Craft Ale House
708 West Ridge Pike
Situated on (scenic?) Ridge Pike just a stone’s throw from Limerick Bowl and two miles from Philadelphia Premium Outlets, the exterior of the Craft Ale House isn’t particularly prepossessing. In fact, it looks like just another one of those neighborhood “joints” serving up eminently forgettable fodder to less than discerning domestic-brewskie-minded locals… But on that score, trust me, you’d be very much mistaken.
The restaurant specializes in local craft-brewed beers, as well as an impressive selection of beers & ales from around the world. Patrons may choose from sixteen rotating drafts and over 350 bottles. Even more importantly, however, the Craft Ale House is committed to environmentally friendly practices and specializes in seasonal cuisine that is sourced from local farms and vendors… I mean, a vegetable Napoleon tossed with Meyer lemon-scented rice and consummatory tarragon vinaigrette is hardly the kind fare one is likely to encounter at your typical, run-of-the-mill happy-tappy. v
The interior is decidedly rustic, boasting what look like old church pews and dark, rough-hewn tables and chairs. A low wall separates the bar from the dining area proper. This is a comfortable, unpretentious space; you sense that the moment you enter. And the place feels genuine, in contrast to those ersatz sports bars with artificial everything – including bogus food – that overload the senses with X number of flat screen TVs. Here, thankfully, there is only one – sans sound – positioned above the bar.
But on to the matter in hand – namely the food. If you’re an incurable “pub grub” addict, Craft serves up healthy, spruced up versions of some of your favorites; so this is definitely the place to indulge your whims. Take the “Pub Burger,” for instance. Constructed of house-ground Pineland Farms all-natural beef, the char-grilled patty is marvelously plump and juicy, set on a soft bun (bread made daily on the premises), and garnished with lettuce and tomato. Accompaniments include either a small salad or hand-cut fries with ketchup and a fabulous remoulade dipping sauce. You may also construct your own burger with the toppings of your choice. My personal faves: bacon, cheddar cheese, and caramelized onions.
The roasted pork sandwich is every bit the burger’s equal. The meat is slow roasted with garlic, herbs, and beer, then shredded, topped with roasted red peppers & provolone, and served up on an Italian long roll with a beer jus for dipping. Add roasted hot peppers for an extra buck. A definite must for pork lovers.
Fish & chips fans will also not be disappointed. In lieu of the usual cod, Craft appropriates pieces of fresh caught grouper. The beer batter is wonderfully light & crisp; and the fish itself moist and perfectly cooked. An excellent rendition of an old favorite, marred only by a hint of grease as the batter cools down. Just for the record, my wife’s nomination for the best fish & chips ever: Sammy’s Restaurant & Bar, 333 NW 23rd Avenue, Portland Oregon. And my pick for the best gourmet rendering goes to Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean Street, London.
Though it does not technically come under the rubric of “pub grub,” but more properly “classic comfort food,” the chicken potpie certainly does the kitchen proud. The white meat chicken is extraordinarily tender, the veggies – mushrooms, carrots, onions – firm to the bite, the delightfully creamy sauce as smooth as silk, and the buttery crust topping a flawless textural foil for the richness that lies within.
In contrast to the above, entrées proper offer the diner more adventurous possibilities and clearly demonstrate the kitchen’s versatility. The grilled pork chop, for example, arrives in the company of smashed peanut potatoes, Chinese long beans, and a wild mushroom & fig demi-glace; the Jamaican jerk Cornish game hen headlines a marinated Epicurean Farms petite poulet served with mango dirty rice and honey-rum glaze; the house-made pappardelle pasta is tossed with Calkin’s Creamy Noble Road brie-style cheese, shaved asparagus, teardrop tomatoes, toasted hazelnuts, and topping of pan-seared almond-flour-dusted diver scallops; and even the carnivore’s delight, a grass-fed rib eye steak, receives a major boost from pistou mashed potatoes and sun-dried tomato demi-glace.
If you’re a bivalve fan, the mussels, all served up with garlic bread, also make a first-class main course. They come in three variations: Spicy Monk: Belgian dark ale, Andouille sausage, caramelized onions, pimento cheese; Coconut “Wit” Curry: yellow curry, bell peppers, ginger, shaved coconut, Belgian Wit beer, coconut milk broth; Funky Farmhouse: Saison Farmhouse Ale, leeks, bacon, blue cheese, garlic, wilted spinach. My wife chose the latter and was rewarded with extraordinarily plump mussels, large chunks of pungent blue cheese, and major portions of tender bacon all swimming in an incredibly addictive broth. The kitchen obviously doesn’t skimp on the accompaniments.
But let’s get back to the aforementioned vegetable Napoleon… a marvelously inventive dish that even non-vegetarians will thoroughly enjoy. Thin slices of breaded & fried eggplant are interspersed with a julienne of balsamic-seasoned grilled summer vegetables tossed with Meyer lemon-scented rice. The crowning touch is a garnish of tarragon vinaigrette. And all the elements of this presentation are just right. The eggplant slices are prepared to a crisp, golden brown; the rice/vegetable combo is moist and flavorful, and the tiara of tarragon vinaigrette adds yet another eye-catching, palate-pleasing dimension… And, if you don’t wish to go completely vegetarian, for a small additional charge you may order morsels of grilled chicken, which are well worth the expenditure.
To begin your meal, Craft offers a variety of interesting options. These range from a number of well-prepared soups to shrimp & grits with Andouille sausage to grilled chili-crusted ahi tuna to an artisan cheese plate with seasonal accompaniments. But if you want to travel a more familiar route, I’d suggest the house-smoked chicken quesadilla. This is an excellent updated version of the Mexican classic, featuring an internal infusion of tomato-basil feta cheese and external dollops of herbed sour cream and dried tomato tapenade.
If you enjoy greenery, however, the restaurant puts out several first-rate salad openers. The spinach salad, for example, is aided & abetted by honey-cured bacon, wild mushrooms, shaved Romano cheese, and tossed in a porcini mushroom vinaigrette. But even better, in my opinion, is the heirloom tomato salad, which headlines baby arugula, frisée, sun-dried tomato feta cheese, and a provocative ginger-lime vinaigrette.
To conclude your time at table, Craft offers several scrumptious house-made desserts. These vary, of course, depending upon the season and the chef’s inclinations; however, when it is available, nothing quite matches the incredibly delicious chocolate peanut butter pie. Rich, creamy, and decidedly decadent, this is one dessert that is worth a journey.
Just one or two closing notes… This is one of those Pennsylvania restaurant anomalies that only possesses a beer license. However… if you tote along your favorite wine, the friendly staff will be happy to provide an appropriate setup with no corkage fee. Secondly, the restaurant does not accept reservations and can only accommodate parties of six or less.
Given the quality of the food and the reasonable prices, the Craft Ale House is quite popular. If you don’t wish to wait for a table, my advice is to come early. Around 12:00 noon for lunch (the place tends to fill around 1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.); and around 6:00 p.m. for dinner. Also, the earlier in the week you put in an appearance, the greater your chances of success. On free-for-all Friday and Saturday evenings everything is up for grabs (the restaurant is closed on Sundays).
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted? E-mail Artful Diner!