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Always Ron's

January 17, 2011

By Anne Chovey

Special to The Herald-Mail

Always Ron's Restaurant has a great motto: "Where good friends and good food meet."

It conjures up a vision of comfort, familiarity and relaxation. My dining companion, Pap Ricka, and I decided to drop in to see if it lived up to its promise.

We were greeted at the door by our hostess and promptly shown to a booth. A small bar area is located to the left of the entrance. The spacious dining room is to the right and it is divided into two large sections. Booths and tables and chairs fill the room, which is decorated in vintage Hagerstown memorabilia.

Always Ron's has an interesting history. Many years ago the restaurant was a Hagerstown landmark known as Ron's Deli. It closed and went through a couple of owners before Michael Guessford purchased it in 2004. Because it is a Hagerstown tradition to refer to so many things as what they used to be, Guessford decided to go with the flow and call his place Always Ron's. There is live music and entertainment on the weekends.

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Opening the menu was a walk down memory lane. A number of items recalled Ron's deli favorites: the Duffer and the Golfer, two variations of burgers, as well as Ron's Famous Reuben.

But the restaurant does not always dwell in the past. There was a page of new sandwiches inspired by the chef, which had a distinctly up-to-date flair. Most of the sandwiches cost between $8.25 and $9.95 and are served a pickle, chips and a small cup of macaroni salad.

Along with sandwiches, Always Ron's has entrees including fried chicken, barbecued chicken, smothered chicken and several varieties of steak. Seafood entrees include shrimp, crab cakes and fish. There are also vegetarian options: eggplant Parmesan, veggie burger and garden quesadilla. The entrees cost from $8.95 to $10.95 with some of the steaks being more expensive.

While we reviewed the menu, our waiter took our drink order, and let us know that the bar had a nice selection of beer. He also described the specials of the day including an appetizer of chicken livers, which could be sautéed or fried.

We decided that fried chicken livers sounded great so we placed our order. I spotted a renamed old favorite of mine: the Poor Boy Reuben.

In the olden days, this was known as a kosher reuben dog and I used to love it. I wanted to see how it had fared over the years. Pap decided upon a new sandwich: The Burhans Bull, a roast beef sandwich.

The chicken livers came out hot and crunchy. The breading used, according to our waiter, was the same as that used on the fried chicken. It was nicely seasoned and perfectly crisp, which was a great contrast to the velvety, grainy texture of the liver. They were very rich and delicious. Pap and I did fight a little over who got the last one.

A very short time later,our sandwiches were brought out. My Poor Boy Reuben was perfect. First a hot dog roll was split open and lightly toasted. It was topped by a hot dog that also had been split and grilled giving it a salty, crispy, caramelized yumminess. Next came a layer of sauerkraut followed by melted Swiss cheese over the whole thing. Delicious. It was every bit as good as I had remembered it. It is a very simple sandwich, yet prepared in a way that made it special and memorable. It was wonderful.

The Poor Boy Reuben came with chips and a pickle and what was described as a "soufflé" of macaroni salad. The salad was too sweet for my taste -- I like mine tangy or salty rather than sweet. Pap, however, loves sweet macaroni salad and he thought it was great.

Pap also loved his sandwich, which was piled high with roast beef and topped with a spicy red pepper aioli. The bread was pressed until very crisp and the insides were melted and gooey. It, too, was delicious. He got a nice side salad with his sandwich with an amazing champagne vinegar dressing that was so good you wanted to drink it.

Our waiter was very attentive, filling our drinks and clearing away dishes. When he viewed our plates without a scrap of food left on them, he congratulated us on being members of "the clean plate club." It was not hard to do.

Our waiter brought us the tray of desserts: wonderful traditional cakes like yellow cake with chocolate icing, red velvet and chocolate with peanut butter icing. There was also cheesecake and apple tart. It all looked very tasty, but we simply did not have room. Regretfully, we declined.

Always Ron's is not a fancy place and doesn't pretend to be. It is comfortable with a premium on comfort food. It is a great place to go to take your kids or your parents or meet a friend, relax and enjoy.

Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Alway's Rons Restaurant

Always Ron's

Overall: 3 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Food: 3 1/2

Service: 4

Ambiance: 3

Value:4

Address: 29 N. Burhans Blvd., Hagerstown

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Phone: 301-432-6166

Food: Deli sandwiches and homestyle entrees. There are several vegetarian entrees, appetizers, salads and sides.

Bathrooms: There is a parking lot in front of Always Ron's, which is easily accessible.

Parking and handicapped accessibility: Parking is available on the street, with ramps down to the sidewalk making it accessible.

Facebook: Offers daily specials and weekend entertainment.

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