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Note: An occasional feature in which Y&H revisits a previously reviewed restaurant.
It’s Friday night, and the regulars at Thirsty Bernie Sports Bar & Grill have settled onto their usual barstools to toast the end of the week with a few drafts and another ninth-inning meltdown by the Nats. The atmosphere is unlike most sports bars: No one here has that thousand-yard stare, lost in the competition on the telly.
There are reasons, of course, for their lack of interest. The Nationals have become the Branson, Mo., of baseball franchises: Only old-timers in love with the “game” and their youth follow the team. The Caps are between contests, and the other hockey playoff has all the appeal of a tax audit. No, Thirsty Bernie is a neighborhood sports bar that emphasizes the first descriptor. Locals mostly gather around the bar to bitch, flirt, and gossip. One woman greets everyone with the same sentence: “Oh, I’ve missed you!”
The food may have something to do with the friendly vibe. The menu is stuffed with the kind of rich, gloriously meaty Bavarian dishes that have fueled Buffaloans for generations, helping them shovel a million drive-ways and survive the harshest winters with stoic good-humor. The dishes are, more or less, the same ones developed by Jamie Stachowski, the chef who unceremoniously parted ways with Thirsty Bernie last year. Whatever the reason for the fall-out between chef and owner, there appears to be no hard feelings now between them. Stachowski’s name is plastered all over the menu, wherever the chef has provided his sausages and charcuterie to a dish.
I order a stein of Franziskaner and the kielbasa sandwich in hopes of reliving the glory days of Thirsty Bernie, which occurred all the way back in the fall of aught-eight. The sausage has a thick casing, which has been grilled and blackened to a satisfying snap. The mildly spiced link is draped with sautéed peppers and caramelized onions and stuffed deeply into a big, crusty roll that requires some serious steamrolling before you can squeeze it into your maw.
The sandwich, in other words, is still more than anyone could ask for at a sport bars —- hell, more than you could ask for at most delis and sandwich shops, too.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery