RED BANK: ROBINSON HITS ALL MARKS

032015 robinson ale house burgerThe Chi-Town burger and fries at Robinson Ale House. Below, chef Michael Dolan.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

032015 robinson ale house dolanIn a town known for a sluggish turnaround time when it comes to opening a new eatery, Robinson Ale House in Red Bank is one of the few that stayed close to its schedule for opening an elegant, up-scale tavern decor.

Now, with three-plus months under its belt, a busy bar scene, and suggestions by locals to try the burger, it was time to for PieHole check in with chef Michael Dolan to see if the minor kinks of opening a new kitchen have been ironed out.

032015 robinson ale house grilled cheeseA grilled cheese menu includes a “cup” of tomato bisque soup.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

At lunch hour on what we hope was the last snowy day of the longest winter in history, we slushed our way through the unplowed parking lot to the back door of the tavern. Walking the warm hallway and through the dining room to the front hostess stand, we were surprised to see how busy the restaurant was. Maybe that’s because the hearty souls decided the weather wouldn’t keep them in one more day. We hoped that they came for a delicious repast.

Famished, we started with an order of nachos ($12.50). A good sized plate filled with chips covered in beer-braised chili, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo and shreds of crisp iceberg lettuce had enough heat to make us smile and inspire a mental note to try the chili on its own one day.

On the menu, the grilled cheese bar caught PieHole‘s eye. Ordering a Hawaiian ($10), our expectations of a flat, grilled cheese on white bread with a cup of pink creamy soup were blown out of the water by what was served.  The sandwich, served on thick, grilled sourdough bread, was stuffed with ham, pineapple and oozy cheddar cheese. The only thing that could take this to pure perfection would be if the pineapple were caramelized first. A larger-than-a-cup-sized bowl of tomato bisque was brimming with bright tomato flavor.

Forty-five- year-old Dolan, who has been working as a chef for 20 years, two with restaurateur Tim McLoone,  told us that the burgers are the most ordered item on the menu, but the chicken fricassee –  the recipe for which has been passed down through the family of McLoone’s wife, Beth (nee Robinson) McCloone – is also popular.

Based on exhortations by our twenty-something next-door neighbor and a guy who stopped us on the street, both of whom said, “you have to try the Chi-Town,” we figured it was time to taste the burger everyone seems to be raving about.

A mammoth beef patty, covered in steak sauce, Swiss cheese and thick slices of pecan-smoked bacon, all served on an ample brioche bun, the burger does indeed deserve acclaim. Cooked properly medium rare, it was juicy, a delectably savory mouthful.