Atmosphere: Folksy and casual. Kids are taken in stride -- we shattered a glass full of Coke and the waitress just smiled and swept up.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; 11:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday.
Price Range: Sandwiches, $1-$2.95; Dinner, $4.75-$7.95; child's dinner cost $1 less than regular menu price.
Reservations: Not taken. Expect a wait on weekends.
Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge.
Special facilities: Easy parking in gravel restaurant lot; accessible to wheelchairs; booster seats available; sandwiches may be carried out.
Visiting the Olney Ale House is like falling into a time warp and surfacing in Alice's Restaurant, circa 1969. Arlo Guthrie is on the jukebox, the hostess sports bandanna and jeans, and the waitress appears in long flowered skirt.
Two dining rooms in this rustic old house are open and communal; tables covered in red-checked tablecloths are pushed up to old church pews. Those who remember the song or the movie will recall that Alice May Brock was an Earth Mother who loved feeding people good food, but rigidities like schedules were not her strong suit.
So it is at the Ale House. The place overflows with young people, families, friendliness and good food. Go and enjoy, but go when you can relax and take your time. Or let me put it another way: We waited 45 minutes for our dinner and still loved the place.
One of the immediate problems is that the downhome ambiance and homestyle American cooking of the Ale House appeals to many people, but the restaurant takes no reservations. Go during the week (never on Mondays because it's closed) or, if you must go on a weekend, go early. On a recent Sunday evening we arrived at 5:45 and waited 15 minutes for a table -- not bad, considering the crowd that had made it there ahead of us.
The menu is simple and straightforward. Ingredients are fresh, of high quality and very well prepared. Emphasis is on the homey and the homemade. There are 12 different sandwiches offered, from corned beef to peanut butter and jelly. All are made with homemade bread, served with pickles and chips and are well priced.
Dinners are what mother used to make: fried salad and a choice of potato and vegetables. A blackboard on the wall advised us that the kitchen was stocked with minestrone soup and mint chocolate chip ice cream that night, but had run out of flounder and chicken.
Our waitress took our order for two pork chop dinners, $5.90 each, two steak and cheese sandwiches, $2.40 each, and one house specialty -- the beef stew, $4.75. She reappeared shortly with our drinks, a large loaf of warm homemade bread, a scoop of whipped butter, and our salads, which were truly "garden," a fresh melange of at least five different vegetables.
She advised us that the kitchen was running a bit slow, and that it would take a little longer than usual for our dinner order to surface. Impressed with such candor, we settled back to wait, but 40 minutes later, when our salads were gone, the bread was cold, and the girls had finished the fifty-second game of tic-tac-toe, we were no longer charmed.
However, our goodwill began to return when the waitress finally wrested our dinners from the clutches of the kitchen. She brought the second round of drinks we had requested, announcing they were on the house because of our long wait. We began to feel soothed.
But it was really the food that completely restored our good spirits: The pork chops were char-broiled and juicy, vegetables cooked crisp-tender, and the potato perfectly baked, not steamed. The steak and cheese were large sandwiches of tenderized, grilled beef, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce on homemade bread, good and very filling, even for our teen-ager.
Although a bit overseasoned with thyme, the beef stew was in every other respect a great dish. Its large chunks of tender beef had obviously been simmered a long time. What was better, its vegetables had not. They retained their texture, adding to the quality of the stew.
For dessert my family indulged in chocolate sundaes, 95 cents, and mint chocolate chip ice cream, 85 cents; I sampled carrot cake, $1.10. True to form, the Ale House presented high quality ice cream, and the cake was homemade, although a bit dry and not sweet enough for my taste.
With our quite reasonable check of $32 including tax and tip, the waitress brought the remaining half of our loaf of bread, wrapped for us to take home. But the final dollop of goodwill was lollipops, presented to everyone when we paid the bill, by which time we felt the wait for dinner had not been so long after all.