The End Of A Love Affair

columbus

After nearly 17 years in Columbus, our restaurant will be closing on Sunday, February 14, due to changing marketplace dynamics. That’s the official word from Ruth’s Chris as of yesterday afternoon.

You’ll have to give me a moment… I think there’s something in my eye.


I can’t remember when I went to the Columbus Ruth’s Chris for the first time. It’s possible that it was dinner with my father, although it’s equally possible that the Mrs. Baruth of the time and I just went there to see what all the fuss was about. Doesn’t really matter. By the year 2002 or thereabouts, I was a fairly regular presence at 7550 High Cross Boulevard. For five or six years or a row in the middle of that decade, my wife and I invited various friends and frenemies to have Valentine’s Day dinner with us there; at one point there were fourteen people at the table. Once or twice I picked up the whole check. It was an era in my life where a fifteen-hundred-dollar tab for dinner did not in any way dismay me.

Around 2005 I got into the habit of dining with my old business partner and friend, the “Big Dog”, at Ruth’s Chris about once a week. We’d sit there and disgrace the relatively clubby atmosphere of the place with our various and sundry coarse pronouncements. The first time I ever heard the man deliver his famous line, “Young stupid bitches grow up to be old stupid bitches,” I was seated in one of the booths to the south side of the main room, sawing away at a filet. After his series of strokes, he decided he didn’t want to return, so we have our meals now at the Outback, both of us quiet and reserved, as if we had committed or witnessed a crime together and sworn never to speak of it.

Certainly I spent tens of thousands of dollars there over the years, but nearly as expensive was the tab for the various clothing I destroyed in my sometimes drunken but always over-enthusiastic approach to my meal. Ties, shirts, and the occasional sportcoat, all adulterated forever by blood or wine or vodka or butter-soaked parsley. My relatively small collection of pre-corporate Borrelli shirts, acquired for five or six hundred bucks a pop, fell before this onslaught like teenagers in what Setright called the “blood-soaked cockpit” of Passchendaele, returning after unsuccessful laundering to serve as the world’s most expensive shop rags.

I would eventually expand my Ruth’s Chris resume to locations as broadly-spaced as Niagara Falls (the worst ever), San Diego (brilliant), and West Palm Beach (unforgettable) in the course of adding various notches to my guitar, as Robert Cray would say, but I kept the Columbus location nearest to my heart. I fell in love a few times at those tables. I ate too much and drank too much and said too much and revealed too much. Didn’t do a lot of listening. Rarely am I as personally obnoxious as I can be with eight shots of Ketel One and a fine steak in my stomach.

There are many stories I’d like to tell about affections found and lost and found again in those close-coupled booths, but I don’t think those stories belong entirely to me. I can remember a lot of pretty faces laughing and at least one dark-eyed woman succumbing to a Wagnerian crescendo of tears behind her clasped hands. There was a friend’s wife for whom I burned with indifferently-concealed passion and often was the time that I’d contrive to buy her and her husband dinner, spending the whole time mesmerized by her peerless decolletage and gorgeously planed cheekbones. Many of my recollections disappear halfway through, the calling card of incipient alcoholism and/or substance abuse in progress. I wish I had them back.

When my divorce came through, my ex-wife and I made a complicated agreement to never appear there on the same night. The discussions took more time than the discussion about what to do with my retirement money. She’ll be there for that final night, Valentine’s Day of 2016. Of this, I approve. She’s earned it. A few years ago, we suspended our rule and I sat down there for dinner with her and her new husband and my son for what felt like long-delayed closure but also a sort of tangible declaration that we would have peace in our time.

After the January 2014 crash, I sort of re-imagined the visibly-aging Columbus location as a place for recovery and quiet. We found a favorite waiter and listened night after night to his stories of skiing in Colorado and traveling across the Midwest. I imposed a four-drink maximum on myself, then cut that further to three at the most. I’d sit there with my cane and thoughtfully consider the various possible incarnations of my future. Not to be confused with the various possible incarcerations of my future.

Some part of my life is being taken away, closed up. No longer will I have the chance to sit in those booths, swaddled in the dyed tapestry of my often-unpleasant but still-vibrant past, grateful to be alive and mostly whole but also sorrowful at what I’ve missed and lost. The man who sat there for his first meal in 1999 is only a distant relative or ancestor of who I am today. I rarely feel as close to him as I do when I’m behind those double doors.

If I’m smart, I’ll use this closure as a chance to declare the end of a personal era. To say that the dissipated, vicious, unpleasant person I’ve often been at those tables is dead and buried. That I’m a father now and maybe I’ll be a husband again in the future and maybe the time has come to let all of that go. That you’ll be able to find me at the Applebee’s or the Bob Evans and as the years drag on I’ll become indistinguishable from all the other pleasant fathers and corporate workers and dutiful suburbanites who surround me. But before they turn out the lights, I’ll be back one last time. To raise a toast. For the people I’ve loved. And thrown away. And discarded. And kept. And hurt. And leaned on. And lost.

Once more, with feeling. And then it’s goodbye to all that.

33 Replies to “The End Of A Love Affair”

  1. Pat

    1. I personally find zero shame in bibbing up with an extra napkin. I’m pretty serious about eating steaks, or, rather, I’m seriously animal-like.
    2. Oddly I’ve never been the “brilliant” one in my home town, rather only to others whilst on travel. I should change that. (If you wish to venture away from RC’s next time you’re in San Diego, I highly recommend Cowboy Star)
    3. More seriously, this was very moving. Thanks for sharing it.

    Reply
  2. Josh H.

    I was honored you took me there in my disgusting camo shorts and greasy t-shirt that day. Couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate getting a CB going. To me, every Ruth’s Chris I see is a chance to think of that day.

    It was a good day.

    Reply
  3. galactagog

    Well that is a major bummer….

    I was underwhelmed with the Ruth’s Chris in Toronto, but maybe that was a bad night, or not one of their better locations?

    Barberian’s is my Toronto steak place of choice

    RIP Ruth’s Chris

    Reply
  4. Disinterested-Observer

    “Goodbye to all that”

    Life is full of weird coincidences. Since you seem to be of a much more literary bent than me, I wonder if you have read “The Great War and Modern Memory” and if you had, what you thought of it.

    Reply
  5. Tomko

    I ate once at Ruth Chris in Toronto during the 2010 olympics. Service was really good because there were only two other tables occupied. But I was completely disappointed with the steak. It just tasted bland. Like very plain. No flavour. Lots of sizzling butter, etc. but a complete let down.

    I’m hoping to have a steak at Morton’s someday – but so far I grille a better steak using Costco meat than I’ve had in a steakhouse.

    Jack – Next time you’re passing through on your way to Tremblant why not stop by and I’ll give you the full Weber treatment, complete with Snap-on steak knives.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      I don’t think that’s the fault of the restaurant, but of the beef suppliers. hate to say it, but as far as I’m concerned the shit commercial feedlots feed cattle is a crime against nature. cows are ruminants, they’re among the few animals which can actually live on grass. It’s what they’re evolved to do.

      as it is I practically never buy beef or get steak anywhere. I’d rather lamb or venison. at least it tastes like something.

      Reply
      • Jim

        There are direct flights from Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, and New York to Buenos Aires. The chorizo at Don Julio will restore your faith in beef. However, the grain fed B.S. is slowly displacing grass fed beef down there.

        I can never get lamb right, always overcooked.

        Reply
    • rwb

      One more vote for DIY.

      I’ve had good, great, and mediocre steaks at well-regarded steakhouses, it all depends on who’s working.

      Where I am right now, the meat cutters at Costco are on their game, they cut ’em a strong 3″+ and the quality is great. Very fresh and the prime cuts are impressive. I’d have more money on the whole if their steaks weren’t so good.

      Grass fed is fine, I like it when I’m trying to eat less fat (and I do have access to a good dead grass-fed cow,) and I acknowledge that the delicious, heavily-marbled steak I love the most comes from a fat, sick animal. But, fat is what makes the fireworks go off in the bottom of your brain.

      With a decent grill that can produce enough heat to properly sear a steak, going out loses its luster. I have a porch with a really nice wooden picnic table, really nice gas grill, good lighting, and a great view. I’ve eaten steak that’s nearly brought me to tears on it, best I’ve ever had, sometimes even with people I quite liked. No one can close that shit down. I’m hoping to get a kamado grill soon to really step it up.

      Reply
      • Tomko

        Gas always leaves a telltale taste behind. I have three Weber charcoal kettles. Good charcoal briquettes are very hard to find. Hint: they’re neither named Kingsford nor are they sold in grocery stores.

        I like to grille two inch thick NY strip or boneless rib steak. A dry rub spice applied thickly to the meat two hours before cooking; three minutes a side on the hottest grille you can get; instant read thermometer of 130 internal temperature; then covered and placed in the cavity of a microwave oven to simply rest for five minutes.

        Juiciest, tastiest, fork-tender steak you’ve ever had compared to a chain restaurant.

        Reply
        • rwb

          I’ve never found gas to actually impart any off flavors, if I had that problem I wouldn’t use it, but I’ll admit what I’m doing is a compromise: Legally, I can’t have a charcoal grill on the porch, and since my gas grill (also a Weber) has trouble maintaining the heat necessary to do what I want with a thinner steak, I’ve learned to love the cowboy-thick cuts.

          I don’t believe in rubbing or marinating steaks though with anything but S&P, and even the latter isn’t always necessary. Tips, burgers, BBQ, sure thing, but on a steak I like the taste of Maillard’s meat straight up.

          I suppose on briquette choice if you have the time, it’s ideal to choose a preferred hardwood and make your own charcoal, but what’s wrong with the hardwood lump stuff at Costco/Whole Foods?

          Reply
  6. Robert

    Poignant, thoughtful, and all too relatable. The hardest thing about getting older, for me at least, is the places (and people) that meant the most to me just don’t exist anymore.

    Reply
  7. DeadWeight

    Hate to say it, b/c everyone will jump on me for being “negative,” but RC is severely overpriced and overrated.

    Capital Grille (get Porterhouse) is better from a chain steakhouse standpoint (though local steak places with truly prime, aged beef are better).

    The Palm and Morton’s are similarly overrated as RC.

    Reply
    • DeadWeight

      I realize you were speaking of the memories you had there, and not necessarily quality of food, so yeah, that still sucks.

      Reply
  8. Dirty Dingus McGee

    Didn’t hit RC’s while I was in Columbus, due to being underwhelmed at others.

    Did however have a mighty fine hunk of beef at Hyde Park one evening

    Reply
  9. dude500

    Long time reader, but never commented until this. Your article reminds me of my own Ruths Chris memories.

    Back in the early 2000s my then-girlfriend and I had been in a long distance relationship for a long time (her in NY and me in Chicago). We’d try different nice Chicago restaurants every time she visited me, frequently the night before she returned to NY, and the restaurant that we kept coming back to was Ruths Chris. And we’d always order the same thing on the menu: 1) escargot appetizer, 2) sliced beefsteak tomatoes, 3) petite filet mignon 4) cream spinach and asparagus, and 5) creme brulee for dessert, with 6) a bottle of Duckhorn to wash it all down. It was always a nice memory to have that wonderful dinner and together time before the relationship returned to long-distance.

    That Chicago Ruths Chris was also unique, in that it was the only location (to my knowledge) that served escargots. I couldn’t get that in NY, in DC, or any other Ruths Chris I’ve been to.

    Fast forward one decade to a year ago, I had moved to NY and my girlfriend is now my wife. I had a business trip in Chicago and my wife decides to come with me. Of course, we have to go back to our old place. The decor is largely the same, crowd unchanged. But when we placed the same order we always had, the waiter stopped us with a quizzed look: “we don’t serve escargots…” Really? we asked, and sure enough it wasn’t on the menu. When we remarked “we used to have that all the time” the waiter looked at us with disbelief and distrust, but another waiter, presumably who has some tenure, said “ah, we stopped serving that in 2008, no one ordered it anymore once the financial crisis hit”.

    After that point, the Chicago Ruths Chris just wasn’t the same. The steak didn’t taste that great, the spinach was too creamed, the brulee was burnt. But honestly the food quality probably was exactly as it was 11yrs ago, but the emotional shine was gone because times has changed and moved on (including my tastes). I don’t really want to go back to that Ruths Chris because I want to keep those old, font memories intact.

    Anyway, that’s for the article Jack!

    Reply
  10. awagliar

    “.. you’ll be able to find me at the Applebee’s or the Bob Evans ..”

    You’ve skipped right to the fourth stage of grief right there. That’s the most depressing thing I’ve heard all week.

    I’m sorry for your loss. I felt similar pangs of memory and maturity when the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, my favorite hangout from my idealistic days on Capitol Hill, closed down. At the time, the palpable air of mystery, power, and corruption oozing about the place was exciting, but also made me want to take a shower, as all good affairs should. Now with the clear light of reflection, I realize it was just a dive bar where a bunch of self-important blowhards and their hangers-on got shitfaced after work.

    But I’ll be damned if I’m going to an Applebee’s!

    Reply
  11. NA Driver

    The Morton’s in the Houston Galleria won’t impress you with any thing but the bill. I miss the pedestrian, and defunct, Steak and Ale. Best filet in town.

    Reply
  12. Buzz

    Another vote here for the Pine Club in Dayton. Great steaks, drinks, and atmosphere. I like the Oakwood Club too, but Pine Club is better for steaks. I love their rib-eye and a few Old Fashioneds.

    By the way, I’m a long term lurker both here and TTAC. When I saw the local connection with Pine Club I just had to make my first comment!

    Reply
  13. MrFixit1599

    I guess this story proves that I am the lucky one. My wife would rather go to a Bob Evans any day over a Ruth’s Chris. Don’t misunderstand, she is from Texas, and loves her some steak and brisket. I am from Ohio, and used to go to the Bob Evans farm every other year or so as a child as a family outing thing. Saves me a lot of money in the long run.

    Reply
  14. VolandoBajo

    I’ll stay out of the steak critique process, except to say that Ruth’s Chris in Philadelphia was good, but I had a hard time accepting that things like a baked potato should cost around ten bucks. Not that I couldn’t afford it, but that it would bring out the “I can do that at least as good” streak in me, and since my wife prefers my steaks anyway (as does my son now also), we have probably saved a good bit over the years by dining at home.

    But the article itself is an excellent retrospective/prospective on a life both well-lived and perhaps at times misspent. I mean this as no criticism, because I certainly own a pedigree that contains both good living and misspent times to a degree similar to what you shared.

    You certainly display a good degree of introspection, and clearly employ it in pursuit of bettering not only your own life, but also the bettering of the person that you are, and are becoming.

    I hope to be able to continue to enjoy your insights for a good while longer. They provide some of the brightest points of my own life, some of the best I have, outside of the loved ones who are nearest and dearest to me.

    I hope you continue to evolve in the future, as you have shown that you have done in the past, and that that process goes on for a long time for you.

    Reply

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