It’s been almost a half-century since the late Ruth Fertel founded the acclaimed fine dining chain with the tongue-twisting name —Ruth’s Chris Steak House— and just over eight years since Brooks Stillwell, Harry Haslam and Tak Argentinis formed the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire.
This past weekend, those two entities joined forces in a mutually beneficial arrangement that introduced Savannah’s newest high-end restaurant to a veritable who’s who of local movers, shakers and pundits, while simultaneously raising several thousand dollars for one of the area’s most worthy charitable causes.
Ruth’s Chris, named such due to Fertel’s initial purchase of New Orleans’ Chris Steak House in 1965, has grown in popularity since it became an international franchise in the 1970s, and is now widely considered to be one of the premier restaurant chains in the world. Its reputation is based upon high-quality ingredients, simple (yet elegant) presentation and top-notch service; all of which were in evidence at this special two-night, invitation-only event.
The 200 Club, based in part on the Hundred Clubs of Detroit and Massachusetts and the Three Hundred Club of Atlanta, provides immediate financial assistance to surviving spouses and children of local law enforcement officers and firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty. The non-profit organization’s board is comprised of members of the area’s business, law enforcement, judicial, professional, religious and academic communities.
In anticipation of Ruth’s Chris’ official public unveiling on Monday, Nov. 17, the restaurant provided free meals to the charity’s invited guests on both Friday and Saturday night — which, according to restaurant management, totaled approximately 200 diners on Friday (when I was fortunate enough to attend). Roughly the same number were expected the following evening.
A choice of two delightful red wines —a Pinot Noir and a Syrah— were offered at $125 per bottle, with $100 of each purchase benefitting the 200 Club.
According to Maria Lancaster, the club’s Marketing Volunteer, preliminary figures show that around 100 bottles of wine were sold in total, resulting in approximately $10,000 in donations. The relative ease with (and lighthearted manner in) which these funds were raised would seem to dovetail nicely with the charity’s unofficial motto: “minimum effort and maximum satisfaction.”
From my layman’s point of view, despite the fact it’s a franchise (an inherent turnoff for some, but oddly enough a plus to many professional chefs conversant with this chain’s famously high standards), it seems a safe bet this eatery will quickly ascend to near the top of Savannah’s fine dining destinations.
Located at 111 W. Bay St., a block from the Hyatt Regency hotel, Ruth’s Chris offers a stylish, modern twist on classic, dark wood steak house décor, and an upscale menu of luxury beef, seafood, poultry and shellfish entrees plus oversized side dishes and decadent desserts, as well as a full bar — all in an atmosphere suited to business or dress-casual attire.
Their signature of course is their aged-on-premises USDA prime steaks which are seared at close to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and served on 500 degree, butter-drizzled plates. That, and a degree of personalized service that rivals anything I’ve experienced in Savannah to date.
True, this was an opportunity for the restaurant to put their best foot forward and —hopefully— make a strong first impression on a select group of some of the area’s most desirable repeat customers. To that end, there were more than enough wait staff on hand (under the watchful eye of visiting corporate supervisors). Still, my discussions with everyone from servers and bussers to hostesses revealed an energized crew who took no small amount of pride in their positions and displayed sincere enthusiasm for landing a job at one of the area’s most eagerly anticipated nightspots in recent memory.
Plus, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed what may have been the most delicious garlic mashed potatoes I’ve ever had — which may seem hopelessly plebeian to some, but in reality is quite a recommendation.
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