Our Rating  

The Ale House
30 Market Street

Three and 1/2 Plates  
The Ale House Reviewed: Fall, 2000

The Old Port has its share of pub establishments but none so eccentric and bold as the new Ale House on Market Street. Just last week the Alehouse moved into the old space previously occupied by Erik's. But the only things vaguely reminiscent of the former inhabitant are the harlequin floor, which contributes much better to the new characteristic ambience, and the basic room layout. The Alehouse has introduced itself to Portland with rugged humor, gaudy decor and some excellent beer and eats as well.

Fence lined stairs guide potential diners and drinkers down to the basement space on 30 Market Street. The décor is definitely geared toward a more frivolous audience from the fuzzy leopard printed covers on the stools and the band schedule scrawled in colored chalk on the walls to the popcorn machine chock full of free salty popcorn in the middle the bar and the Brady Bunch portraits on the bathroom doors. In other words, it's not the place to go if you're looking for a quiet intimate dinner.

We found ourselves a table and were approached by an extremely friendly waiter. There's a place in Boston called Dick's Last Resort which immediately came to mind when our waiter drew up a chair and sat down at our table to chat with us. I used to avoid Dick's Last Resort at all costs because the extremely intrusive wait staff there will literally sit with you and eat food off your plate while you dine, it's all part of the atmosphere. Well, this was not nearly that obnoxious, but it bordered. It was mindless chit chat but not something you normally do with your waitperson. We ordered a few beers, Bass and Sierra Nevada ($3.50 each), and he returned within seconds with brews and menus. We helped ourselves to a basket or two of free popcorn for munching while we perused the menu. The popcorn is pretty good, super salty, I suppose to get people to order more beverages, bright yellow for some reason and I'm pretty sure I spotted a gargantuan bottle of squirtable butter flavor just like at the movies.

All the handwritten cleverly named dishes and descriptions are crammed on one side of the single page menu with specials and the entertainment calendar on the other. The Sloppy Joe Sandwich caught my eye first, as I can't remember ever seeing that on a restaurant menu before. Their very casual selection offers several burgers, steak and other sandwiches, appetizers including nachos and gravy fries and entrees such as a fried chicken plate. Basically anything you can think of that goes well with beer. It is after all called The Alehouse. Although I was so intrigued and impressed by the Sloppy Joes, I decided to go for the Cheeseburger, tempted by the menu description that it is dripping with gooey cheese. Two others in our party ordered the same and when our waiter heard this he clearly demanded that one of us try a steak sandwich instead, as that is their house specialty. My friend volunteered to switch choosing the basic steak and cheese with peppers and onions. The waiter neglected to ask any of us how we wanted our burgers and steak cooked but he did offer us "fries for a buck" to go along with each of our sandwiches which none of us could rightfully pass up. Our fourth diner, the nacho connoisseur, decided to put The Alehouse's version to the test.

As we waited, we glanced around the room at all the many quirky decorations. A giant stuffed llama stands proudly at one end of the bar while at the other, two swings, real playground swings, are suspended from the ceiling falling just at the right height so one can comfortably sit at the bar while gently swaying. Veering greatly from the norm, the bathrooms are marked "Innies" and "Outies" leaving only one's mind to the imagination. Written on the wall between the bathroom doors are several reasons one might want to book a special event at The Alehouse, some reasonable, others not so but fun to read regardless. All in all, it is a slightly crude atmosphere, but definitely amusing. The Alehouse provides for varying nightly entertainment from television football events to live bands all of which are listed along the walls. Instead of place settings, each table has a Corona six-pack of silverware and condiments, including ketchup, hot sauce, and spicy Thai sauce, and a roll of paper towels.

By the time our food was ready we were a couple beers in and extremely ready to devour some tasty burgers and fries. Instead of plates or baskets, each of our meals was served in a hubcap. Some of us got Fords others got Chevys. It had never once occurred to me to serve food in a hubcap, but lined with wax paper, they nestled our enormous portions of food quite efficiently. My burger was immense, not in width but in diameter. The oddly shaped ¾" thick patty was cooked completely thoroughly, thankfully just the way I like it, and served on a deliciously fresh roll. Just as promised, the whole thing was oozing with multiple slices of American cheese. There were tasty bits of sauteed onion hiding between the burger and cheese which proved to be an excellent unexpected addition. Some fresh tomato, lettuce and red onion slices came along side my burger but I opted not to partake of them. The $1 seasoned fries were a very wise decision as well. Although it was completely too much food for us to finish, the other burger eater and I agreed that it hit the spot just right. Unfortunately the nachos did not rate high on the scale of nacho greatness. The portion was huge, tons of tricolored tortilla chips topped with an obscene glob of sour cream and a giant scoop of mouth watering, fresh salsa, but the chips were slightly soggy and by the time they arrived on our table, the once melted cheese was rather cold. Our friend ate them all nonetheless, commenting they had potential.

wheelchair accessible  
vegetarian selections
vegan selections  
most credit cards accepted
After my friend sampled one, The Alehouse absolutely has every right to claim the best steak sandwich in Portland. Not only did it arrive with the same yummy fries as our burgers but it was like no steak sandwich I've ever witnessed. The bulky torpedo roll was stuffed with tons of huge pieces of real steak tips, not the shaved Steakum type stuff that you usually get. This was all combined with sauteed peppers and onions and more gooey cheese. My friend thought this was by far a superior steak sandwich.

After settling our $59.88 bill and leaving a tip for our amiable waiter, we dragged our over satiated selves outside to walk it off. A great meal, good time and tasty beers for a reasonable but not inexpensive price. There are other places with better beer deals and wider selections but overall The Alehouse, with its garish flamboyance, is just the kind of place the Old Port has been missing.  back to the top

Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.





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