A Night at the Ritz
Story G. E. Light
West Point’s Café Ritz is a beautifully appointed room in an old hardware and sundries store that abuts the town’s original movie theater. Quality and class ooze from the fixtures, be they the mahogany back bar, the hammered tin ceiling, or the extensive collection of movie memorabilia lining the walls.
Service can be a bit hit or miss, which is surprising, since on two of my three visits there were hardly any customers. But the mistakes are easily corrected. For example, when a restaurant is empty, don’t put all three parties next to each other.
So how about the food? Starkville’s loss is West Point’s gain, as Southern Ionics honcho Milton Sundbeck has cleverly poached young chef Matthew Reid from the late Bistro, where his talents dwelt unseen behind an enforced menu that reduced him to line chef status essentially. Based on the evidence at hand, I’ll categorically state that if Matthew Reid is not currently the best chef in the Golden Triangle, he will be soon.
The appetizers on the menu are fairly standard fare, so I skipped them with one exception: a weekly special of 1/2 dozen raw Gulf oysters ($10), laid out on a bed of rock salt with the “half shell” being a sliced leek rib accompanied by a Vodka Cocktail sauce. Pretty, but maybe too much fussing; sometimes classic preparations remain best.
Where the menu absolutely shines is across the wide panoply of its pasta and entrées, each reasonably priced and coming with a choice of Caesar, Wedge, or Greek salad. One cooler night I went for the Wild Mushroom Ravioli in a Tasso cream sauce ($15) along with the Chef’s Choice soup, which happened to be Crawfish Corn Bisque ($4). A spicy match made in heaven.
The clear current star of the menu is the Colorado Lamb Chops served in a Roasted Garlic Sauce with Mississippi State University Edam, Potato Cake and Roasted Winter Squash ($24). Three racked chops laid out in a sidewise crown display taste superbly fresh and have no need of mint sauce to hide any gaminess. If you ordered the menu’s most expensive item, a 14 oz. Certified Angus Rib-Eye topped with Mushroom Marsala and Grilled Shrimp, you would still only be out $32.
There’s a wide range of wines by the glass, and bottles reasonably priced $20-$99 with fully 75 percent of the list below $45. The dessert list is short and changes seasonally, but I enjoyed a simple martini glass of homemade salted pistachio ice cream.
So here’s the rub. A potentially great restaurant struggles a little due to its locale. I’m suggesting you won’t find a better meal in the greater Golden Triangle area. Deep South foodies should make a trail to Commerce Street in West Point and put on the Ritz. Otherwise, we’ll all be singing Joe Shelton’s “Black Prairie Blues” at its demise. Café Ritz is a cinematically great restaurant needing its very own Big Night!