food or just a familiar face at the bar. Not to mention that it has been beautifully restored and the ambiance is great. Boo-hiss on the negative reviews - see for yourself. :)

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Posted by Leslie Dahling on 01/30/2013 at 5:33 PM

Best restaurant I have ever hat the pleasure to eat at in my whole life!!!!! The food is to die for. Don't listen to the nay-sayers who criticize the joint. They are only trolls seeking attention. LOVE IT!!!

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Posted by Kick Marolac on 01/30/2013 at 11:23 PM

I haven't been there, but I will try it. I prefer to form my own opinion. I like to read reviews, but I take them all "with a grain of salt". Thank you all for your opinions.

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Posted by Mark I on 02/05/2013 at 12:52 PM

My husband and I had the pleasure of eating at Twisted Thistle once. It was incredible. My husband also had the pumpkin soup, and loved it. My appetizer was the tuna tartar. Probably the best food experience in my life! I also had the butternut squash ravioli for dinner. That won't be the last time we're there, for sure.

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Posted by Carissa Vogel on 02/08/2013 at 5:12 PM

I was treated to lunch today (it's my birthday) at the Twisted Thistle and it was an awesome experience! Their signature side salad was delicious with a homemade viniagrette that's the best I've ever tasted. I had the Pasta Prima, which was filled with julienne vegetables and tossed with a light sauce - very tasty! Then came the dessert tray and it was hard to pick only one. I opted for the chocolate cake and took home a piece of the apple pita, a lucious layered struedel-like treat that had a shortbread crust. This restaurant is a hidden treasure that I will gladly visit often in the future. I wish them much success!

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Posted by Norma Rowley on 05/24/2013 at 7:40 PM

Best restaurant, there foods amazing!!!

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Posted by schoolanduniversity.com on 05/29/2013 at 8:09 AM
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