Old Town Ale House opened up just about two weeks ago on Fishers’ 116th Street. Not too far from the highway, and helmed by the same chef and owner as The Corner Wine Bar, the place has great PR built into it.
Too bad the food hasn’t gotten a similar boost.
My first visit to Old Town was a few days after it opened. I decided to give the kitchen a bit more practice time. The lack of quasi-healthy offerings at the 9 p.m. hour played into the decision too.
There was plenty of beer to placate me. A decent selection of craft draft, including Left Hand Milk Stout, Founders Pale Ale, Bell’s Two Hearted, Brugge Tripel de Ripple, and about 15 more were priced from $3 to $7 (the Tripel). Not bad.
I ordered a Milk Stout. My blonde waitress was delighted. “You like Milk Stout?” She said, head cocked, slightly incredulous. Like it was an acquired taste.
Milk Stout has been called the milkshake of beer for good reason.
The pub gods saw fit to make us wait a while for those initial beers. Our waitress came back to confirm the order. A packed house could not have been her excuse.
We had time to assess the landscape. The drab green wallpaper and big, underutilized dining areas with uninspired seating (think principal’s offices; upscale cafeteria) certainly don’t say progressive. And Old Town makes reference to gastropub inspirations on their website.
We walked away not so impressed that time. But I had to go back for the food.
Flash forward about a week later. It was Tuesday — In Old Town parlance, “pint night.” Draft beers are $2.75 on Tuesdays and Thursdays here. I immediately felt better about the place.
I really wanted to try a beer flight, and Old Town has a few pre-arranged choices for $8. That’s kind of steep, when you see that the five servings are probably 4 ounces, tops. And you can’t even make your own for, say, a $1 more.
I chose a flight of “Matt’s Favorites.” I’m glad my dining companion alerted me that the lineup’s Crooked Tree IPA would be replaced with Abita. They had run out of the former when she visited the previous night. I checked the tap; she was right. The replacement wasn’t bad, but word should have come from my server.
But onto the food.
I had been eyeing the fried cheese plate ($10) since my first visit. If it were as good as what I’d tasted at the Indiana State Fair, then it would be worth it. My friend ordered onion rings. The delicious smell of batter had wafted by us earlier, and its siren call proved irresistible.
My cheese plate turned out to be like the Fair’s Hot Wisconsin Cheese only in form. It was deep fried in dark batter — the same kind they might use for fish and chips. And yet, this crust wasn’t flakey and delicious, but rather salty, maybe almost stale. The cheese — Velveeta-like cheddar and a variety of under-flavored white — wasn’t tasty or gooey enough. The textures were a bit off.
And the “variety of sauces” the menu promised? Ranch, cocktail and mustard. Or maybe the ranch wasn’t ranch. It was a peppery, ranch-like substance.
I tasted my friend’s onion rings ($6), which should have been hard to screw up. But the slightly burnt batter and too-thinly sliced onion left me wanting better.
So maybe fried foods weren’t the place’s forte. I’d heard good things about the grilled shrimp ($12), so we tried ‘em. Sure, the menu had warned of “peel and eat,” but the question came after the crustaceans did: Why?
Why bother peppering these little guys so heavily if it’s just going to be peeled off? And I’ve never had grilled shrimp so greasy. Perhaps it was a brushing of coconut oil, because there seemed to be a hint of the flavor here. But the gobs of glistening fat that coated our basket bottom, and, later, my pants — no, no romance here. Simpler would have been better.
I wanted to love this place. But it seems the apple has fallen a bit far from the tree. I’ll definitely revisit to make sure.
Old Town Ale House
8657 E. 116th Street
Fishers, IN 46038
Food: two stars
Atmosphere: two and a half stars
Service: three stars