I have a hunch that I, personally, am the targeted demographic for take-out/to-go food. I’m a busy working mother married to a busy working father. We have plenty of activities, meetings, and social opportunities that occupy our evening hours. We have a comfortable amount of discretionary income, and, like most other people, we have to eat.
Why, then, am I such a tremendous disappointment to the take-out industry of America? Three reasons: First, I am burdened by fond memories of a mother who cooked dinner nearly every single night of her life. To put it simply, I feel inordinatelyand I am sure unnecessarilyguilty if I am not creating the same sort of heritage for my own precious treasures. Secondly, I really like to cook. Certainly, my time in the kitchen is a more pleasant diversion when I can pore over the pages of a beautiful cookbook while sipping a glass of wine, listening to opera, and experimenting with a fancy new kitchen gadget. There are times, however, when I have to throw something together during Nickelodeon’s 30-minute Munsters slot. Even then, though, I enjoy the process. Even then, it’s a wonderful stress reliever.
Thirdlyand this is most importantI am a firm believer that what you don’t know can hurt you. When it comes to most take-out food, I don’t have the slightest idea what the hell they put in it. Whether it’s Boston Market, the Kroger Kitchen, or Cracker Barrel’s Corner Market, the macaroni and cheese is, in my book, not to be trusted. It might taste good, but why not? God knows how much cheese, butter and cream and whatever else is lurking in that clump of orange food product. I would just prefer to make my own calories and regulate my own sodium intake, thank you very much.
All of this is not to say that I am never tempted to take-out, or that I never order to-go. When I am simply pushed to the limit, or if I am going to be out of town for a few days and don’t have time to stock the freezer with yummy homemade casseroles, I give in to take-out. If I am not going to be eating, I am far more likely to bring home a microwaveable pan of meatloaf and a few sides of hash brown casserole (“with a special cheddar cheese sauce”) and barbecue baked beans (“cooked Southern- style with bacon strips”).
If I’ll be sitting down to dinner, however, I try to get something that has identifiable ingredients that are as close as possible to their natural state. That’s why, if I lived in Brentwood, you’d probably find me dropping by Nick of Thyme Gourmet To Go & Cafe.
Like most other communities, Brentwood has its share of chain restaurants and fast fooderies. What it has lacked until recently, however, is an alternative to fried or pre-packaged foods.
At least, that’s what partners Amy Carver and Cathy Lewis thought when they were scouting a new location for their business. Lured by Brentwood’s demographics and attractive location, they moved here from Rochester, N.Y., apparently on a whim. They were cruising the Maryland Farms area when they spotted the just-posted “For Lease” sign in a Merchants Walk store. Before you could say, “Moroccan couscous,” the pair were packing their bags and heading south.
Nick of Thyme opened May 16, but already Carver and Lewis have had to extend their hours to accommodate the commuters picking up din-din on the way home from the office. Dining on the spot is also an option. The roompainted in muted shades of purple, yellow, orange, gray, and turquoiseis inviting. Oilcloth-covered tables provide seating for about 40.
Whether they’re dining in or out, customers order from the front counter, where the glass case permits a close examination of the day’s salads and entrées. Dishes are rotated weekly and are selected from a repertoire that includes an impressive variety of salads and main courses. Low or lower-fat items are indicated on the menu. Lewis, who is the culinary half of the duo and the one responsible for the menu, admits to a fondness for soups, which will be especially nice as the weather cools. Dessertsalong with everything elseare made on the premises.
The week we tried Nick of Thyme, I asked to have a menu faxed to my office. I called in my fairly large order about 3 p.m. on a Wednesday and picked it up at 5:30. It was fun and easy.
Overall, the quality of the food was excellent. The marinated and grilled tenderloin ($4 per quarter-pound) was tender enough to cut with a fork, pink in the center, and just slightly peppery. I couldn’t get enough of the cold poached salmon ($4 per quarter-pound) with lemon, dill, and capersthe thick fillet was firm and meaty. We also loved the large chilled shrimp ($3.75 per eighth-pound) in a crunchy vinaigrette of sesame oil, rice vinegar, lemon juice, sesame seeds, and loads of chopped scallions. Other entrées include grilled Cajun sausage with roasted peppers, marinated grilled leg of lamb, crab cakes with black bean salsa, baked fettucini, vegetable strudel, or stuffed shells with pesto.
From the side board, we especially liked the sugar-snap pea saladeveryone admired the perfect texture of the snap peas, which were barely blanched, then tossed in a light poppyseed dressing and sprinkled with roasted almonds. The artichoke and asparagus salad with sliced yellow peppers and cherry tomatoes was another triumph of texture and fresh seasonings. (Did we detect a bit of tarragon?) The tabouleh was loaded with chopped crunchy vegetables, and it was fragrant with parsley, mint, and lemon.
You’ll also be pleased by the freshness of the dill potato salad and the roasted new potatoes. The Chinese noodle salad with grilled chicken, dressed with soy sauce, fresh ginger, lemon and a smidgen of sesame oil, works as a side dish or entrée. Other choices, which were not in the display case last week, include Thai noodle salad with peanut sauce, tuna with white beans and lemon, bleu cheese pasta with roasted peppers, grilled mixed mushrooms, and eggplant Niçoise.
On the day I visited Nick of Thyme, the dessert selections were heavy on the chocolate, highlighted by their signature Nanaimo barslayers of chocolate, coconut, vanilla cream cheese, and ganache. But normally, there are plenty of fruity options.
The menu offers eight specialty sandwiches, or you can build your own and team them with the soup du jour. Sandwiches are served with fresh fruit and a veggie garnish. My thanks for offering tomato slices at no extra charge.
Our tab for a box of food that fed five with plenty left over was $182.13. That’s pretty pricey, but we ordered from the high end of the menu. And besides, if you can afford one of those humongous brick Brentwood houses, a sport utility vehicle, and a Lexus, what’s a $7 pound of potato salad? Small change, that’s what. And in this case, if time is money, you’re getting a deal.
Nick of Thyme is located in Merchants Walk, 4910 Thoroughbred Lane, in Brentwood (370-6477). Hours are 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.