Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Food Dude

Grandeur and glamour west of town


Ruth’s Chris Steak House’s upstairs dining room.

When Jordan Creek Town Center was under construction the decade before its 2004 opening, developers told me they wanted to attract Ruth’s Chris Steak House so badly they offered incentives. At the time, the Dallas, Texas, company deemed West Des Moines too small. Earlier this summer, Ruth’s Chris opened the largest store in its entire chain on Jordan Creek Parkway. 

It’s a magnificent validation of the JCTC, which has succeeded when malls are dying without new ones being built. JCTC is the largest mall in Iowa, the fourth largest in the Midwest, and 24th largest in the United States. It has generated private and commercial development all around it. 

Ruth’s Chris is colossal. It encompasses two floors, 15,000 square feet, 450 seats, four dining rooms, three heated patios, two bars and several private rooms. It has its own wine club with private lockers for members. And, of course, it serves all USDA prime, aged beef. Trappings include tablecloth dining and a 1960s style dress code in the main dining room. 

When Ruth Fertel opened her first restaurant in 1960s New Orleans, she did it on $4,000 of borrowed money. The West Des Moines store has a dozen chandeliers that cost that much and one that cost $30,000.

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It can get pricey. A lunch can easily cost more than $100, and a dinner can approach $300 without wine. You will probably want wine. The head sommelier is Johnny Kron, who has been mentioned before in this column because he’s that good. 

But it doesn’t have to be pricey. After all, they have 450 seats to fill. There is a three-course lunch special that includes a filet option for $36. There is a $24 lunch special that offers a choice of filet sliders, crab cakes, soup and salad, or a shrimp po boy. A weekend brunch deal offers a blackened tenderloin Benedict for $36.

Ruth’s Chris is all about indulgence, though. Steaks and chops go for $49 to $149 on the dinner menu. Crusts and sauces are an extra $7, potatoes and vegetables an extra $13. Appetizers hang their hats in the $22 to $29 range. Yet, I have never heard anyone talk about how expensive it is. They brag about it and say it was worth every dollar. It’s the kind of place that people save money to visit. 

I tried a filet, some crab cakes, lobster bisque, and some veal osso buco ravioli. All were great; none were the best I ever had. The raviolis are more al dente than typical in Italian Des Moines. The bisque, a little smokier. 

Bottom line — this is grandeur and destination dining. Kansas City and Omaha don’t have a Ruth’s Chris. 

The petite filet at MJ’s Hollywood.

MJ’s Hollywood in Adel 

Nothing says grandeur like the Golden Age of Hollywood. MJ’s Hollywood in Adel is a work in progress, but they are open serving MJ Gazali’s “best in the metro” Mediterranean fare in a fun surrounding. When the work is complete, there will be a Walk of Fame, Hollywood posters, and regular showings of classic movies with customers encouraged to dress the part. (George Formaro has requested a “Saturday Night Fever” night.) Already, there is a huge photograph behind the bar of Hollywoodland in the 1920s, reminding us that it was a real estate project before it was a town. Stemware and glasses are 1920s Deco style, and a dozen Oscar replicas surround a mirror.

I tried gyros, shawarma, tabouli, hummus and tzatziki. All were dazzling. Drinks were stiff and atmosphere eclectic — customers brought pets, children, smiles and “I’ll be back” promises with an Austrian accent. ♦

Jim Duncan is a food writer who has been covering the central Iowa scene for more than five decades.

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