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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com Reviews

Ruby Tuesday
4900 86th St., Urbandale, 278-4476. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ruby Tuesday

The restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday (RT) is as hard to figure as the Rolling Stones groupie for whom it was named. From its 1972 beginning next to the University of Tennessee campus, RT grew into a super-sized corporate enigma. As late as January 2008, the company was showing significant profits despite large decreases in same store sales.

Its stock plummeted far ahead of the overall market and never rebounded after last October’s crash, like the stocks of its main competitors did. RT has lost about 85 percent of its value since late 2005 while Darden (Olive Garden, etc.) and Brinker (Chili’s, etc.) are selling higher than they were a year ago and are only off about 12 percent from the giddy heights of 2005. Before breaking into the Des Moines market late last year, Ruby Tuesday declared her days as a “bar and grill” were over. She was going upscale with every new day. Her timing was awful — rising food and energy prices favored bars and grills over their more expensive restaurant cousins. RT’s capitalization went into the darkest night.

Yet somehow the chain keeps expanding to places like Johnston where outdoor signage announced its latest strategy — RT is going “fresh.” So many employees said “hello” that I thought I was in a Hy-Vee. Art looked like it might be original until I noticed the exact same “paintings” on more than one wall. Booths seemed unusually small, a good way to improve same store sales. Music played loudly. The word “fresh” appeared on RT’s menu too many times to remain fresh. The salad bar had been christened “fresh garden bar,” and its spring mix looked as fresh as any I had seen at local supermarkets all winter. Good olive oil and vinegar were provided along with eleven homemade dressings. Edamames, peas, beets, cherry tomatoes and several prepared salads earned the bar an above average rating even though green beans were tough as leather and the quality of the bar deteriorated after the lunch and dinner rush hours.

Appetizers, known as the bread and butter of the bar and grill sector, seemed a little uncomfortable with RT’s upscale transition. Asian dumplings tasted less than fresh — their chewy wrappers had multiple textures, as if unfrozen too quickly. Their accompanying sauce was very sweet, and they cost more than twice what most local Asian cafés charge. Spinach artichoke dip, touted by two waiters, had the crusty top of dips left too long under heat lamps. I couldn’t taste “fresh tender artichoke hearts” because of the flavor of “creamy Parmesan cheese.”

Lunches were a relative bargain — most were priced under $10 and included the salad bar. Dinners were priced quite a bit higher, yet most did not include any salads. From the lunch menu, chicken pot pie had a decent puff pastry but a very salty sauce and too many broccoli florets. A quiche seemed remarkably similar to the pot pie, with familiar pastry and more florets. Ribs and burgers were the best things I tried. The former were tender enough to break apart with the hands but not so mushy they fell off their bones. Burgers had a decent sear on one side and came with “endless fries” that were seasoned with something similar to Lawry’s.

Featuring $4 and $5 daily specials, booze seemed like a big draw. I even saw evidence that the three-martini lunch might be making a revival here. Desserts have not been upgraded from the bar and grill sector — gooey chocolate cake, mediocre ice cream and cookies dominated their menu, and “fresh” strawberries were more than half white. Kids’ menu items cost as little as half the price of adult orders yet provided the same sized serving.

Side Dishes
Fat Tuesday opened on S.W. 9th Street with Louisiana recipes that won’t let you down… Francis Thicke, USDA bureaucrat turned organic dairy farmer and sustainable agricultural advocate, announced his candidacy for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2009 2008 Reviews ~ 2007 Reviews
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Noah's Ark (01-29-09) Taste of Elegance (02-05-09)
La Mie Bakery & Café (02-12-09) El Chisme (02-19-09)
Florene’s (02-26-09) Fourth Street T (03-05-09)
Supreme Bakery (03-12-09) Town Hall Tavern (03-19-09)
Namaste India (03-26-09) Cornelius’ Cache (04-02-09)

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