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Photo: Shannon DeCelle

Welcome to the Neighborhood
By B.A. Nilsson

The Ale House
680 River St., Troy, 272-9740. Serving Mon-Sat 11-1, Sun noon-10. Cash only (ATM on premises).
Cuisine: sandwiches, wings, other pub fare
Entrée price range: $5 (10 chicken wings) to $7 (hot roast beef sandwich with fries)
Ambience: classic pub
Clientele: Trojans

For a tavern to break out of the standard bar mode, something extraordinary is needed. Some have turned to brewing their own beer, with mixed results; others offer dauntingly long beer-selection lists. Promotional pricing and special-event nights draw customers, and I知 assured that karaoke actually serves as an attraction.

Although you値l find occasional special-event nights at Troy痴 Ale House, they tend to be a little different from the mainstream. They had an Elvis night last Saturday, with Johnny Rabb among the featured acts. But what sets this place apart on a night-to-night basis are the accommodating atmosphere and ambitious menu. Yes, you池e going to walk in off of chilly River Street and face a busy bar of people who will turn to look you over, hoping to recognize a friend, but you値l breeze past this gauntlet into the dining room, where you値l enjoy excellent wings, a generously sized burger, or one of the unexpected specials of the day. And by the time you leave, you well may be enough of a friend to stare at subsequent newcomers.

The Ale House has been a Troy institution for more than 30 years; for the last 13 of them, it has been owned by Brian Gilchrist, who keeps the menu interesting even as he maintains the neighborhood-pub spirit of the place.

的 try to offer something different in the specials, he says, noting that Wednesdays regularly feature Mexican fare. 展e値l also do things like a pork-rib special with chipotles and apple slices, and I have a smoker that I use for pulled pork and smoked ribs once or twice a month.

Although I致e been in for lunch or dinner a few times a year for the past couple of years, I feel like too much of an outsider to insinuate myself at the bar. And I知 usually with a friend or two, so we head past the bar (and the TVs, the jukebox, the dartboard, the ATM) to the dining room in the rear, where a collection of tables salvaged, I知 sure, from a defunct Arthur Treacher痴 Fish & Chips, are arranged into various combinations of four-tops and six-tops. Dark wood paneling on the walls and the easygoing lighting give a nice sense of intimacy.

Specials are listed on a blackboard, and usually include something a little fancier than the regular menu offers, such as a fish preparation or corned beef and cabbage or ribs or the like. On Wednesdays, look for tacos, burritos, fajitas and such.

The $6 burrito, for example, is available with chicken or beef; the meat is mixed with beans and cheese and seasoned to a characteristic, but not too spicy, flavor. Salsa, sour cream and guacamole decorate one side of the plate, and a commercial 鉄panish rice preparation is on the other. It痴 a modest, tasty portion that痴 only slightly more Mexican than it is, say, Norwegian; at this point, it痴 safe to call it American fare.

Likewise the chili ($2.50 a bowl), one of the regular appetizers. Almost any restaurant request for chili in the northeast is going to get you a bowl of ground beef and kidney bean stew, but this one was spicier than I expected, a pleasant surprise. Try it with melted cheese and corn chips for an extra 75 cents.

J-Bombs ($4) are known elsewhere as jalapeo poppers, and are the same as the poppers served anywhere, although here they池e enhanced with a side of salsa; deep-fried Spanish onion chips ($4) turn out to be a diminutive version of a 澱looming onion, liberated from the core and served with a horseradish mayo.

Other appetizers include deep-fried mushrooms or mozzarella sticks ($4 each), a nacho platter ($7) and an array of salads; the soups include Manhattan clam chowder and a daily special (split pea is a favorite). The Buffalo-style chicken wings ($5 for 10, $9 for 20) are especially good, and the masochist in me enjoys what are claimed to be the Capital Region痴 hottest.

Much of the rest of the fare consists of sandwiches. Cold deli-style sandwiches are made with tuna salad, ham, turkey or roast or corned beef, available in regular ($5) or club style ($7); hot sandwiches ($6-$7) include turkey or roast beef in a couple of variations.

The six-ounce burger ($4) nestles unobtrusively on the list, but it痴 a great meal that can be enhanced with any of a number of topping options. Another favorite is the grilled Reuben ($6), a classic assembly of corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on rye bread with Russian dressing.

If fries don稚 come with your dish, you can add them for $1.50 or $2.50, with homemade gravy on top for another fifty cents. Expand your palate with the sweet potato fries ($2.50 or $3.50) and you値l be tastily rewarded.

And if, after all that, you致e got room for a slice of carrot cake, you池e a better trencherman than I. But I do recommend the cake.

It wouldn稚 be the Ale House without a pint of something substantial with which to wash down the meal, and with Newcastle Pale Ale and Guinness Stout on tap, I知 happy. Look for special beers as well, like the rich, dark Magic Hat from Vermont that threatens to overthrow my Guinness allegiance. There痴 nothing remotely like this in the town where I live, many miles from Troy, so I知 adopting it as my own neighborhood pub.

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