HUNGRY TOO One of the many sausage options at the Thirsty Pig.
Life is bitter, painful, confusing, and sad. Once upon a time it at least had the virtue of being short. Now it goes on and on and the resulting burden on Social Security and Medicare poison our politics, bankrupt our government, and generally reinforce the financial hardships that contribute to bitterness, pain, confusion, and sadness. The traditional remedies for these burdens of life, at least in the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic traditions that dominate American culture, have been beer and sausage — cheap ways to blot the pain with a light buzz and a stomach full of rich food.
This remedy is still available, though not in the same way, in two Old Port spots that are across the street from each other. The Thirsty Pig is a true sausage-and-beer place that opened last year, and recently revised its menu toward total sausage-centricity. Novare Res Bier Café, across the street, has been around for a while. At some point it quietly revamped its menu to include hot dishes, including a classic sausage entrée.
The energy in the Thirsty Pig's large space gravitates toward the center of the room, where the curving bar comes nearest to a set of booths — especially in the winter when tables near the big windows can be chilly. In the summer the crowd pushes back toward the tables outside on the deck. It manages to feel very casual in the midst of a nice space under a pretty inlaid ceiling. Its the sort of place where there are free peanuts, but you get them from a classy dispensers made of brass and glass — and you wouldn't think of tossing shells on the floor.
Beers on draft are reasonably priced and lean toward the local — changing frequently around a few standby brews. The sausages (seven regular offerings, and rotating specials) are all made in-house. They are handsome little guys, and aggressively seasoned — typically served on a split roll and topped with some combination of sauce, cheese, or veggies. The kielbasa has enough garlicky heat and mustard-seed bite to shine through the sauerkraut and mustard that tops it. A "buffalo chicken" — hot but not crazy-hot with an ambiguous mix of spices, and topped with a creamy bleu cheese dressing, somehow works. A chicken parmesan sausage tastes like exactly that.
With your sausage you can get a very good house-made slaw (crispy and a touch sweet, but with some zing), or baked beans (B&M, doctored up in-house with bacon), or collard greens. There is a very good sausage chili filled with lots of salty savory meat. The white bean soup is actually filled with tender pulled chicken and relatively few white beans.
Overall the Thirsty Pig gets recession-era beer and sausage right. It's a space for those truly in need of escape from life's unpleasant realities. Novare Res, opened in pre-recession 2008, has a different feel. This is drinking for the professional class, insulated from economic uncertainty but not from our era's existential malaise. Beers on draft are pricier for the most part, especially since many are less than a pint. But boy those beers are handsome in their variety of glasses, in a cozy and well-appointed space, with the inlaid ceiling hugging close.