The south-end Travelodge pub gets a tasty Korean boost

RESTAURANTS by Aidan Morgan

Knotted Thistle photo by Aidan Morgan

The Knotted Thistle
4177 Albert Street
3 out of 5

Once upon a time it would’ve been foolish to review a Regina pub. In the olden days pubs had beer — a couple of decent brews on tap, if you were lucky — and a few deep-fried items fresh from Ziploc bags in the freezer. Maybe a bag of chips hanging from a rack.

If the pub shared a kitchen with a restaurant, then you could look forward to a cling-wrapped sandwich or glistening piece of pizza with pepperoni slices like exhausted dog tongues that have found their final resting place on your sad alcohol-adjacent snack.

Things are better now.

In a genuine example of a rising tide lifting all boats (at least the ones with no holes in the deck; those just sink), Regina’s culinary spring tides have washed some decent food up on our tables. I realize that this is not an appetizing metaphor, but please put your waders on and bear with me. Unless you’re out at the Legion Hall in Pilot Butte, chances are that you’re going to get something better than a bag of hickory sticks and deep-fried chicken lumps.

The Knotted Thistle provides a good example of the evolution of Regina pub food. Back when the space was occupied by The Blarney Stone, the fare was mostly appetizers in batter — I remember the monster app platter with giant wedges of cheese-crusted potatoes and a tall stack of onion rings on a spike.

Even in the Thistle’s early days, the menu was decent but not particularly special — chicken wings, pizza, Irish Nachos (a.k.a. waffled potatoes drowned in nacho fixings) ($15). For a brief period the pub offered an Irish breakfast for $14, with a slice of black pudding to sell the Irishness of it all.

Several months ago the Thistle introduced a new menu, which kept a few of the most popular dishes and added a Korean fusion element. I’m a huge fan of Korean food, with its insistence on spicy, sweet and fermented flavours. Have you lived until you’ve tried the Korean Beef Short Ribs with garlic bread and caesar salad ($14)? No. You have not lived. All you’ve done is eke out a sham existence. So you might as well try them. You can also try the Miyagi Burger ($15), a confit of pork belly with caramelized pineapple and kimchi slaw on a pretzel bun, which worked much better than I thought it would, or the Char Grilled Korean Beef Short Ribs ($24).

Here’s the part where I talk about Bacon-Wrapped Bananas ($12), which I finally went for on my last visit to the Thistle. They come in relatively bite-sized pieces in a pool of chili maple glaze and Sriracha sauce. It sounded like everything I ever wanted in one salty-spicy-sweet package, but the overall experience didn’t deep-fry my brain the way I wanted it to. Mostly everything disappears under a flood of banana-maple sweetness, with the bacon and Sriracha clinging on for life.

The rest of the menu is a bit more of what you’d expect, with Irish-influenced fare and modern pub food. Take the Knotted Thistle Poutine ($12), which comes with a mushroom and peppercorn gravy, or the Beef & Guinness Pie ($14), a big plate of flavourful beef stew with an absurd little puff pastry hat on top. I guess that’s what the kids are calling pie these days.

For vegetarians, I recommend a) alcohol, to lessen the sorrows of a vegetarian life, and b) the Vegetarian Chimichanga ($13), which comes fetchingly smothered in bars of salsa, sour cream and guacamole. The menu also has a couple of salads beyond the usual mixed greens and caesar — a Greek Cous-cous Salad ($11), which I enjoyed quite a bit, and a Beet & Cheese Salad ($9), which I don’t really recommend unless you want a giant plate of beets overwhelming your meal.

I also hesitate to recommend the calamari, which came to the table in so much batter that for a brief moment I thought they’d accidentally brought me cubes of deep-fried tofu. The flavour itself was fine, if a little lemon-soaked, but I prefer a much, much lighter breading on my calamari.

For the purposes of the review, I hectored a Ukrainian Knight of Appetite into ordering the Saturday-only Saskatchewan Plate ($14), which featured farmer’s sausage, sauerkraut, cheese-and-potato perogies and cabbage rolls. Everything passed muster but she was aghast at the high meat content of the rolls, which in her opinion should contain mostly rice. Since meat is objectively better than rice, I overruled her opinion and banished her to the Phantom Zone — until I remembered that she was driving the car.

Like any self-respecting Irish pub, the Knotted Thistle serves wings. They’re on special on Wednesdays, they’re serviceable and they’re plentiful, which is fine with me. I like the cracked pepper and lime, but you may prefer one of the goopier offerings. It all depends on whether you want to end up with a tidy stack of bones or a sauce-splashed lake of gore at the end of the evening. Wow, I think I just sold the hell out of those wings.

Oh, and there’s booze. So much booze. A river of booze served in yard-long glasses that come with their own wooden frame. There’s a respectable selection of blended and single-malt scotches. Try the Highland Park 18-year and tell them I sent you. They’ll say “Who?” and you’ll explain, and they’ll nod politely but secretly they’ll think you’re crazy.

The Round Table

WHAT IS IT? Knotted Thistle Pub.

WHAT’S IT FOR? Lunch, supper, pub food, inebriation.

WHAT’S GOOD? The Irish Nachos, The pizza (I like The Canadian), The Miyagi Burger. Also, the pub has Rogue Farms 7 Hop IPA on tap for $8.50, which is a pretty good price for this import.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD? I really don’t know about that calamari. And the cheesecake is no great shakes, but why are you eating cheesecake at a pub?

WHAT DISCONTINUED MENU ITEM DOES MY EDITOR MOURN? He misses the veggie burger a lot. He says it was good. I found it lacking in beef.

DAILY SPECIALS? Yes. Ten buck pizza on Tuesdays, $8 Wings on Wednesdays, 1/2-price appetizers on Sundays are all notable.

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY NAUTICAL REFERENCES IN THIS REVIEW? I’m glad you noticed. I’m trapped in a flotation tank and I guess the whole water thing is on my mind. Hey, feel free to send help.