Ryan’s does it southern style10/1/2014
The chain restaurant industry is reinventing itself. McDonald’s applied for a trademark on the term McBrunch, leading to considerable speculation about what that sagging giant has in mind. They also promoted free coffee at breakfast. Wendy’s countered with free drink cups for seniors at all hours. Applebee’s went to Instagram for its new “food porn” campaign, which encourages visitors to snap their own photos of what they are eating in the stores. Other sit-down chains are chasing the glutton dollar. After seeing same store sales dip 1.3 percent in the most recent quarter, Olive Garden introduced $10 “never ending” pasta, which comes with its famous endless salad and endless toasted garlic mini hot dog buns. That followed TGIF’s $10 endless appetizer offer and Red Lobster’s $16 endless shrimp promotion. Outback has now introduced endless shrimp with steak for $16.
It seems like they are all coming after Ovation Brands, the new name of a company that has seen same store sales grow for years while others dipped. In Clive, the Ryan’s store in that chain has reinvented itself since I last visited several years ago. It used to be called Ryan’s Family Steakhouse with grilled-to-order steaks and a glorified salad bar. Now it’s just called Ryan’s, and the steakhouse facet has been replaced by additional hot station options, mostly with lower food costs than steak.
Six stations offered a very southern version of the all-you-can-eat genre. (Corporate headquarters are in Greer, South Carolina.) Collard greens were not soggy despite being served out of a hot pan. Red beans were offered alone with three kinds of rice dishes to complement them. Macaroni and cheese (I was told it was the most popular dish in the store) was southern style — no mixes of three exotic cheeses in this place. Green beans had the color and texture of fresh product. Smoked sausages were served with braised cabbage. Biscuits and cornbread were homemade and scrumptious.
As with most southern restaurants, chicken was the superstar of this show. Chicken and dumplings were made in an excellent thickened stock. Deep fried chicken was tender to the bone yet even the breast meat was not dry. Baked and grilled chicken shimmered with lovely skin. Fish sticks were even better with a light crunchy breading and tender fish. Steak and roast beef made token appearances, with rare, medium and well-done pieces of sirloin and medium-cooked rib roast. Ham and pulled pork looked relatively unappealing.
Ryan’s salad station was top notch, offering very fresh mixed mesclun, iceberg, romaine, slaw with the usual accompaniments, including fresh peas and corn. Salad dressings included something that resembled Dorothy Lynch, though it was labeled as French. There was no olive oil, nor kale, here.
Ryan’s elevates its menu above most other “all you can eat” joints west of Altoona by the quality of its dessert station, another instance of southern culture rising again. Salted caramel could impersonate a $12 (the price of dinner here) dessert in some big city restaurants. The same can be said about their bread pudding. Peach cobbler rocked. Carrot cake was moist and not too sweet with distinct slivers of carrot. Chocolate cake was also moist, but a hot fudge cake seemed to be the most popular dessert offered, even more than the soft serve station that usually dominates attention in such restaurants.
Very few items were labeled at Ryan’s but employees seemed to be aware of each item and where to find it. A weekend breakfast buffet has been added to the agenda here. A huge parking lot can fill up at busy hours.
Side Dishes Blue Tomato added lunch service… Trellis opened its outdoor service area overlooking the Des Moines River. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Ryan’s 1900 N.W. 86th St, Clive, 270-8620 Mon. – Thurs. 10:45 a.m. – 8 p.m., Fri. 10:45 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.