In a city full of great steakhouses, Ruth’s Chris sometimes gets overlooked because it’s not inside a casino.
Those who know Ruth’s Chris, however, will tell you that it is as good — if not better — than any of those casino steakhouses. And they would be right.
Ruth’s Chris, located right on Atlantic Avenue as part of Tanger Outlets — The Walk, may be a chain steakhouse, but don’t let that word sway you from visiting. Once you experience Ruth’s Chris and its top-notch service, made-from-scratch cooking and pledge to customer satisfaction, you will become an immediate fan.
While the stunning décor will certainly impress you, one thing that will leave a lasting mark is the service, led by General Manager Matt Kenkelen, a well-dressed, handsome, articulate leader whose passion trickles down to every devoted staff member.
“What really impresses me about Ruth’s Chris and makes me love coming to work every day is that everything is made from scratch right here in the restaurant,” says Kenkelen, who previously worked in Morton’s for five years, preceded by an eight-year journey in the United States Air Force as a staff sergeant. “The steaks are cut by hand, and our chef sees every plate before it comes out. There is a commitment to quality here that is unparalleled. And my philosophy is to always get it right the first time — no matter what!”(tncms-asset)625f7a7c-0031-11e7-9614-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
His staff — servers, bartenders, chefs and everyone in between — shares Kenkelen’s spirit. They can recite the menus by heart and know how everything is prepared. And what they may not know, they will quickly find out.
“There are a few phrases I live by that I try to repeat to my staff as much as possible,” Kenkelen says. “Integrity first. Do the right thing even when no one is looking. Service before self; you have to always take care of other people in the service industry. And everything has to be done right always — no exceptions. If I didn’t follow those philosophies, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am at such a young age, and I learned that in the Air Force. It set me up for success — the structure — and I hope I can make a difference with my team.”
As you would expect, the thing that Ruth’s Chris does the most right is its steaks, which are USDA Prime, custom-aged, Midwestern beef cuts that are never frozen, broiled at 1800 degrees and – as any Ruth’s Chris devotee will tell you — seasoned simply with salt and pepper, then lathered with a big scoop of butter and a bit of parsley on a “sizzle plate” when they come out of the broiler.
“We are using the top 2 percent of meat in the country,” Kenkelen says. “That high heat locks in every ounce of juice and flavor, crisps the outer edges and creates what I think is the best steak you can buy. When they come out to the table on 500-degree plates, we warn everyone to not touch the plates. So please don’t. Some people test us. But trust me, they are hot. Don’t touch them!”
That presentation is part of the fun of going to Ruth’s Chris but when you cut into them — you get a choice of steak knives, another cool touch — you realize it’s not just about the show. The steaks are magnificent, from Kenkelen’s personal favorite, the 16-ounce New York strip ($50) to the 22-ounce cowboy ribeye ($58) to my favorite, the 16-ounce bone-in filet ($66) to the 40-ounce, well-marbled Tomahawk ribeye ($115), served on the bone.(tncms-asset)f4ff51b5-4ceb-5e0d-b7ef-49f08f452515(/tncms-asset)
“The tomahawk is such a fun steak because it’s as interactive as it is delicious,” Kenkelen says. “I come out and slice it tableside and start with that giant spinalis (rib cap) and cut that off and divide and conquer from there … it’s phenomenal.”
Chef Raphael Anderson ensures quality and consistency from the kitchen, offering a mix of Ruth’s Chris classics, as well as a slate of brand-new offerings aimed at drawing new, younger diners.
There are some things that will probably never go away, including the chilled seafood tower ($59 small, $118 large) with Maine lobster, Alaskan king crab legs, jumbo shrimp and colossal lump blue crab; the french fried onion rings ($11); the Maryland-style crab cakes ($20); the potatoes au gratin with three-cheese sauce; creamed spinach ($13); lobster bisque ($12); Ruth’s Chop Salad ($13) with iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, radicchio, red onions, mushrooms, green olives, bacon, eggs, hearts of palm, croutons, blue cheese, lemon basil dressing and crispy onions; and Bananas Foster ($12 per person) served tableside, of course.
But there are some new items that are really worth rediscovering Ruth’s Chris for.
“It’s a pretty substantial redesign of the menu,” Kenkelen says. “We really want to appeal to millennials and capture new clientele, and I think there are some fabulous new things people are really loving.”
Make sure you check out the crab stack ($19) with colossal lump blue crab, avocado, mango and cucumber; the lobster mac and cheese ($24) with broiled lobster and a three-cheese blend that has a nice kick thanks to some mild green chiles; the aforementioned bone-in filet; fire-roasted corn ($13) featuring Jersey fresh corn that is cut fresh from the cob with diced jalapeno; roasted Brussels sprouts ($13) with bacon and honey butter; the fresh mozzarella and Kumato tomato salad with fresh basil, aged balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil; and the veal osso buco ravioli ($16) with saffron-infused pasta, baby spinach and white wine demi.(tncms-asset)40b3157a-5a66-56b0-bb71-2b3eb078ad85(/tncms-asset)
“The crab stack is so light and refreshing, plus it has that little zip from the spicy sriracha; there is just a ton of flavors that explode in your mouth,” Kenkelen says. “The Brussels sprouts are definitely not your grandmother’s Brussels sprouts with that honey butter; and something as simple as the mozzarella salad is so great because of the Kumato tomato, which is a unique, super sweet, small tomato that is extremely juicy.”
If you’re not a steak fan, there are plenty of other options, including the best chicken dish you may ever have. The stuffed chicken breast ($32) features a 16-ounce, oven-roasted, free-range double chicken breast with garlic herb cheese and lemon butter. There’s also the spicy salmon with crispy salt and pepper shrimp ($35) with spicy honey-Thai sauce, ginger, jalapenos and bell peppers; and Chilean sea bass ($44) with citrus-coconut butter, sweet potato and pineapple hash.
“When you mix the standards with the new offerings, we are building a business with the highest standards of quality, value and service in a comfortable and inviting atmosphere that makes people feel wanted, recognized and appreciated,” Kenkelen says.
Speaking of value, a special “Ruth’s Classics” menu offers a complete three-course meal plus side for either $39.95 or $59.95. Both packages include a choice of Caesar salad, steakouse salad, butter lettuce BLT salad and roasted tomato and crab soup; choice of creamed spinach, mashed potatoes and cream of sweet corn; and toasted coconut and pineapple pudding. The difference in price comes from choice of entrée with the $39.95 choices including 6-ounce filet, stuffed chicken breast and spicy salmon with crispy shrimp; and the $59.95 options including 11-ounce filet, 16-ounce ribeye, 6-ounce filet with cold-water lobster tail, and almond-crusted salmon.(tncms-asset)21bfc810-0436-11e7-83a6-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
“We are focused on bringing the image and brand of Ruth’s Chris back to the standard it once was,” Kenkelen says. “We are not only still relevant, but we want to lead the pack of great steakhouses.
Don’t forget to check out the extensive wine list and specialty cocktail list hand-picked and crafted by Steve Decastro, the owner of Big Steak Management, which has nine Ruth’s Chris locations.
“He started working for Ruth a long time ago and is a real-life American dream come true — a Cuban immigrant who got in the restaurant business and helped Ruth clean up restaurants around the country until he got his own, the first being in Baltimore,” Kenkelen says.
Drinks worth checking out include the blueberry mojito, the coconut lemon drop and The Dirty C.E.O. with vodka, dry vermouth and olives — a classic.
Happy hour is offered 4 to 6:30 p.m. Sundays to Fridays, where drinks and food from the bar menu are discounted by about 25 percent. Worthwhile happy hour munchies include the killer burger ($12) with fries, the steak sandwich with fries ($16), seared ahi tuna ($11) and the crab BLT with fries ($11).
Ruth’s Chris in Atlantic City also offers wine dinners every month, the next one being March 30 with a five-course, prix-fixe dinner paired with Daou wines. They start at 6:30 p.m. and usually cost around $100, a super bargain.
“I love steakhouses,” Kenkelen says. “But I especially love Ruth’s Chris. There’s something about a steakhouse vibe — the great food, the atmosphere, the wine, the service, the white tablecloths — that gets me going. And I know when people come here, that passion I have is contagious.”