A Bar Review We Can All Get Behind

Like any bar worth its salt, Ron’s Original Bar and Grille in Exton, Pennsylvania is marked by dark woods, shadowy corners, good music, and an imposing taxidermied head of a caribou that gets increasingly more menacing with each downed pint of draft beer.  We have happily found another bright star in the universe of restaurants with excellent food and a killer selection of microbrews.

For two years, our work and shopping travels have taken us within yards of this straightforward, unassuming spot, just a quick turn off of the intersection of Routes 113 and 100.  Whenever we exited the Pennsylvania Turnpike, our route would take us straight to the front door of Ron’s – if only we turned left, that is, instead of turning right to head home.  For two years, we thought of Ron’s Bar and Grille as nothing more than another restaurant with an ad in the local newspaper insert.  We had no idea what we were missing.

Last month, we needed to ship some Christmas gifts and, instead of going to the shipping store located closest to home, we decided to stop in Exton on the way home from work.  The parking lot of the modest strip mall was packed, and we had to drive around to the back of the building to find a spot next to the dumpsters.  Laden with bags and gifts, we lugged ourselves around the side of the building, passing right under the exhaust vents that lead directly out of Ron’s kitchen.  It was the right place, at the right time, and it smelled like bar heaven.

And what, you rightfully ask, does bar heaven smell like?  It smells like pizza, and grilled onions, and burgers, and beer.  And when the weather turns dark and cold, and you haven’t eaten anything since lunch, it smells perfect.

We’ve been to other neighborhood bar-restaurants that have lofty dreams of serving higher-class fare, and in the grand majority of cases, these kitchens fall short of the mark.  Instead of focusing on making the best bar food that they can, these establishments offer one page of bar food, followed by more complex, more expensive selections that are marketed as ‘complete meals’.  The result is too often perfunctory bar food and middling entrees no better than your average nationwide chain restaurant.

This is exactly why the menu at Ron’s is so refreshing.  Yes, there is a selection of dinner entrees, mostly Italian, that occupies the back page of the menu.  But, as is suited to a place with an outstanding variety of microbrews, the rest of the menu, all five pages’ worth, is devoted to bar food – buffalo wings, chicken fingers, burgers, hoagies, pizza, roast beef and roast pork sandwiches, and what Ron’s calls ‘ovals’, which are rounds of pizza dough with a selection of toppings, no sauce.  For now, I can only comment on the wings, ovals, nachos, and cheesesteak, but seeing as we have been to Ron’s twice in one week, I have little doubt that we’ll be making my way through the entire menu in short order.

There’s a universal standard for what makes a good buffalo wing – deep fried, not too saturated, no breading, with a slight vinegary kick that can only come with the right kind of hot sauce.  The wings at Ron’s Original Bar and Grill hits all of these points, and perfectly at that.  These are truly outstanding wings, served hot and served right.  We also sampled the No Holds Barred oval, which comes adorned with chopped steak, pepperoni, bacon, cheddar, and mozzarella – truly a heart attack on a plate, but so good.  On a subsequent visit, a platter of chicken nachos illustrated the generosity of the kitchen, with heaping mounds of cheese and grilled chicken that made the tortilla chips cling stingily to one another.  The cheesesteak, as much a barometer of good bar food as a burger, hits on all cylinders – decent amount of meat, chopped fine so that it blends seamlessly with the cheese, and a soft long roll to do justice to it all.  It goes without saying that all of these items pair wonderfully with the beer.

Let’s talk about the beer.  From the outside, no one can tell that Ron’s would have such an outstanding selection of microbrews.  Once you set foot inside the bar area, though, your eyes are drawn first to the immense caribou head mounted to the wall, but then to the chalkboard that lists that day’s beer offerings.  During our visits, about 80% of the board consisted of heavier beers for the cold weather – stouts that showcased elements of coffee or chocolate.  We ordered, between the two of us, the Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, the Breckenridge Christmas Ale, and the Founder’s Breakfast Stout.

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, as is described on the Dogfish Head website, is a “dark beer made with a touch of roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort, and licorice root. Brewed with whole-leaf Cascade and Fuggles hops, the grains include pale, roasted & oatmeal”.  It was, from the moment it touched our lips, an instant classic – dark, but not too heavy as to overwhelm the palate, its sweetness pairing wonderfully with the spice of the buffalo wings.  We left Ron’s that evening with four bottles of this brew from the neighboring takeout counter, and are trying to ration our inventory until we can get back to the store.

The Breckenridge Christmas Ale, noted by Breckenridge as the “ultimate winter warmer” at over 7% ABV, is another dark beer with notes of caramel and chocolate.  It made for a good first beer, something to sip off of while waiting for your food to arrive.  Contrary to my suspicion, having a glass of the Breckenridge while eating a full meal did nothing to slow the absorption of the brew into my system.  I was glad to be sitting down.

I finished the evening with a Founders Breakfast Stout, which is brewed with flaked oats, chocolate, and two varieties of coffee bean to arrive at a knockout 8.3% ABV brew.  This was probably my favorite out of the three microbrews that we had that evening, with the combination of chocolate and coffee forming an excellent post-meal libation that made me all so very grateful that I wasn’t the one driving home.