Tickle Your Taste Buds at Tillie’s

Tillie's

I first heard about Tillie’s on the Mouthfulsfood NJ board in early 2016 when one of the members posted a link to a write-up in NJ Monthly. Another member, paryzer, began posting regularly about his many excellent experiences there. So, I’ve had it on my “go to” list for a long time, but we didn’t get around to having dinner there until this past Thursday night.

Chef Wirt Cook and his wife Karen, who manages the dining room, opened Tillie’s in the fall of 2015. Named after his maternal grandmother, the restaurant is located on Millburn Avenue, in the town of Millburn. (Wow! Even at night, Millburn Avenue is one busy road! We parked our car across from the restaurant, but since the next light is quite a ways away, crossing the street was an exercise in extreme caution. As in, let’s-not-get- hit-by-a-car-on-our-way-to-dinner!)

The interior has pleasant décor: dark gray painted wood beneath wainscoting and light gray patterned moiré wallpaper above. There is high hat lighting in most of the room, three small crystal chandeliers at the back, and sconces all around. That lighting is perfect: bright enough to be able to read the menu without a flashlight, but low enough to provide a warm feeling. A long banquette covered in gray fabric is on one side, free-standing tables on the other and in the middle. Given our choice of tables, we opted for the two-top at the far end of the banquette. Seven tables including ours were occupied which for midweek in NJ is pretty respectable.

Tillie's

Tillie’s is a BYO. Since the menu on the website is a “sample,” there was no way to know exactly what would be on the menu. Michael decided to bring a Bordeaux which he felt would go well with beef or chicken, the two things he would be most likely to order. (Unless a restaurant is totally vegetarian or vegan, it’s a good bet that chicken and beef in some form will be on the menu.) Although he had brought a wine glass, it was not needed because Tillie’s provides very good ones.

Château Recugne

Immediately after being seated, we were given menus by our server Ashley who then expertly opened the wine. She also inquired as to our water preferences. As usual, a large bottle of sparkling for Michael and, although the drinks menu included root beer and ginger beer both of which I like, I decided to stick with Millburn’s finest tap water.

Once our orders were taken, Ashley brought over a tin pail which held a folded napkin with a pat of flavored butter sitting on top.

Corn Bread & Flavored Butter

Since our table was opposite the prep station, I had watched her putting the napkin into the pail, cutting up something (I couldn’t tell what), and wrapping it inside the napkin. I unfolded the napkin… Ta-da!

Corn Bread

House Made Cornbread

It was hot (not spicy hot but temperature hot). I tasted it. OMG! That cornbread was killer! Definitely one of THE best we’ve ever had. There were only four small squares but as the expression goes, thank goodness for small favors because had there been more, I would not have been able to contain myself, and then I would probably have been too full to enjoy the rest of the meal. And that would have been a shame because…. Well, you’ll see why….

A few days ago, Michael and I were discussing lettuce – specifically the fact that it has been eons since I’d last bought iceberg. He said he likes iceberg lettuce, so I said I’d buy some but hadn’t got around to it yet. The fates, however, were keeping an eye on him. Perhaps, you know where this is headed? Yes, one of the items on Tillie’s appetizer section was…

Iceberg Wedge

Iceberg Wedge with Crumbled Blue Cheese, Bacon & Tomato

Michael said the BLT concept with the classic blue cheese was a winner.

Happily, one of my favorite things was an appetizer option…

Chicken Liver Pâté

Chicken Liver Pâté with Chopped Egg, Saba & Challah

Yes, yours truly the Foie Gras Queen is a sucker for liver even it if isn’t foie gras. The very smooth pâté topped with chopped egg was a deconstruction of Jewish-style chopped liver where the liver and hard-boiled eggs are chopped together. Pâtés are usually accompanied by French brioche and you schmeer the pâté onto the brioche. Here, however, Chef Cook spreads the pâté atop the Jewish challah and tops it with the chopped hard-boiled egg. The addition of the saba added a touch of sweetness. My only quibble was that I felt the challah was cut a bit too thick. Cutting them didn’t work well, and when I picked them up, the thickness made it difficult to eat them neatly. Nevertheless, this was a delicious starter. And that included the greens which were lightly dressed with a very tasty dressing.

For the main course, Michael chose one of the two steak options.

Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon with Grilled Asparagus, Mushrooms & Sautéed Spinach

The filet was cooked precisely to his rare specification. I was a bit surprised that there was no starch, namely a potato in some form which usually comes with steaks. But Michael was very pleased with the green vegetables, and he remarked that the asparagus were grilled to just the proper side of al dente.

This is an appropriate spot to mention that he was ecstatic about the Château Recugne which as he anticipated went perfectly with the steak.

The website sample menu listed duck among the main courses. Since I love duck, I had asked paryzer if it was on the current menu, and he had said that it was. Despite the fact that the accompaniments were now entirely different, I ordered it.

Hudson Vally Duck Breast

Hudson Valley Duck Breast with Quinoa, English Peas, Radish Greens & Pea Tops

Honesty impels me to say that I didn’t find the plating particularly appealing. Because one eats first with one’s eyes, I began having doubts about the rightness of my choice. Also, what was on the plate was far more than I would be able to finish, so I decided that if I liked it, I would eat half and take the rest home. I started by tasting the smaller of the two pieces of duck. Whoa! It was fantastic! Cooked perfectly to my medium request, it was tender, moist, and full-flavored with a nicely crisped skin. Next, I tasted the quinoa mélange. Oh, my! Although I like quinoa, I wasn’t sure if or how it would work with the peas, et al, but it did. There was also a sauce that melded the mixture and added to the terrific flavor. I wish I had inquired what it was. So, sometimes plating can be deceiving because in every way, this duck dish was superb.

Have I mentioned that portions at Tillie’s are very generous? Therefore, we both exercised portion control and took home leftovers. I followed through on my original intention to eat only half while Michael ate about a third of the steak and half the veggies.

Room for dessert!

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

There was no printed dessert menu. Ashley ran through the list verbally, but we actually knew before setting foot inside Tillie’s which one we’d be having. paryzer had rhapsodized about the Key Lime pie, and since it’s one of our favorite desserts, we ordered one slice to share. The very generous slice (Have I mentioned the generous portions at Tillie’s?) was easily enough to share and lived up to paryzer’s raves: an excellent crust with a lemon filling that was Goldilocks perfect: not too tart, not too sweet, but just right!

Tillie’s is not on any social media (I guess they feel word-of-mouth is working for them). It’s also not on OpenTable or any other reservations service which means booking is done the old-fashioned way with a phone call. That’s all fine with me. However, my single major complaint is that, as I mentioned above, the website (the one modern accommodation to today’s dining out world) has a sample menu instead of a current one; thus, it’s missing what I feel is important information one looks for on a restaurant’s site. They really need to rectify that.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a restaurant that has pleasing atmospherics, provides spot on service, and most importantly will tickle your taste buds with delicious food, Tillie’s is that place. We’ll be back!

To view the entire photo set of this dinner at Tillie’s, click here.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: