Quick Review: Carolina Ale House

I don't like to write negative reviews of restaurants - but I'm trying to write a post per day and we tried a new (to Knoxville) place last night and it was a mostly negative experience, so I'm going to be open about it. Carolina Ale House recently opened a new location here in Knoxville. It's fairly close to our house, so after a typically crummy Monday, we decided to give it a try after calling and finding out they were not running a wait at 5:30 after picking up our son from daycare. That a brand new restaurant in Knoxville wasn't running a wait within a week or two of opening during dinnertime is unusual, and maybe should have tipped us off. Although to be fair, CAH (they fondly use this abbreviation on their menus) was packed when we arrived - but there were still quite a few open tables.

Upon seeing the menus, we realized we would have been better off coming on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, as Tuesday night is "kids eat for 99 cents" night. Lesson one learned. Still, we ordered our toddler the mac & cheese meal with fruit as a side, with chocolate milk. He approved of the chocolate milk, some of the fruit, and didn't care for the mac & cheese. He loves mac & cheese, so I tried it and didn't blame him for not liking it - the penne pasta was fine, but the cheese itself was bland and more of a cheese soup than cheese sauce.

My wife ordered a Diet Coke and I scanned the menu for cider. While CAH's beer selection seemed impressive, or at least large, they only had three ciders on the menu - two Woodchuck variants in bottles and Angry Orchard on tap. Standard restaurant fare and a little disappointing for a place calling itself an ale house. Crispin, Original Sin, or especially Magners would have made me happier. To her credit, our server performed a convincing up-sell, noting for just a dollar fifty more, I could have a 22oz mug instead of the regular mug. I said sure. The 22oz overly sweet Angry Orchard was the highlight of the meal for me.

We began with an appetizer - the CAH Onion Strings. These weren't bad, although they were served with an enormous side of ranch - 3 oz or more, and most of it went to waste. I wouldn't order this again as it was what I think of as onion straws - mostly too thin to be satisfying, and by the time we got to the bottom of the bowl, too damp and greasy.

Rather than order two entrees, my wife and I decided to share the fish and chips and the appetizer sampler called the Picky Platter Combo. The PPC was composed of jumbo chicken wings, chicken tenders, Frickles (fried pickles), and mozzarella sticks. A brief comment about each member of the PPC:

  • Jumbo Chicken Wings: Terrible. Mostly dry wings dumped into a few ounces of sauce at one side of the platter, which of course spread onto the other food. Frickles plus chicken wing sauce = suck.
  • Chicken Tenders: Not bad. If I'd gotten a plate full of these as an entree I wouldn't have hated them, but nor would I have ordered them again.
  • Frickles: Terrible. My wife and I love fried pickles, but these were just off. Having several of them soaked in wing sauce didn't help.
  • Mozzarrella sticks: Meh. Standard mass-produced frozen mozzarella. Boring and something I'd never order by itself unless they were hand dipped and fried.
  • So the PPC was a serious let down.

    The fish and chips were decent. 3 somewhat small pieces of fish, especially for the price. We went with fries and slaw as the sides and the fries were pretty good. The slaw was bad - too vinegary.

    We hoped to salvage what was a poor meal by ordering dessert, with my wife letting me know she'd already decided what she'd want earlier - the Mud Pie. I read the description of the desserts and decided to go with it as well, mainly because I figured the Turtle Caramel Cheesecake would be as bad as every other cheesecake from a box. Since what I'm about to say about this dish will reference the description, let me quote it here.

    CAH Mud Pie Hold on to your napkins!! It's a rich dark fudge brownie topped with vanilla ice cream & drizzled with caramel sauce & chocolate syrup. $5.49

    Brownie, vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel sauce and chocolate syrup. Hard to screw that up, right? And indeed it would have been, if that's what we'd been served. The brownie was OK. Ice cream is ice cream. Caramel and chocolate sauce - check. But both of our desserts were drowned in what someone must have thought was a decorative amount of cinnamon. And not just a sprinkling of cinnamon. A LOT of cinnamon. So much that one bite of the mud pie was so overwhelming it caused me to catch my breath and have trouble breathing.

    We should have sent it back, but by that point we had a toddler who was losing his patience and we knew we had just a few minutes of peace left, so we asked for the check and left.

    We eat at new restaurants quite often, and sometimes it is hard to get everything right during the first few weeks - we get that. We've often given a new place a second chance after six months or a year if it survives, and sometimes we're pleasantly surprised. We hope to be surprised by the Carolina Ale House in Knoxville in the Spring of 2015. But I can't recommend it for now.

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