First Impressions of the Pax River Ale House
Ignore the distinctive curved front window of the former Shoney’s building and forget that the sign once read “CoCo Cantina” – this pub is a giant leap forward in quality from the location’s former selves. With 30 taps behind the bar to help you forget all the bad places that came before it and a menu with just as much variety as the beer, you’d be hard pressed not to find something that suits your tastes at the recently opened Pax River Ale House.
First Thing’s First
The Ale House’s draft beer selection includes a good mix of craft beers from both local and non-local micro and macro breweries. In spite of how many beers you may have sampled over the years, with 30 draft beers on tap, you’ll likely find a few new ones to try. They also have 50 bottled selections, but hopefully the draft selections will rotate fast enough that we will never have to resort to those.
Drink, Don’t Drive
Happy hour prices at the Ale House are fine, in my opinion, but are limited to a few select brews, though their regular prices do feel fairly reasonable for craft beer. We would prefer to see happy hour specials on a wider selection of beers, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed on that, since it’s in a prime location to be our go-to place to wait out rush hour traffic. Especially since the closest good alternative, in my opinion, is Taphouse 1637 which, on bad days, can take up to an hour to reach from the base.
From the Kitchen
The menu includes all the classic pub foods you’d expect… from just about every country where you might expect to find a pub! Throughout the menu you’ll find an eclectic mix of cuisines from the US, England, Italy, Greece, Germany, Ireland, and more. From burgers and fries to fish and chips, pizza to pretzels, shepherd’s pie to souvlaki pita, the two-page menu spans a vast culinary distance.
If you’d rather stick closer to home, you can’t get more local than Old Bay wings, Maryland crab soup, jumbo lump crabcakes, and in case you’re not a fan of craft beer, yet somehow find yourself in the Ale House anyway, there’s *cough* Bud Light on tap too.
For my first visit, we started with the cheesesteak eggroll appetizer, which proved to be much less weird than it sounds. Next came the test every pub must pass – the burger test. I opted for the classic bacon cheeseburger with fries, with one major twist – gruyere cheese, since cheddar was shockingly not an option. I had no major complaints – the burger itself was juicy, but a bit lacking in flavor, though the superb flavor of the bacon definitely made up for it. JP chose the Ale House burger – a mix of Greek and American cuisines made of ground beef and lamb topped with tzatziki sauce. Jeff has also tried this ‘lamburger’, and both agreed it was just okay – that the patty itself was dry and not very flavorful, though the sauce was quite tasty. The shepherd’s pie was satisfactory but nothing to write home about.
On my second visit, we started with the Ale House fries, which were topped with beef, jalapenos and cheese curds, smothered in gravy, and tasted just as good as they sound. For my meal, I had the Berlin platter, and before I say anything else, the thick slabs of candied bacon were nothing short of amazing. The dish included a pork ribeye, which was tender and juicy but a bit under-seasoned for my tastes, excellent garlic mashed potatoes, a good-but-not-great bratwurst, and meh sauerkraut. The large meal also included two hard rolls – so hard in fact, I was unable to break them in half with my hands (I’m a grown man, by the way). JP said he had been served similar ‘bricks’ with his Berlin platter roughly a week prior. Upon informing the waitress, she politely apologized and promised to inform the kitchen. I declined a replacement. In my opinion, it would be a much better fit to include one of their Bavarian soft pretzels with the Berlin platter instead of the rolls, despite the minor technicality that Berlin is not actually in Bavaria.
Even. More. Impressions.
On my most recent trip to the Pax River Ale House, we started with the dolmades, which are little lumps of rice and ground beef wrapped in grape leaves, served with tzatziki sauce for dipping and grilled pita. This may be the best appetizer we’ve had – the sauce was flavorful and fresh, and the whole combination is definitely a winner. For my meal, I tested another pub classic – fish and chips. Although it may sound boring or bland, this dish was anything but. The fried cod was expertly cooked, fresh, flaky and well-seasoned. Both the fish and the Old Bay fries were phenomenal. My only complaint is that I wish there was more of it – most people will, like me, be disappointed when the plate arrives at your table and you see 2 small-ish pieces of fish. The pieces are actually fairly thick, but I still think a third piece of fish would be closer to what most people will expect for the price. We also had the brewhouse mussels and the cedar plank bourbon roasted salmon, both of which were very good and, most importantly for any seafood, perfectly cooked.
I quite enjoyed the decor, which gives the place that dark pub feel we know and love while still feeling modern, and though I’m used to the fact that Marylanders love to plaster their state flag on everything, I was still a bit uncomfortable wiping my feet on the Maryland flag doormat.
The service was good, and while the wait staff all could probably use a bit more training, I felt that what they lacked in experience, they made up for by being friendly and attentive (sometimes overly so).
Overall, the food ranges from okay to great, the prices are reasonable, and the draft beer selection is unrivaled south of route 4. In spite of its few minor wrinkles, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you visit the Pax River Ale House and decide for yourself.