So after months of waiting, the Valley has the opportunity to go in and enjoy a relaxing repast at The Ref, which is exactly what Elaine and I and two of our kids did on opening night. When it comes to putting out an opinion on food for public perusal, I trust all three of them more than I do myself. At 53, I’m getting to be more and more like Elaine’s beloved and long-departed grandfather Alvin Clark.
Apparently, everything set before him tasted great and even better when he mixed together seemingly unrelated foods on his plate like green salad with Blue Cheese dressing together with the mashed potatoes and brown gravy topped with ketchup. While his never-ending food mismatching caused all the younger generations, including myself , to shutter at the sight of a few strands of green beans disappearing into his mouth forked just ahead of a chunk of turkey topped with ketchup, he always cleaned his plate, had dessert and lived a robust life until the age of 94.
Jacque, our 17-year- old, and Eli, the college student, are far from their great-grandfather in regards to taste buds, while I seem to be following in his elderly foot steps. But that may not be all bad. As with bad hearing that allows me to miss unkind words and a bad memory that allows me to forget the ones I do hear, perhaps tired taste buds are another blessing of old age, allowing no foods to offend me. At the Ref, however, I would have preferred youth on my tongue as the reading glasses on my nose made clear to my aging eyes that the pizza Elaine had picked out looked very tasty indeed.
I was a bit worried that a large pizza would not be suffice for the four of us and so I slipped in a small order of wings with sweet chili sauce. Silly me. The pizza turned out to be a 4-person-butt-kicker. Being the one who gets the check put in front of them ( before I slide it over to Elaine), I liked that aspect of the pizza. It basically meant we could have dined to everyone’s capacity on very good pizza for about $7.25 a person. Considering the fun, lively atmosphere and friendly service, that was a bargain. (And when there is a big game on when the fam has to be fed out for some reason, The Ref, with its host of flat screens insuring there is not a bad seat in the house, will be every Fathers on-demand choice).
It was pretty much a given that I would find the pizza tasty since I love Thai and they did a great job. As the family scavenger, I had an additional bonus because when I picked the perfectly good left-over crusts off my family’s plates and dipped it in the ranch dressing I found it made delicious bread sticks for me. Alvie would have been proud even if I didn’t add ketchup.
But as I said, I am not the consumer the chef at the Ref is worried about. That would be Elaine and the two kids. The next afternoon as Jacque munched on one of the three pieces of pizza we brought home, she asked when we were going to go back. She loved the pizza and thought the wings were perfect. The menu, she said, looked so good she could not wait for another round at The Ref.
Here is the awesome menu that, combined with the delicious pizza and wings, made us all look forward to another round at the Ref.
The bottom line on this new place is that the originality and inventiveness of the menu is backed up by genuinely good food and good service. If you have been keeping track, (and I hope Jacque’s not) I have eaten there three times with four different people. The service was always good and every dish was dead on in presentation, portions and preparation. I am proud of the owners, Fred and Melanie Lopez, for creating a new place from scratch that obviously puts a heavy emphasis on good food.
I love that their menu was put together and dialed in by people who live right here andnot by East Coast chefs working in a million dollar culinary laboratory back East somewhere like they do for Applebee’s. This Pulled Pork sandwich with the appleslaw mixed in there a la Alvie was really good and that is coming from a guy who has been carrying on a decades-long love affair with the old pulled porkarooskie. The sweet potato fries were pretty darn good as well.
They obviously paid attention to a lot of little things. For example the celery that came with these wings were crisp and fresh while the Blue Cheese dressing that we dipped them in was about as good as it gets. And those wings are as mouth-wateringly good as they look. They are able to bake them at the Ref and not just deep fry them and so they come out with an outsanding succulence. These are what Elaine and I would call the Right Wing while the kids, who grew up during the height of the McNugget Era, seem to be fonder of the boneless wing.
While the visual focal point of the interior of The Ref is the huge oval bar with its eye-catching and very original scoreboard/ flat screen display hovering above, the real focus of The Ref’s owners and staff is on putting out a great tasting product with friendly and professional service. Which is exactly the way it should be.
Update: since writing this post I have become something of a regular at the Ref and have now tried quite a few different things there and talked to a lot of people about their meals. I still stand firmly behind their pizza, and can now add atleast the BBQ burger to my list of recommendations, having tried and loved one. Two friends told me they loved their burgers as well. We always order their great sweet potato fries that come with a great dipping sauce.
But I have to pull my tip of the hat to their pulled pork sandwich and warn that their kitchen apparently has some consistency issues. The sandwich we had Saturday was a far cry from the one I had a few weeks before. It was flat out bad in that the bread was soggy and had the rubbery texture that nuking does to bread. It was tiny and had very little of the appleslaw that earned my ravenous ravings the first time around . In truth, Elaine, who split the sandwich with me, and I both felt that the sandwich reminded us of one of those that you get at a convenience store wrapped in paper that you cook yourself in the microwave.
All that being said, I still have no problem standing behind my glowing review and after having the opportunity to get to know the owner and some of his staff, I know they will eventually get everything up to the excellence and consistency they have been delivering from day one on nearly all of their menu.
To read a feature story on Fred Lopez click here.