Dining out: Ruth's Diner

Published: Friday, May 7 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Last week, I wrote about the pleasure of having lunch outside this time of year.

Since then, the weather has warmed up enough that it's the right time to start having dinner outside, as well, which is what a friend and I did on a recent weeknight at Ruth's Diner.

Ruth's, approaching its 75th year in business, has a long-standing reputation, as much for its irascible, colorful founder as for its food. Ruth is dead now, and the place is on its third owner, but the food — high-quality interpretations of American classics — remains good and worth making the trip up Emigration Canyon.

Of course, the canyon has its own charms, and we soaked them in while dining on the spacious, tree-roofed patio.

We had plenty of time to enjoy it. After seating us, our server brought menus, ice water with lemon and big, soft rolls with butter. But then he disappeared for more than 15 minutes. We conversed, we enjoyed the ambience, we read some great Ruth anecdotes on the back of the menu.

When our server returned, we ordered our appetizers and entrees. Then our second wait began. It was nearly half an hour until we got our onion rings and sauteed mushrooms.

The onion rings were almost worth the wait, being an excellent specimen of the "big meaty rings" variety: juicy sweet-sharp onions inside, crisp golden batter outside.

The ramekin of button mushrooms covered with melted cheese was good, too, with an herbed, slightly sweet broth adding depth to the flavors.

Less than 10 minutes after we started on our appetizers, our meals arrived. I don't think these pacing problems are endemic at Ruth's, but it was not good to have our quickly cooling entrees sitting in front of us as we tried to finish up the appetizers.

Regarding food quality, however, Ruth's excels. My friend's vegetable lasagna was a symphony of rich flavors, from the dark, intensely tomato-flavored marinara sauce to the onions, mushrooms, spinach and other veggies that filled each layer.

I had the hot turkey sandwich, which I order at a lot of restaurants. Ruth's version is great — a generous mound of thin, lean sliced turkey on thick sourdough bread, with country gravy on top. The plate was nicely accessorized with portions of both savory cornbread stuffing and Ruth's signature Romano twice-baked potatoes, a satisfying pepper-dotted version of the chunky mashed spuds you find on a lot of restaurant menus these days.

Wait No. 3 occurred when we wanted to order dessert; our server removed our dinner plates and brought me a take-home container but left quickly afterward, even though we'd said we wanted dessert. When he came back after almost 10 minutes, we ordered the hot fudge brownie and the chocolate malt pudding.

Both were delightful. The chocolate brownie arrived piping hot and smothered in vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, peanuts and a cherry. It's got to be eaten quickly, though; the ice cream turned to soup before we knew it.

The pudding was a great change of pace. Served in a parfait glass, it looked just like a chocolate shake. But it's actually a creamy homemade custard made with Ghirardelli chocolate and plenty of malt. It's served cold with whipped cream, and it's a unique and refreshing finish.

I plan to return to Ruth's. The service was not great, but the crowds around us were happy, and perhaps the service will be better next time. When the food is this good, I can forgive other deficiencies — once, at least!

Appetizers $1.75-$7.95, salads $3.50-$9.95, sandwiches $6.45-$7.95, burgers $6.45-$7.95, entrees $8.95-$16.95, desserts $3.75-$4.95.


Rating: ** 1/2

Where: 2100 Emigration Canyon

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

Payment: Checks, credit cards

Reservations: None taken

Phone: 582-5807


Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News.

E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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