(Rick’s Ferrari Grille, Voice-Tribune, Oct. 11, 2007)
According to long-established wisdom, one good way to detect an excellent Chinese restaurant is to look for the places where Chinese people eat. In much the same way, a happy, diverse mosaic of American diners generally signals an excellent American restaurant.
And so it is with Rick’s Ferrari Grille, an established St. Matthews tradition that rarely fails to attract a crowd.
After a series of moves over the years, restaurateur Rick Dissell has been back in his original Chenoweth Square location for 2 1/2 years now, and it looks like he’s back to stay. (In a curious trivia point, the building sits on the exact location that once housed The Voice-Tribune’s offices back in the ’70s. I think my dinner table the other night may have been just about exactly where my desk used to be.)
However, the old newspaper office never looked so good. Rick’s boasts an attractive, shaded patio out front. Enter from there and you’ll find its large bar on the right and two long dining rooms on the left. The main room has a dark latticework wall across the middle to break the room into more intimate sections. Eye-catching red panels and mirrors, old French and Italian posters advertising aperitifs, potted palms and a couple of bright aquariums create a dark and cozy atmosphere that give the impression of old times brought up to date.
Tables are draped with white tablecloths, black cloth napkins and good, heavy flatware and glasses; pink carnations in bud vases and flickering votive candles complete the mood.
The menu, best described as “casual upscale American,” fills two large pages and shifts seamlessly from salads, bar-food munchies and appetizer into more serious main courses. Most entrees are in the teens, topping out at $21.95 for a chargrilled New York strip steak dubbed “black and blue” for its Cajun-style blackening and blue-cheese butter. It features fancy takes on comfort-food dishes such as Yankee pot roast ($15.95) meat loaf ($14.95) and fried chicken livers ($14.95) but also goes upscale with items like chargrilled mahi-mahi ($17.50) and bacon-wrapped sea scallops ($19.25).
The full bar includes a moderate wine list with standard markups and a selection of draught beers. I went with its nearest approximation to artisanal brew, a cool draught Sam Adams ($3.95) in an attractive, heavy-bottom pilsner glass.
Soup of the day ($3.95 for a cup) boasts an exceptional flavor. It’s a rich, thick puree of, perhaps, lentils and split peas, smoky with ham flavor and just piquant enough to tickle your tongue. It would have been perfect on a brisk fall day and wasn’t bad on an unseasonably hot one.
Five flavorful corn-and-rock-shrimp fritters ($6.95) the size of golf balls were loaded with yellow corn niblets and chopped crustaceans, fried dark brown – more chewy than crisp – and dusted with grated Parmesan. They were plated on a bed of lettuce and red, green and yellow bell peppers, with a small bowl of a pale green, roughly pureed honey-mango sauce for dipping.
“Light” fried chicken ($15.95, $12.95 as a Tuesday special) takes a couple of skinless, boneless pieces of chicken breast and moves them in the direction of Nirvana with a well-handled Southern fried chicken breading and frying, crisp and golden. They’re served with textured “sweet-onion” mashed potatoes and a small pitcher of creamy, spicy milk gravy and a side of long-cooked collard greens that lost a few points with my wife for idiosyncratic sweet-hot flavoring.
The char-grilled flatiron steak ($18.50) was small but very tasty, a cut more known for flavor than tenderness but prepared with skill, medium-rare as ordered with good beef and caramelized flavors from the grill. It was coated with an almost homeopathic paint coat of Argentine-style chimichurri herb-and-garlic sauce. It’s accompanied by a small pile of crisp tobacco onions, a large baked potato and an inoffensive pile of sauteed yellow and green squash and baby carrots. The honey-tarragon rolls that were supposed to accompany the meal never materialized.
Service was cordial and competent throughout, although the server eventually presented our bill without asking about dessert. A fine dinner for two, with a beer and iced tea, came to a reasonable $51.15, plus a $10.85 tip.
Rick’s Ferrari Grille
3930 Chenoweth Square