I was able to sit and catch up with The Ritz‘ general manager, Ben DeForest (not a mistake, Ben has been the GM since the Fall).
I like chatting with Ben — it’s half motivation speaker (though he may not know it) and half interesting Island happenings. Ben has made a lot of changes in his life over the past year and a half. He has played as hard as he worked, and has left the darker side of the restaurant world that included a lot of late nights, booze and drug use behind. Now he his focusing on a life of sobriety, clarity, truth, love, appreciation, and damn good cooking.
I have to say that I find his change truly inspiring. When I talk to him now, I find myself looking inside and wondering what changes I have the ability to make. Well all of that is another blog perhaps, a little off topic, but part of the experience, but let’s focus on the exciting things happening to The Ritz over the next several months.
The food at the Ritz has improved dramatically since Jackie and Larkin Stallings bought it. With Ben coming on board, it’s definitely become the best little dive bar on the Island.
The Stallings hail from Texas, where BBQ is king. Ben has a special fondness for BBQ and the history behind it, and The Ritz is a classic dive bar. With these three things, you have almost the perfect recipe for what is to come…..The Ritz is becoming a BBQ Restaurant come Spring (April). But don’t worry – it’s still going to be The Ritz that so many know and love!
Learning this was interesting for a couple of reasons. Though the food is now so good at The Ritz, I think people still associate it with a decade ago, and believe me they’re missing out. However, having the space rebranded and retooled a bit is going to help create a message that resonates and draws people in.
Seriously, that dive bar space, with all its soul, live music, good drinks, good BBQ — sounds like a winner. Though Ben is the GM now, he is still in the kitchen a bit of course. Also, he is in the kitchen on Thursday nights for the All Stars Dinners – with his cooking and Johnny Hoy jammin on the floor. Who knew Thursday nights were so cool.
The BBQ will be what Ben is calling Oak Bluffs’ style BBQ. There will be a nod to some Texas favorites and some classics, but be on the look out for some really different things. One of the reasons Ben loves to cook is that it allows him the ability to create. Ben will utilize the Island’s local bounty and create a truly unique BBQ experience.
The new Chef de Cuisine, Donnie Glass, is doing amazing work in that kitchen, more to come on him once the BBQ change happens (he’s part of that as well). Also, Ben is home evenings for the first time in 30 years, and he says it’s a welcome change.
Because I was there around lunch, I had to at least get something right? I got the Pan-Crisp Chicken Dumplings & Thai Chili Sauce to go. They were ridiculous, ridiculously good! I could have eaten three orders!
I have to remember this place for Friday night take-out with the family. There is no reason I should not be having Red Cat Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Sweet Potato Pancake and Maple braised Greens next week.
The Ritz will be introducing BBQ items to the menu here and there. Over the next couple of months, the goal is to try out recipes and build the new menu. Boy do I wish Ben’s tater tots would make it on the new menu. I still think about them, and I had them last April.
Side note: I think I like things that look alike – tater tots & dumplings, both beyond delish from The Ritz.
Also, in addition to the Thursday event I mentioned, there are others, including the “New Standard of Brunch on MV” which features the jazz music of Jeremy Berlin and Rosie Guerin. Donnie cooks up some amazing brunch food, mimosas are served, and the sound of jazz fills the space. Sounds pretty amazing for a late morning date with friends, especially during the winter months.
Of course The Ritz has music nightly, don’t forget Monday’s karaoke, which is always hilarious, and be sure to stop by for dinner.
Please note that The Ritz is closing March 1st – March 24th (opening just in time for St. Patrick’s Day) for some cleaning and other fun things. However, before that time, be sure to keep an eye out for The Ritz’s Guest Chef series. Ben would like at least two more before they close. Already chef Scott Cummings (Down Island) and Joe DiSilva have been a part of this very popular series.
So many things happening, and I can’t wait to try, I mean write about The Ritz this Spring.