Chowing At THE RANCH Saloon: Hearty Eats Minus The White Linen

If you think a review of THE RANCH Restaurant also speaks for its saloon, it doesn't. Even though they share a parking lot and culinary team doesn't mean anything else is alike. And we're not only talking atmosphere– although getting your 10-step on isn't completely out of the question.

We initially hesitated because our expectations of bar food. Unless it utilizes the term “gastropub.” the deep-fried, sauce-laden munchies in most joints resemble more county fair than restaurant fare.

Yet we knew a duo of Rossi chefs occupies a kitchen with a juxtaposition of assertiveness and refinement on the other side of that dividing wall. Huge effing wagon-wheel breads and cowboy steaks served with composed deviled eggs and whimsical buttered popcorn ice cream captures an audience looking for an updated Mr. Stox. . . but we digress.

Owning a dining room like this sets the bar high for THE RANCH Saloon. Andrew Edwards knows it, and stomps his boots on that bar with the confidence only an executive who owns the building can. He visits patrons, introduces bands and carries himself on the dance floor like a one-man variety show. And the food? Not what we were counting on.

What it came down to was seafood. Yeah, we're talking fish in a saloon. Despite a selection of ribs, wings and burgers, we hoarded Chesapeake Bay blue crab sliders sandwiched between pliable potato buns. A smear of harissa-tinged mayo and peppering of arugula scratched our throat. Juicy, acidic heirlooms eased the itch. Our trio of grilled yellowtail tacos gave a swift kick with layers of habanero salsa, avocado, and smoked chile crema; its flavors almost too layered for the denim dining crowd. Housemade ketchup subs for cocktail sauce in a basket of plump, Carolina fried shrimp as hearty as any pile of chicken tenders. The tendency to eat beef or pork ceased to exist as we rotate between snacks. We can't believe it, either.

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