Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ale House Has Opened -- HowChow Folks There

The new Ale House Columbia has opened off Dobbin Road in Columbia.  This is the former Rocky Run, which they ripped back to the studs and renovated.

Timothy stopped in yesterday for lunch and knocked off an awesome update for HowChow readers.  This has turned into a week of new opening announcements.  Timothy has provided the first report from the new Ale House, and he got a great lunch on takeout:
I just got back from ordering lunch to-go from the new Alehouse in Columbia (the former Rocky Run). I wanted to stop by to get a feel for the place since I enjoy going to many of our local bars, namely T-Bonz, Frisco and Judges Bench. The Alehouse wins the proximity war to both my home and office, so even if the food was just "okay" there was a very good chance I would frequent it often. 
The good news is that I may have just had the best burger I have ever eaten. I ordered their "Classic Bacon Cheeseburger" to-go since I was on a quick break, and I had a small Olivers Stout to tide me over while I waited. Note that there appears to be choice in 10, 16 and 23oz pours for each draft, but I could not confirm because the draft menu's were still printing when I arrived. That size choice is familiar at a place like TGI Friday's but lacking from our more specialized watering holes thus far. 
The staff was incredibly friendly and the atmosphere leaned towards upscale without being inaccessible or snobby. The main bar where I sat was very attractive. It was large with seating for maybe 30, flanked by an array of 55 inch LCD's tuned to sports, news and an in-house channel with pictures of the building re-hab and a listing of the available beers. The taps were aligned handsomely on the back wall in the center of the bar. They lacked branded tap handles in favor of a large chalkboard above them. In this instance, only the brewery was named in chalk and not the beer itself (I.e. Oskar Blues instead of Mama's Little Yella Pills). This could present an issue in identifying what you actually want to order, but once those tap lists finish printing I think we'll be okay. 
After catching up with one of the bartenders who it turns I knew from another establishment, my order arrived after about 7-10 minutes wrapped and ready to go. I took it on the 5 minute drive back to my office and ate it at my desk. The burger was thick, juicy and delicious. I ordered it "Medium" and it arrived "Medium". I can be picky about red meat temperatures. This was a perfect medium. The bacon was of the thick-cut variety, the bun was a perfectly toasted potato roll and the cheese was probably American, but that was of little consequence. The hero of this sandwich was the meat, as it should be. It required no additional sauces or seasoning. From the first bite I knew I had just tasted the best burger in Columbia. I mean it! If you are a burger fan, go to the Alehouse now! FYI, the price was $12, which is a comparable price for a burger of this size. Most menu items seemed to be over $10 with an average price of $16. 
The french fries. Oh the french fries. This is another food that I can be picky about. I don't eat them a lot, but when I do it's usually because they are exceptionally delicious (duck fat fries from Victoria's, as an example). These fries were thick-cut with about 50% of them containing pieces of potato skin. They were perfectly seasoned and delicious with or without ketchup. The salt on these fries reminded me of the salt one would get on a soft pretzel: large, flavorful chunks. These fries could easily have been over-seasoned with this type of salt, but they came out perfectly. 
The one thing I cannot speak it is how well the place will run with a full house (there were maybe 20 guests at 11:30 today) or how difficult it will be to converse with your dining mates. The Ale House is open-concept but with clearly defined sections and ceilings that are an average height for restaurants. That should help with the noise-factor. 
As a family man and father to a young daughter, fellow families will be happy to know as that there is a dining area away from the main bar, separated by a glass partition that should help filter out the bar noise. There is also a pretty cool kid's menu that arrives on a small, tablet-sized chalkboard with a wooden frame for little hands to grip. The bartender told me that each kids menu will come with some chalk so the little ones can doodle on the back. Pretty neat idea! Most items on the kids menu ranged from $4-8 and had your standard burger, corn dog, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets and so on. Drinks include juice, milk, chocolate milk and in-house root beer. 
Overall I was very impressed during my brief stay and will definitely be back again soon, maybe even after work today. I see the Ale House as the perfect middle ground between niche beer bar and family-friendly restaurant. You could go there with your buddies to watch the game, meet up with fellow beer lovers after work or take your grandparents out for a nice meal with the grand-kids. There is definitely room in Columbia for a place like this, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
If you're into beer, check out the Twitter feed of the MDBeerGuy.  He is talking there about the Ale House Columbia, the beers, the pricing, and more.


Kristy said...

We went as a family for dinner. We have a 10 month old daughter and they sat us near the back bar area. It was quiet enough to have a conversation without having to raise our voices.
The beer (and beer selection) was great! For dinner we had the Kobe sliders and shared the BBQ Pork flatbread. Both were pretty tasty but I think next time we'll try our waiter's recommendation of the pretzel appetizer and the fish (blackened Mahi) tacos.
I'm sure we'll be back soon!

K8teebug said...

We are going tonight for a drink. As Coventry Cream and Three Spires are two of our favorite beers, we could not be more excited they have opened in Columbia!!!

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

I went there with some friends and we happened to be the first table there (checkout their Facebook page =) ). The decor and space is awesome - really a breath of fresh air. Everyone was super friendly and asked us how we were doing. One of the managers joked if we enjoyed our meal and the 11 people checking on us. For beverages I had Williams's Winter Warmer which is only served in a 10oz due to its 11% alcohol content. It was very good. After that I had the Blackberry Pear Cider - refreshing. My friends had the blonde ale and enjoyed it. For starters we had the Jalepeno Cilantro & Cider Mussels. They were delish and cooked very well. Not one foul tasting one, which I tend to find. We also had the Nachos which are Tostada style so each chip has toppings on it. Great idea. For food I had the Tuna Tartar which was awesome and filling. My friends had the pescado and al pastor tacos which they said were good too. I'm excited for this place to be in Columbia!

Kristi said...

We went to dinner there last night and they definitely have to work out a few of the kinks that come along with opening a new restaurant. We did enjoy the food and the atmosphere, but there were a few hiccups.

We were seated right by the exit from the kitchen. They had a seating chart posted on the wall and there was a lot of confusion at times with the servers. We were brought other table's entrees twice and it took them 4 times (I'm not exaggerating!) to bring us the correct dessert. At least we were able to preview everything on the dessert menu! It also took 45 minutes for us to get our food, but the server tried to reassure us that this was just a one time occurrence.

Everyone was super nice and they were very apologetic, mentioning that they were still learning and getting used to a full house. They even gave us a complementary dessert for our inconveniences. But the wait staff worked as a team, so our drinks were always refilled and they were constantly checking up on us. As for the food, it was very good. I had the French dip, which was much better than other versions I've had. The meat was fresh and medium rare. My husband had a burger and our friends had the tacos and a flatbread. The flatbread was little cold when it came out, but nothing major. The tacos were good, but the serving size seemed small for $13. It was more of an appetizer size. Next time, I will try their Build Your Own Mac and Cheese!

They are having their grand opening on Friday, so this week was their learning curve. We will definitely be frequenting this restaurant on a regular basis, but we’ll also wait a few months so they can get through their new restaurant opening phase.

FYI- The parking lot for the shopping center was completely packed at 7, which was never the case before the Ale House opened, so I can see this turning into the same situation as Facci/Klobys/La Palapa. One of the managers said that they were looking into adding valet parking to the weekdays as well as the weekends.

Eric B. said...

I had a chance to go eat here last night for a work happy hour. I thought the food was very tasty and the beer selection is very good. The happy hour prices are also a nice draw. We also had problems with the time it took to get the food and wrong table deliveries, but this is to be expected for a new restaurant. I also very much appreciated that the volume of the music was low enough to have a conversation, unlike some of the other local pubs.

lemon_sorbet said...

My friends and I went out on Thursday and had a mixed experience. The beer was excellent. I sampled William's Winter Warmer, which was so rich and full of flavor. I had a full Double IPA by Breckinridge, which I really enjoyed. Our waiter was fairly attentive and energetic.

The food, however, was not very enjoyable at all. It took a very long time for it to arrive. My friend liked his fish tacos, although they had forgotten to include the brussels sprouts. My husband thought his French dip was so-so. I ordered the mushroom and vegetable risotto, which was a real disappointment. It wasn't very creamy at all, and had a texture that was somewhere between risotto and boiled rice. I expected the mushrooms to be chopped up to let the flavor incorporate into the rice, but there were just two sad slabs of mushrooms just sitting on top of the pile. The veggies were cooked to perfection though- cooked well, but still crisp. After a few bites I sent the dish back-- a first for me.

I expect that these issues are just working out the kinks of a new restaurant, and reading the positive reviews is reassuring. We'll be happy to go back to give a second chance. At the very least for the beer.

Radha said...

'Twas awesome indeed! Burger was definitely in the top two of HoCo. Servers are friendly and knowledgeable. Space was large, eye-pleasing, comfortable and surprisingly quiet for the number of people there. We will definitely be returning.

dzoey said...

We tried it late (9:15) on a Saturday night after seeing The Hobbit and had no trouble getting seated, though it was still pretty full. When we left at 10, the dining area was starting to empty out, but the bar was still full.
The waiter was very nice and attentive, even though it was crowded - perhaps they've taken some of the service comments in this board to heart because we had no problems at all.

I had the chopped salad whichslightly more bitter from the lime dressing than I was expecting, it was still good with crunchy bits from corn chips and a very tangy, almost bitter, lime based dressing. My son had the honey chicken sandwich which he really enjoyed, but found the accompanying fries a little greasy.
They have a build-your-own Mac & Cheese, so my daughter built a Mac & Cheese & short rib which would have been really good except there was too much salt in the cheese sauce. I like the idea of customizing Mac & Cheese, they just need to work on the sauce base.
We all split a brownie ice cream sandwich which was really too small for three people, but a good ending to the meal.

We will definitely be back. There was lots on the menu that we want to try and we'll bring my wife, who is finicky, next time as well.

Zevonista said...

Checked it out Saturday for lunch. The place was pretty full, but service was good; we experienced no delays.

Had the classic burger; the wife had the pulled pork sandwich. Both were fine; we particularly appreciated the fact that the fries were not over-salted. Good beer selection as well.

I wouldn't put the burger or beer selection in the same class as Victoria's. I also like the burger at BGR and Bobby Flay's better. But the price was definitely right, and the beer was also more affordable than Victoria's.

Anonymous said...

Visited the Ale House on 2 recent occasions. Sat at the bar the first time and at a table in the back bar section the second. At the bar, Rachel was super fast and very nice... I had the Paragon Porter and a plate of the Kobe sliders both of which I would have again. On the second trip I had the Classic Bacon Cheese which was also very good and cooked (medium-rare) to perfection. The pub pretzels were just so-so and I would not order them again. Overall a great place with an exciting selection of beers. I was told they will begin selling growlers on 12/17 fyi.

K8teebug said...

We went last week on a Wednesday. It was pretty packed, and we overheard the manager saying that it wasn't as packed as they thought it would be. We waited a really long time for everything. Over 10 minutes for our beers, over 40 minutes for our burgers. The burgers were good, but they weren't spectacular. They were a decent, average burger. We love their beers, so we will be back. And I'm guessing things will get quicker once they get in a groove there. They really fixed up the space and it's nice to know there's a coventry cream waiting for us down the street. But, you can get much better burgers in Columbia (Victoria, Frisco...and for a longer drive, Hamilton Tavern in Baltimore).

Rick B. said...

Went for lunch the other day and had the bacon cheeseburger. Best burger in town, beats everywhere else in town. (haven't tried Victoria's though) Fries were outstanding. Didn't get a chance to sample any beer yet but that will be next time.

Anonymous said...

We went on Friday for dinner and had a pretty poor experience. While the beer was pretty good, the service and food were fair to poor. During our diiner, the server brought my wife the wrong beer, was slow to serve entrees, and dessert, and forgot to package up leftovers. In general, it appeared that there were a lot of staff members who were moving around very quickly while not efficiently serving patrons. As for the food, we were underwhelmed with a generic pretzel, an overcooked burger and brussel sprouts, and a flatbread with soggy prosciutto and little if any goat cheese.

Anonymous said...

Pretty so-so experience. At the front desk there were three very confused hostesses who were being berated by the manager as we stood there. Our waitress made a lot of mistakes with our order and it took a long time to arrive (then build in time for corrections).

I liked the layout of the place but was very underwhelmed with the quality of the food in general. My son got the bacon cheeseburger and said he thought 5 Guys was better - he did like the fries though. My chicken sandwich was fine but somewhat boring. I did order the side of green beans which were the highlight for me.

the parking lot was a mess and I am not sure valet parking did much more than get in the way. We'll try again - am hopeful they will work out the kinks.

dzoey said...

Went back the Sunday before Christmas at 7 and there was a short wait. Once seated, the service was fine. I didn't wait too long for the food and the waiter was nicely attentive.

I tried the nachos which were OK, but for some reason was served with a thimble of salsa. Not sure why a bigger dish couldn't have been used. The guacamole that went with it was good.

I also had the onion ale soup which was surprisingly sweet, but tasty nonetheless. The turkey burger was well cooked and dry, as turkey can be sometimes, but the dryness was offset by the cheese and herbed mayo, so the sandwich as a whole worked well.

I had a glass of wine which was served in what looked like a juice glass, which was odd and it made the pour look tiny, though it was a regular size pour.

My opinion is that it's a good place to get a drink and have a casual meal. The food will be decent, but not spectacular, and the prices are reasonable.

The ale house doesn't have the silliness and kid friendliness of Rocky Run, but now that the kids are older anyway, it's a good replacement.

Biketraveller said...

What are the parking options if the lot is full? I don't recall any other safe nearby lots or street parking. At Facci / LaPalapa there is plenty of parking on a safe walk able street, a bank, daycare, etc. I would like to try, but parking in Dobbin Center sounds unsafe. I don't think there's even a pedestrian signal. For me, I don't use any of these "strip mall parking valets" as it's not clear who is liable for your car and/or if they are reputable companies or just kids the restaurant hires.,

Anonymous said...

I am very disappointed no one apparently thought much how about this new establishment would affect the other businesses in the shopping center that do not have valet parking. On the upside, if you can find a space, you are likely to find shorter lines as Pei Wei and Sports Clips. I wonder what the plan will be when the Pub customers fill up the nearby parking lot serving Fuddruckers as I noticed happened the other night? Even without the Pub, I recall having to wait 40 minutes just to leave the parking lot of Pei Wei and get back to Dobbin Road a couple years back during the big storms. I will never visit this area again when there is a lot of snow on the ground.

kam said...

So how's the parking situation compare to back when Rocky Run was open?