Royal Oak's Ale Mary really is a community center for beer fans of the world 

All about the beer

Overheard in Ale Mary's, while sitting at the bar one afternoon: "Oh, man, this place is all beer."

The phrase, uttered as a complaint, is simply nonsensical; as a compliment, it's the most appropriate description of the place. They're not just all beer; they're consummately beer. There's beer in everything — the food, the decor, the glassware, the progressive rings marked into the bar, the never-ending splashes on the floor. Ale Mary's proudly proclaims itself "a community center for the beer fans of the world."

So, yes. All those chalkboards hanging just outside the front door (a work of art in itself, with a superb brass porthole window,) are, in fact, a constantly updated list of the beers of the moment. Come in, they beckon, here's what you can drink right now. And yes, those are bottle caps grouted to the wall by the doorway, and tap handles as chandeliers. Do you want a beer yet?

Good. There's 28 on tap, with every keg a unique one. A printed list is updated by bartenders, with an "on deck" list so they can try to keep pace — but even those menus are reprinted every three or four days. There's so much to choose from, but it's all well-organized, and the bartenders and staff are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Tasting is encouraged. (If draft isn't your thing, there's a pretty expansive list of bottles too. It's all good.)

The menu at Ale Mary's comes with a guide of what to eat with what you're drinking (or the other way around, if you insist.) It's a great help, with general styles of beer paired to almost all of the menu's dishes. It's a compendium of beer food, with the suggested beers attached, flavor bliss with a how-to manual.

"The Best Cornbread Ever" is a legitimate contender for the title, fluffy and studded with fresh corn kernels. An errant bit of silk attested to the freshness, and the flavor of corn is so well-represented here that you feel more Midwestern with every bite.

The fries here are really good. They're cut wide and very lightly beer-battered, and fry up with intense potato flavor and a spectacular crust. Snack on them plain, or get the poutine, and add the duck confit because it's delicious — and there's another beer on the way. The fries also come with some fantastic sandwiches next to them too. With the B.E.L.T. sandwich, the classic flavors are livened up and intensified: spring mix, roasted tomato, thick bacon, and an angelic fried egg (with superbly runny yolk), joined by white cheddar on a brioche bun, making for a most spectacular lunch.

Feeling a little more like comfort food? How about a rich, creamy, hearty mac and cheese? You can add bacon or duck confit if you like, but it's delicious without too. Smoked gouda and white cheddar flavors come through nicely, and make for a particularly delightful and very beer-friendly take on childhood.

Ale Mary's knows the truth: that sausage is delicious, perfect with beer, and always worth making yourself. There's four kinds, each served with appropriate accompaniments. The duck sausage is spot-on, paired with delicious green lentils, and a simply perfect porter Bordelaise. Rich and savory, it satiates and satisfies. The bangers and mash are another built-for-beer dish, strong classic Irish sausages with great flavor. One more beer? Sure, why not?

Lobster tacos, with avocado and citrus and corn salsa, are among the less "typical" dishes on the menu, but a recommendation of a Helles or Dortmunder beer on the back of the menu suggests that they're right at home — and they're delicious, vibrant and full of color and fresh flavor.

Lest you forget that Ale Mary's is all about beer, beer is used liberally in the food — an Oberon glaze is draped over whitefish, seasonal beers are used in the fish-and-chips batter, beer cheese soup and dip are served, and there's even a beer vinaigrette on a salad. Beer is in the sauces, the spreads, the cheeses.

This doesn't stop when you get to dessert, either. A beer float is always a good idea, but for true decadence and an excellent illustration of just how well beer can be used, you have to try the beeramisu, which is exactly what it sounds like. Made with vanilla porter instead of the typical coffee liqueur, it's so, so good. It will be fought over; the last piece will not be generously left for you.

Ale Mary's is indeed "all beer." But it's much more than that. Ale Mary's is a testament to dedication, proof that when you love what you're doing and you're all about the beer, you can be excellent. And make no mistake: Ale Mary's is excellent. mt

More by Aaron Egan

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