We haven’t gone out to eat (other then sushi) for a while and I had been hearing a lot about the St. John Ale House in St. John, New Brunswick. We ended up in St. John due to a wonderful lady who is hell bent on saving milk crates from being thrown out from the City Market- we use them for our cider and she’s been stock piling for us, so we thought we would check it out.
The chef, Jesse Vergen (I may need a spellcheck there) has a small farm, I have read that he raises some of the meat and smokes it, and he grows some of the veggies that they serve. From this alone, I was ready to LOVE this place. They procclaim that they are progressive pub cuisine- after reading the menu I wouldn’t disagree.
The atmosphere was funky, and comfortable. It was Thanksgiving monday, and not really busy. We were seated and handed menus (check it out here->http://www.saintjohnalehouse.com/food. I would’ve eaten anything on the menu, but obviously that couldn’t happen. We whittled our choice down to Prince Edward Island Oysters and the Cure (charcuterie!!!!!) for starters, Fried Chicken and House Club for main.
The wait wasn’t too long and the food appeared- the server had a food runner drop our food, which was why, I expect, we didn’t get an explanation of the charcuterie plate… At first look, my excitement dropped a notch- three common problems with oysters when served: 1-The oysters aren’t always separated from the shell when served, 2- They aren’t clean and get sand/ grit inside when they are shucked and 3- They get mangled when being shucked. They got 2.5 out of 3 on this (1/2 of the oysters were mangled, not all), much to our disppoinment. They tasted awesome, I prefer just lemon, but the Mignonette sauce on the side was tasty and well balanced.
The charcuterie plate was in the same ballfield as the oysters, and it kind of broke my heart a little bit. There were three types of sausages, I think we figured them out: chorizo, farmers and salami, a terrine of tarragon and chicken, pickled onions and grainy mustard for a sauce. The terrine was fabulous- I ate most of it before Matt got his fork in there. It was well-seasoned, enough tarragon (but not too much) and it didn’t need anything to go with it to elevate it. I was a little confused about the sausages- they were pre-sliced and vaccuum sealed, they didn’t look appetizing. The salami had a skin on it that should’ve been peeled and had a slimy white film that I would’ve thrown probably would’ve thrown out had I seen it in the kitchen. The chorizo was good, the rest were just okay…
Much to my chagrin, the main courses were along the same. Matt’s chicken was dry and not very crunchy. The flavor was decent but it was really hard to choke down the dry meat- it came with a dipping sauce made from mayo, and it was SPICY. Holy moly…. He had ordered fresh kettle chips loaded with nacho toppings and sour cream. They ended up a greasy hot mess.
The house club was, as expected, chicken, bacon, tomato, cheese and lettuce on sourdough. It was also loaded with spicy mayo (it’s a good thing that neither of us are averse to spice)- the bread was quasi-burned on one side and was hard to bite into (this is usually a sign that the bread was too stale). The stuff inside was great- local everything, seasoned well (a little spicy), but it was hard to get passed the difficulty eating it with everything shooting out of the end… I chose to go with local veggies on the side- snow peas, carrots and corn. The corn was delish! Nice and salty, sweet, tender… The carrots were cut a little weird, into ribbons- I say this because they were hard to get off of the plate after cutting them into manageable pieces. The peas were cooked well, but they left the stringy part on (you know when you bite it in half and a little piece of string keeps it from actually separating)- this is a HUGE pet peeve. I got a small handful of peas, take the damn stringy bit off. Having said this, the veggies were the highlight of my mine course.
I was too bummed to eat dessert, so we paid our bill and went on our way- it set us back about $65. I left a tip, which caused a “discussion”- our server was absent, didn’t explain what we were eating and quality checked after we finished everything, but I also know what servers get paid and how much they work….
As much as I was in love with the idea of this place, the reality was very different from the transcending experience I was told to expect. This place has been on TV on “You Gotta Eat Here!!”- and it’s been in countless media publishings, not to mention the people that spoke so highly of it! I cannot express how bummed I am- I wanted this to be in the Top 5 for picks. I want to go again because it wasn’t horrible- it was average, which is almost worse, and maybe the chef was eating turkey somewhere…..