There is a quote on the Ruth’s Diner Website (www.ruthsdiner.com) that goes like this: “In a perfect world, every town would have a diner just like Ruth’s.” That’s a statement I made a few years ago, when I’d recently moved to Utah and discovered the unique joys of the restaurant. I like the Deseret Morning News’ Stephanie Tanner-Brown’s take on the place, “Cooking is like grandma’s—with a few sassy additions.” Yes, there’s a sassiness at Ruth’s that makes it interesting and different—Ruth’s ghost inhabiting that last bar stool at the end of the counter, perhaps.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to eat at Ruth’s Diner as often as I’d like, primarily because I’m usually visiting new restaurants to evaluate and review, at the expense of old haunts. But I’d been wondering lately how Ruth’s was holding up, especially in this low-carb, cookie-cutter restaurant era. And I’d been meaning for a few summers now to check out the Thursday-night barbecue held on Ruth’s patio.
So I recently took the scenic drive up Emigration Canyon to Ruth’s, thinking along the way that getting to Ruth’s is half the fun and no small treat. The road to Ruth’s Diner is truly one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of winding through Napa, with lush foliage and one-of-a-kind houses along the way. Motoring (or biking, as tons of people do) to Ruth’s, you get an immediate sense that you’ve left the city and its hassles behind.
And indeed, Ruth’s Diner itself is a throwback to a simpler, slower time. I begin to chill out and relax the moment I hit the parking lot at Ruth’s. It feels like entering a safe haven where cell phones and PDAs can be turned off for an hour or so.
Each Thursday, the barbecue boys at Ruth’s Diner fire up the huge grill on the patio, which is filled with regular charcoal on the right, mesquite charcoal on the left. There’s a big pile of ribs that have been cooking all day and just need to be reheated briefly for serving. First-timers to the Thursday night BBQ at Ruth’s Diner might be a bit confused, as was I. Each outdoor table has a small cardboard table tent describing the BBQ options, but it’s somewhat unclear—at least, it was to me. A friendly server interpreted for me though, and quickly cleared up the confusion.
Basically, diners at the Thursday night barbecue have a choice of one, two or three items from the grill plus a couple of side dishes. For the latter, I’d certainly recommend the buttery corn on the cob and a side of baked beans, which are better than just about any baked beans I’ve ever had. I could eat a tub of ’em. Other side choices include potato salad and coleslaw. Prices for the BBQ dinner range from $14.95 to $18.95.
The barbecue menu at Ruth’s isn’t very extensive, but there was enough variety to keep me happy. Plus, the regular Ruth’s Diner dinner menu items are also available during Ruth’s Thursday barbecues, so if someone in your party has a hankering for Ruth’s famous meatloaf with twice-baked Romano potatoes—or perhaps grilled liver and onions with apple wood smoked bacon—there are dining options available besides BBQ.
However, if you’re partaking in BBQ at Ruth’s on a balmy Thursday evening, I suggest first bellying up to the “Gazebar” at the far end of the patio and ordering a cold brew or a margarita. The Uinta Cutthroat Ale on tap goes down easily as you wrestle with the meaty baby back ribs, made with a yummy pasilla chile spice rub and served with mango-jalapeÃ±o barbecue sauce.
The ribs are delicious, but I liked the grilled chicken at Ruth’s barbecue even better. Boneless chicken breasts are flavored with Jamaican-style jerk seasoning, then grilled to perfection over mesquite and served with an incendiary habaÃ±ero-carrot sauce. The sauce is out of this world, and I tried it on everything, it was so good. I even found myself dipping chunks of grilled Cajun andouille sausage into that heavenly concoction. It definitely brightened up the large serving of pulled pork that was piled onto my overflowing plate. One thing is certain: No one ever leaves Ruth’s Diner hungry.
Sitting on the patio at Ruth’s on any warm summer evening is a great way to spend an hour or two. That’s even more true on Thursdays when Ruth’s patio becomes a party, fueled by the scent of mesquite in the air and the tequila-infused sounds of the Stoddard Brothers, who entertain each Thursday evening during the summer. Part hootenanny and part parrothead convention, the Stoddards’ show finds them donning their signature Hawaiian shirts and entertaining the crowd with tunes that geezers like me can’t get enough of: Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” followed by The Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” which led into a bluesy, harmonica-soaked version of “Margaritaville.” As the evening unfolds, the Brothers Stoddard seem to be amusing themselves even more than the audience at Ruth’s, which is all part of the fun. They’re a very unserious duo playing some seriously good music.
And I suppose that’s also what everyone loves about Ruth’s. It’s a place to get really good food that isn’t too serious—you won’t find any 25-word menu item descriptions on Ruth’s menu. But for a great meal, friendly service and an ideal atmosphere, it’s hard to beat the patio at Ruth’s Diner on a laid-back Thursday evening.
Ruth’s Diner, 2100 Emigration Canyon, 582-5807, Breakfast, lunch & dinner daily