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Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris March 01, 2024 22:58 in Dining Diary

When Ruth Fertel bought Chris’s Steak House in the mid-20th century, no one, even her, could imagine what an empire it would become. We called it our own here in New Orleans as the empire grew into a worldwide restaurant behemoth. We were insulted (and Tom was really insulted,)when the corporate bosses moved the operation to the far-less-interesting hub of Orlando.

But a far worse development in the long history of the company occurred recently when it became a part of the Darden family of restaurants. Bad things can happen to good restaurants when they are absorbed into a collection of mediocre restaurants with dubious reputations. Darden owns The Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, on the lower end, but also The Capital Grille and Seasons 52 going upscale, with more in-between.

We have had some calls lately from listeners complaining about a decline in the overall experience at Ruth’s. I found this easy to believe, having watched the unsurprising destruction of Morton’s Steakhouse after the Landry’s acquisition.

Last week we had the opportunity to visit Ruth’s in Metairie for an early dinner. I have always loved Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, particularly in Metairie. My parents always went there on anniversaries, as did generations of people in the suburbs of New Orleans. I also love the more glamorous Ruth’s downtown, but the Metairie one is just comfortable.

In recent years I have gone for Happy Hour, which is an exceptional deal, though less so of late. This evening was just a regular dinner. The last time we were there was for a hurried lunch about a year ago. I was underwhelmed, though it was mostly my fault. We just didn’t allow the proper amount of time for a meal this grand.

This was also a short meal, made so by the encroaching darkness. Our server Peter was outstanding. We didn’t even notice that he was serving several other tables, including one nearby with a party of eight. But the kitchen seemed to be affected by the large party, and it was a little slow.

We ordered the macaroni and cheese as a starter, mainly to have something for Tom to have immediately. It was cavatappi pasta with an almost sticky white cheddar cream sauce with the whole lot covered in orange cheddar mixed with white cheese. The pasta was a little al dente for my taste, and even though the cheese seemed a little sparse, the flavor was there.

The dish is offered with or without lobster, so we got the plain version. This was fine but nothing more. There was plenty of it, and even the three of us weren’t interested enough in it to eat it all. We ordered our usual family-style steakhouse meal after this. We got one petite filet, creamed spinach, and a loaded baked potato. And a wedge salad.

As recently as our last visit a year ago there seemed to be more potato sides on the menu. At one time I had difficulty choosing between fries, Lyonnaise potatoes, hash browns, and a baked potato.

The sides have increased in the non-potato category, with Brussels Sprouts and Asparagus, Crimini mushrooms, and a Sweet Potato casserole perhaps replacing basic potato dishes. Tonight there were Potatoes au Gratin, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and a baked potato. And of course the requisite creamed spinach, a staple on any Fitzmorris steakhouse table.

The wedge salad came earlier than the family-style steak dinner. There was a thick blanket of Bleu cheese on top of the lettuce wedge, Large pieces of smoky thick bacon bits cascaded from the top and fell beside the four grape tomato halves. The Bleu cheese took over everything. It was so overpowering in amount and simple flavor that we didn’t finish it or take it, which is saying something.

The steak was lovely. Covered in butter so sizzling it actually popped and burned my arm. It was thick, tender, and cooked exactly as I asked.

I have always said that no one does creamed spinach as good as Keith Young's in Madisonville, but I really liked this one as well. It was large like at Keith’s but more creamy and less cheesy. I might like this one as well as that one.

The baked potato had an interesting feature that I didn't really like. The skin, which I usually eat, reminded me of the deep-fried skin on potato skins. It was impossible to eat. I asked for double butter instead of sour cream, The very large one-pound potato was awash in melted butter..

We didn’t finish any of this, including the steak, not because it wasn’t great. It was. But none of us was really hungry. We had the remainder of the meal the next day at home and got to enjoy it twice.

The place was half empty and the kitchen was slow, but I loved everything else about this experience. Just as always. And I am still proud to claim it as our own.