SPRING – Coronavirus has changed the game. It has changed the way people and businesses approach daily routines and, as Houston works to reopen, we are having to adapt and find a new normal.
For Mary Thorn, owner of the Thistle Draftshop in Spring, that means helping get her 2-year-old restaurant back to serving independent craft beer and gastropub-style meals while adapting to the new policies.
Thorn has always had a passion for craft beer, and after working for the Saint Arnold Brewing Company for some time and expanding her knowledge of the industry, she decided it was time to step out and open her own place.
She found an old auto repair shop with bay doors, a large floor plan and opportunities for patios and in 2017 Thistle Draftshop was born.
The “shop,” as Thorn calls it, brings a unique style with a modern twist with its racetrack-style bar and white granite top, tables made from railroad boxcar floors and reclaimed pine from the Bastrop Texas Fires. There is even a lounge area with a library of craft beer books where people can sit and enjoy a drink away from the bustling bar area.
More than just atmosphere
Of course, you can’t have a place like that without backing it with a great selection of local, national and international beers, wine, ciders, meads, sodas and stellar food, according to Thorn.
Head chef Ernesto Villarreal is the restaurant’s ringer with dishes like his Vietnamese or Lemon Cajun wings, his “Fancy Ass” truffle fries or the Crispy Pata: a two-person meal consisting of marinated pork shank that is deep fried and delivered with a side of fresh and pickled vegetables, herbs, butter lettuce, steam buns and Bang Sauce for dipping.
“His creative and artistic food palate has elevated our menu offerings,” Thorn said. “The customers love the fusion flavors that uniquely sets our gastro pub menu apart.”
People especially love the chef’s BFC Sandwich, which is Nashville-style fried chicken with a spicy glaze, house pickles, shaved lettuce and garlic aioli.
Another favorite is the Kimchi Brat. It’s not a beer joint without a signature dish with beer as an ingredient. The brat is a half-pound bratwurst made locally by Smitty’s Meat market that is beer-braised, put in a pretzel bun and topped with kimchi, gochujang mayo, green onions.
Stray from the beaten path
Sure, meat is great, but Thorn said you don’t want to miss out on Villareal’s hidden gems like the Dancin’ Brussels Sprouts, which are deep fried then seasoned with fish sauce vinaigrette, seasonal fruit, then topped with flakes of dried, smoked bonito fish. The steam from the dish makes the bonito flakes “dance” on the brussels sprouts.
Thorn also said people should try the Red Dragon Fries, another dish that features the in-house beer. Villareal makes the fries and tops them with crispy pork belly, jalapeno, what’s-on-tap beer cheese, green onions, crispy garlic and Korean chili flakes for a little extra spice.
What people are saying
Yelp! reviewers are also in agreement about the drinks and the food.
“(It’s) always a great place to hang,” Carla H. said. “You can always meet someone interesting. They are all about the community. The staff is fantastic is friendly and the food is always phenomenal! But the real draw, is the large variety of craft beer they have on tap. The staff is very knowledgeable about all they serve. Definitely a place you must try.”
“I've been coming here about once a week since they opened and absolutely love it! Excellent food, great atmosphere and staff,” said Michael R. “Best craft beer selection in town. The BFC chicken sandwich and grilled cheese and tomato soup are my go-to's.”
“Really enjoyed this place,” said Alexander B. “The atmosphere is a lot of fun and a bit eclectic. There’s cornhole in the back as well. The big draw is the beer. Great choices on tap. Employees are nice and attentive, which is not common in a counter-service setup. And while most probably don’t come here for the food, it’s very solid with some creative options. Personally, I loved the grilled cheese - great combination of savory flavor and spice.”
Thorn said that when she is not at her own restaurant, she can be found at Hearsay in downtown Houston for their ambiance.
She also enjoys visiting the Last Concert Café for their chicken enchiladas and the red “knock-to-get-in” door. However, due to the pandemic, the venue announced it will remain temporarily closed until the fog has lifted and it is ready to reopen.
Like most restaurants across the Houston areas, Thistle Draftshop was forced to close and make difficult decisions when coronavirus hit.
“Because there were not any sure dates for ‘getting back to normal’ we had to be reactive and responsive to our business, employee and customer needs,” Thorn said. “This meant furloughing employees, running with a skeleton crew (and) changing our processes.”
However, it wasn’t all bad. Thorn said the restaurant adopted a new online ordering system that ended up working so well, she plans on keeping it for the foreseeable future.
Thorne said she also got a loan through the SBA that allowed the restaurant to resume business. Now that Thistle Draftshop’s doors are back open, there are new policies in place.
“Thistle Draftshop took this opportunity to thoroughly deep clean the building, spruce it up, re-evaluate our processes and procedures,” Thorn said.
The restaurant will serve 60 people at a time, will practice “extreme sanitation” and will screen all employees. All the tables are 6 feet apart and the restaurant will be using disposable menus, plates and flatware, Thorn said.
Despite all the difficulties, Thorn’s outlook on the future is positive.
“COVID-19 has offered the world a reset button; an opportunity to get to spend more time with family, projects and themselves,” Thorn said. “Going forward, from my perspective, our society is going to expect more from businesses to help keep establishments clean, practice healthy environments.”
5210 Fm 2920 Spring, TX 77388
Sun - Wed: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Thu - Sat: 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.