ITHACA, NY -- The Ale House has been at the same site on Aurora Street for more than a dozen years. Ironically, the pandemic has assuaged the only concern I’ve had about the Ale House…and that’s the noise from the kitchen with the cooks loudly communicating with each other. Since the pandemic, I’ve been eating outside for the last few months and it’s been lovely.
The Ale House is my go-to place for a burger and a beer when I’m downtown. The burgers are high quality, always cooked as ordered, and are served in generous portions with a choice of sides. I almost always order the “Perfect Burger” ($16). It’s not really perfect and it doesn’t quite match the hyperbole of the menu: “creates burger utopia.” The Perfect Burger is served with lettuce, tomato, onion slices, bacon, New York State Cheddar cheese, pickle slices, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. Since it’s already “perfect” substitutions aren’t permitted, however I never have a problem when I ask the server to omit the mayonnaise. You can choose one side from among French fries, onion rings, or Caesar salad. And you may be interested to know that for an additional charge of $3 you can substitute a gluten-free roll on any burger.
Although the burgers are really good, they’re not the only items served here.
There are a half dozen salad entrées ($10-$16). I recently selected the Maryland Crab Cake Salad ($16). There were four crab cakes which were tasty and seemed fresh. They were surrounded by greens, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and bits of avocado. A rather bland homemade chipotle-citrus dipping sauce accompanied the salad.
Flatbreads are really another name for pizza. Seven are offered, all for about $13. The dough is, indeed, flat, kind of like a pan pizza, which I prefer because it offers less dough and leaves more room for the main ingredients. I like garlic and I like shrimp, and when I noticed a flatbread entrée called Garlic White Shrimp Flatbread, I didn’t hesitate. I was impressed when it arrived at the table - bits of chopped shrimp evenly mixed with large amounts of melted mozzarella cheese and flakes of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. The menu promised basil but I didn’t find any. No matter, the dish was tasty and filling and had a pleasant crunch and I looked forward to finishing it at home the next day.
I’m wary when I order onion soup in a restaurant. There are many ways to prepare it and, until the server presents it, we really have no idea of what we’re going to get. At the Ale House it’s called, “6 Onion Soup.” I never had heard of that one. It created quite a dramatic presentation, with a large chunk of melted provolone and swiss cheese melted on top and spreading down the sides of the bowl. Sitting atop the cheese was a large, breaded fried onion ring — I learned that was the sixth onion – the other five were mixed into the interior broth and were indistinguishable from each other. Onion soups can be quite salty; this one wasn’t. It was really good…one of the best I’ve had in Ithaca.
At a recent (Nov. 9) lunch I discovered a “New Item - Thanksgiving in a Sandwich” ($18). I had to try that….and I quickly learned that the person who named it did it with a touch of whimsy. I found three expected Thanksgiving items: oven-roasted turkey breast, stuffing, and cranberry/mandarin relish. The rest was tasty but didn’t remind me of the traditional holiday fare. It was all served on a toasted rosemary-olive oil focaccia bread and the whole portion was liberally sprinkled with walnut halves on top of a creamy, cheesy sauce. I liked the dish but I’m still planning on celebrating the holiday with something more traditional.
With Ale House in the name, it’s not surprising to find more than 18 beers and ales on draught. All but three are from various parts of the United States. The interesting variety of craft beers are a big attraction for me and although I am rarely familiar with more than a handful, the servers and bartenders are wonderful in helping me select a “hoppy” one. There are a few wines but that’s not what this place is about.
Sunday Burger Brunch (11 a.m. - 3 p.m.) is now on offer.
Outdoor diners are asked to eat within an hour-and-a-half to make tables available for other diners (and to increase turnover) however that shouldn’t be a problem and I’ve never seen anyone asked to leave.