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.

This is a pretty darn good-looking appetizer menu. I got my eye on the loaded chips and the Slam Dunk Buffalo Dip.

They have the salads covered.

Hopefully, Jacque won't read this because I already went back for lunch on Friday with my mom. She had been gone a month and had a birthday while she was away so I feel quite justified indulging myself. She had the Chicken Ceasar wrap that was big enough for her to take half home to Dad. I tried a few of her fries and they were quite dandaroony with great seasoning. I had the Pulled Pork sandwich that is their Friday lunch special ( the real reason for eating there on a Friday). I love BBQ and so I can vouch that this is a good one , especially with the appleslaw mixed in there. Unlike a lot of the inventive food pairings Alvie used to come up with, the slaw with the pulled pork was obviously the conncoction of a culinanary talent in the kitchen that is sure to be a crowd pleaser, I know it was a Craig-pleaser.

This is where things start to get a little serious. There is a lot of pizza to be had in the Valley, but not a lot of premium pizza. The Ref saw the situation and has seized this opportunity, making their place the place to go for really good pizza in the Valley. The Thai Pie that we tied into came with their house appleslaw on the side. Elaine, taking after her Grandpa Alvie, slathered it all over the top and thought she was up there in heaven with him.

Really can’t vouch for their burgers since I seldom touch the buggers.

Their wings are their knockout punch. You can tell by their sauce selection that The Ref is not coming in on a wing and a prayer in matters concerning this part of the beleaguered chicken's anatomy. ( What a bummer for cows and chickens to be so tasty to the American palate. Much better to be a dog or cat. Though India would have been a great place to be born a cow and China for cats is not where you'd want to be.) At any rate, I can tell you they have willy wonderful wings. The first night with the family we had boneless with chilli sauce. While I loved the sauce, boneless is not what behooves a man, but both my kids prefer them and they loved The Ref's rendition. Friday night Elaine and I had a late night snack of a 1/2 pound of the traditional wings with the Thai sauce. The wings to us were succulent and delicious, there's just something that the old bone does for the meat that works for Elaine and I.

Unlike Alvie, I never have room for dessert, but these look like destination desserts, worthy of their own visit.

This menu is smart because the Valley is a special place in more ways than one.The Happy Hours apply to the weekends which I think is very smart. A lot of places do not remember to keep the Happy Hour sacred on Saturday let alone the Sabbeth.

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.

The Ref Sports Bar on Urbanspoon

  1. Stephanie says:

    Can kids go into the Ref? My daughter is 17.

  2. Chrystelle Setzer says:

    The worst food. Tried 3times will never go again! McDonald’s is the best compared to this!

    • Chrystelle, In all honesty and with no disrespect, I have to completely disagree. I’ve eaten there at least a dozen times and liked everything except the Buffalo Chicken wrap that I should not have ordered but did out of curiosity. Additionally I have talked to a lot of other people who have eaten there and you are just about the only negative I have heard so far, except from my daughter who went with friends and the Hawaian pizza they ordered was nearly pineappleless. So I know they slip up on occassion, and it sounds like you hit three of those occassions in a row.

  3. J says:

    Extremely disappointed by the service and inexperienced servers! Avoid may she is young and awful! 20 mins for a drink to show up while she was flirting w/ other tables. And at that point the drink order wasn’t even correct… Maybe you should have hired managers and servers with experience! I may be the first to voice it, but I’ve heard the same from others! Not to mention the fact that I’m clearly 55 and she carded me, absurd!

    • Jay, as a former owner and too-frequent custumer of other bars, I have always argued that you can get crappy service on any given day at any given place.
      That being said, some are worse than others and I won’t defend the Ref much more than what I just said because while I have never had as bad of service there as you described, I think they should be more on top of their game.
      They do have a young staff and that is good because of their vitallity and frankly attractiveness. But it also means they lack experience and sometimes common sense. Carding a 55 year old is a sign of both.
      But I prefer to remain loyal because The Ref itself is young and vital and deserves the opportunity to get things figured out. I wish local owners always opened up with the expertise of a Bostons or Applebee’s but they seldom do. Seems like they could at least steal some of their top staff to make sure of their crews professionalism and consistency.
      Anyway, sorry for your experience. Now that you’ve vented a little, go back and support the locals.

  4. Sarah says:

    I hate to admit this but I agree with the previous outraged person. I have a completely legal vertical of age ID and was refused service by a young dumb inexperienced server. They are going to have to try harder to keep customers, I’m not impressed. My 60 father wasn’t either when the rude server demanded his ID. We left and it’s not sure that anyone we know will ever return. I hope you make changes soon. I’d really like to see this place with a kind and educated staff.

    • I have seen the same lack of judgement/training at The Ref myself. The bartender refused service to a guy at least 30 because he didn’t have ID and he and his wife/girlfriend were with another couple that were in their early 50’s. I get so tired of the ignorance of young bartenders/waitresses/managers that believe it is the law that you must have ID with you in a bar. (This is not Gestapo Germany) Even if they know it is not the law they say it is their rule so that they will never get busted. The truth is that having a blanket policy that everyone must have an ID is just lazy management.By hiring intellegent and experienced people and then training them and watching them and simply staying on top of things, a bar can handle each ID issue with the care that the customer involved deserves.
      I owned a bar for four years and never asked for ID from anyone that looked younger than maybe 30. Also if the ID looked legit to me then I knew it was not a sting because the Licquer Control Board does not go around trying to trick servers, they are out there trying to bust the servers that are not attempting to make sure that they don’t serve minors. They are not trying to bust servers that make honest mistakes. In the four years we had niether a citataion nor a warning and we were watched just as closely as anyone.
      The Refs only excuse is their inexperience but that is a temporary excuse that I give them but I know others won’t.

      • Anonymous says:

        This really hurts, we will do better I promise. One of the reasons we suck is because I dont have the bar experience, another reason is that most of our staff does not come from a “busy Bar” envoronment. I appreciate all the comments, and will do my best to improve and continue improving. Regarding the food I wont be able to do much, but i think the McDonalds comparison is just a preference call. I have seen a couple consistancy issues but I think we have corrected that.

  5. Sarah says:

    Couldnt agree more. They tried to create a sports bar environment but I have yet to meet an employee that knows the first thing about a single game that is on. They are too focused on impressing the good looking guy or gal on the opposite side of the bar. Jersey shore was not filmed in Spokane and I would prefer to keep it that way…

    The first thing the staff should be trained is they are there to sell drinks, the more you sell the better the tip. I was sitting at the bar and was walked by numerous times without question or an offer of another drink. Of course I want another beer, I came to a sports bar to drink beer and watch the game. They’re clueless.

    • I see some of what you are saying. They definately played the youth card when they hired their staff. With young women that often means attitude and with young men that often means laziness. So the youth card has its pitfalls. But I’ve been there enough now to find all there servers to be pleasant people and often on top of the game though not always.
      The oval bar itself is interesting. Its design and size are great. It is the only bar that my wife prefers to sit at and I often see two or three women sitting together at the bar which you rarely see. But while they have this great feature they have yet to master a system that provides great service to those sitting around it. From the day they opened to now, if you sit at the south end you can get spotty service (though sometimes it is just fine). Of course that is my favorite place to sit for some reason. It seems the service is better as you move towards the front door. And if you sit right next to the well, it’s golden.

  6. btles says:

    I just don’t get how someone with admittedly no experience can get the financial backing to open not just one, but TWO venues. I know what I’m doing but have no idea how I could come up with the $200k to startup.

    • The guy has a lot of business success, to the extent that he had only to look to his piggy bank for backing.He has done so well that both places could fail miserably and the only thing that would suffer would be his pride. He is learning as he goes but he started out with some great ideas.

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