WINTER PARK – If you got a call from your friend Ruth inviting you over for dinner, you might be tempted to think you’re in for a quiet dinner at her house, and will get served a simple meal, nicely cooked, finely done.
It all depends on which Ruth is inviting you to dine. If it happens to be Ruth Fertel, you’re in for an impressive meal and a wonderfully elegant dining experience. Just remember to dress nicely. It’s not that Ruth requires it, but if you show up looking like a slob — as I did on my first venture here — you’re going to stand out. Guests take Ruth’s Chris Steak House quite seriously, and for good reason. In the competitive world of high end steak restaurants, Ruth’s Chris goes out of its way to be sure you don’t leave feeling disappointed.
A little history, to start: Ruth’s Chris Steak House is a gift to Greater Orlando — it has restaurants on Sand Lake Road in Orlando, Lake Mary, and Winter Park — from the remarkable city of New Orleans, which appears to take dining, cooking and eating indulgence more seriously than any other major city I know. If you think of the city mainly for its tourist attractions — the historic and wonderfully preserved French Quarter, the majestic Saint Louis Cathedral, or the legendary Café DuMonde French Market coffee shop with its uniquely strong French roast coffee or beignets — you may be forgetting about the long list of incredible restaurants available there. That’s where Ruth’s Chris Steak House got its start on Broad Street in N’Awlins, and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2005.
Even better, Ruth Fertel decided her restaurant was simply too good to limit to the residents and visitors of that great Louisiana city, so she branched out. And in tourist-happy Greater Orlando, she appears to have made an excellent choice.
So the Orlando area — which attracted a whopping 50 million visitors in 2010, an impressive number at a time when gas prices are still high and the economy hasn’t completely recovered — is doing its part, bringing in the tourists. Now if they can discover our taste of New Orleans here in our back yard, they might just put it down as a fine reason to keep coming back here.
I’ve been to the Ruth’s Chris Steak House at 610 N. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park, right by the Winter Park Village shopping plaza. Winter Park, which already has a healthy and appealing list of terrific restaurants on its upscale Park Avenue, is a great choice for a place like this, and the staff at Ruth’s works hard to make it all memorable. Imagine sitting at your table with some friends, chatting over a few glasses of wine, and your waiter brings over your steak. It’s been broiled in 1,800-degree ovens and served on a still-sizzling 500 degree plate. You can still feel the hot rising off the plate, but you can also sense just how finely cooked that steak is going to be. Sizzle on the plate, sizzle again with the first bite.
But first, you might want to hold off for a minute or two and watch the butter soak up your steak before you cut the first slice.
As the menu notes, “Ruth’s Chris specializes in the finest custom-aged Midwestern beef. We broil it exactly the way you like it at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to lock in the corn-fed flavor. Then we serve your steak sizzling on a 500 degree plate so that it stays hot throughout your meal.”
Hot, indeed — literally and figuratively. You can decide how you want it cooked – Rare (very red, cool center), Medium Rare (red, warn center), Medium (pink center), Medium Well (slightly pink center) and Well (broiled throughout, no pink). Chances are the steak will come out of the oven cooked precisely the way you want it. And as someone who likes my steaks well done without the pink middle, I found Ruth’s chefs to be right on target, and the steaks to be irresistably tasty.
You also get more than a few options to pick from — T-Bone, New York Strip (USDA prime cut), Cowboy Ribeye, or the Petite Filet and Shrimp (two four-once medallions of filet topped with jumbo shrimp). At Ruth’s, steak is serious business.
You get a choice of sides with each steak, and your options include vegetables (asparagus, creamed spinach, broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, broiled tomatoes or French Fried onion rings) or potatoes and pasta (including steak fries, ziti, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes or Potatoes Au Gratin). My recommendation: skip lunch before heading out to Ruth’s, or at the very least have a tiny lunch. You’re likely to not only find that Ruth’s provides you with a pretty large steak, but also a generous helping of those side dishes. Be sure your appetitie can handle it all.
Although it makes perfect sense to visit a high end steak house to get — well, steak … there are other options to pick from. If you want a different kind of meat, consider the lamb, veal chops or Stuffed Chicken Breast. If you’re in the mood for seafood, there’s barbequed shrimp, crab cakes and a Chef’s Feature of fresh fish or lobster.
As I mentioned, the Ruth’s Chris Steak House experience works best with a very strong appetite. Start with one of their salads, like the Ruth’s Chop Salad (iceberg lettuce and spinach served with greens, bacon, eggs, hearts of palms and fried onions) or a Steak House Salad (baby arugula and baby lettuce with grape tomatoes, garlic croutons and onions). Carefully read over the list of appetizers: shrimp cocktail, mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, calamari, seared ahi tuna, and jumbo scallops.
And let’s be honest here: where would a restaurant from New Orleans be without a soup menu that includes such options as Lobster Bisque, Onion Soup Au Gratin and – surprise! – Louisiana Seafood Gumbo.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House’s upscale atmosphere, highly professional, swift and friendly staff, attentive to your every dining need, and very well cooked steaks should be enough to satisfy anyone coming to this city looking for a high end dining experience. This is a great import from the Big Easy, and it should come as no surprise that this restaurant is a favorite hangout for local politicians. Blessed as they are with an ability to stick the tab to the hard-working taxpayers, politicians know what they’re doing — going for the very best. For just this once, we should follow their example.
To learn more, call 407-622-2444 or log on to www.ruthschris.com.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.