Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Hot and Steamy Dinner at Ritter's

Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking
1421 MacArthur Blvd.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

I have been hearing some pretty good things about Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking lately. It seems like every time I get my new issue of Orange Coast Magazine, or when I read the OC Weekly, there's some mention of Ritter's in almost every issue. The reviews have been glowing, so I put this down on my list of places to try right away.

I knew I wanted to go with my good friend Angel, and his wonderful girlfriend, Rebekah. They consider themselves to be very good judges of Cajun cuisine, and Rebekah even makes a very good version of gumbo as well. Orange County used to be devoid of Cajun restaurants. There was a place in downtown Santa Ana that I had been to growing up, and there was also a place in this weird food court type place by my dad's work in Irvine, but other than that we did not have tons of Cajun options here. That is until this whole Boiling Crab and other similar restaurants exploded onto the scene.

Ritter's has become so popular that they now have a second location in Huntington Beach. This first one, in Santa Ana is located right near the intersection of Bristol and MacArthur, in the same shopping center as Wienerschnitzel, and across the street from their competition, the Boiling Crab. We got here just before 6PM on a recent Friday. We were lucky enough to grab a table, before Angel and Rebekah showed up, but this restaurant filled up quick, and stayed that way during our entire stay.

The restaurant is not big, maybe 20 or so tables, with a long bar that overlooks the cooking process. The reviews I have read suggest that the bar is the best place to sit and soak in all the action here, but it's not really conducive when you are going to be talking and catching up with your friends. Be aware, this is a loud restaurant. Even with only twenty tables, the high ceilings do little to mute the conversations and blues and jazz that are playing over the speakers in the dining room. Be prepared for the chairs here, which are some of the most uncomfortable ones we have sat in during the five year run of this blog. Maybe they have these to keep the tables turning over, to avoid long wait times for tables. Let's hope the food was a little more comfortable than the chairs.

While we were waiting for Angel to finish getting himself restaurant ready, we were served this Bread Basket. These rolls were pretty crusty, which is good for dipping, and probably what you want to serve here. We went through two baskets of these during our meal.

Yelp was all abuzz with its love for the New England Clam Chowder ($4) at Ritter's, and for once, the Yelp kids got it right. They have both New England style and Manhattan here, but do yourself a favor and try the creamier New England version. This is going to sound like a diss, but the version here reminded me of the clam chowder I had at Polly's growing up. I used to love getting it every Friday night, and this version was just as creamy, more full of clams, and had a great flavor to it. One of the best chowders we have had during the run of this blog.

As much as we were looking forward to having the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($12), they were a letdown. The description made them sound so good. They are molasses marinated shrimp and mozzarella deep fried, then wrapped in bacon, which sounds awesome right? These were kind of boring though. All of the components were here, but they lacked that wow factor. These also might have been made better if they were not paired with a molasses mustard sauce. Not sure what kind of sauce should have been used here, but this sauce relied way too much on mustard to add flavor here.

When ordering the Red Beans and Rice ($5) they ask you how hot you would like it, based on a numerical scale. We asked for a seven out of ten, and I thought the heat here was pretty tame. Angel and Rebekah ordered theirs at an eight, and theirs were about the same. A little inconsistent, but when we told our waiter we would like these more spicy, he brought us out some habaneros, which cranked up the heat, and also made this dish a winner. Besides the beans and rice in here, there was andouille pork sausage included. I really liked this appetizer, and would just ask for the habaneros on the side, so both Katie and I could enjoy this with our desired heat levels.

Shrimp does funny things to Katie, so the Cilantro Chicken ($14) caught her eye immediately. This really had a pho vibe going for it. Chicken breast, Andouille sausage, and linguini noodles joined the tomatoes and cilantro in the lemon garlic broth. Katie felt this was a great option for people who want to eat a little lighter at Ritter's. She was really happy with this dish.

Rebekah went with Cajun staple, Jambalaya ($18) for her dinner on this night. This version was pretty traditional with shrimp, chicken, Andouille sausage, and rice, in a tomato based sauce. She liked this version, but has had better. The picture does not show it, but this was a pretty good sized serving of jambalaya.

Angel knew what he would be getting when he walked in here, the Ritter's Famous Gumbo ($20 with shrimp added). I believe he wanted to see if this version was better than his girlfriends, and being a good boyfriend he said hers was better. He did enjoy this though. He liked that the okra was not slimy, which is usually a big bone of contention for him with other gumbos. This also featured the trinity of Cajun cooking, which is cut up bell peppers, onion, and celery, along with pork Andouille sausage, and a mound of rice in a dark roux sauce. Angel definitely made sure to clean his plate on this night.

Just like Angel, I knew what I would be having at Ritter's even before walking in the door. The Ritter's Famous Pan Roast ($23 for the house version) was simply great. In my opinion, this was the best dish to hit the table on this night, and I was glad I was the one who had ordered it. The pan roast is a tomato cream sauce, with the trinity included, a big mound of rice in the middle, and the house version comes with shrimp, clams, crab and lobster. There was plenty of seafood in here, but the tomato cream sauce stole this show. Even writing this now, I still look back fondly on this meal, and especially that sauce. It's rare that you come to a restaurant for the first time and get the best thing on the menu, but I can't see myself getting anything else on future visits here.

Ritter's is worthy of all the press they have received recently. Both Katie and I really enjoyed our meals, and even Angel and Rebekah had to admit that their meals were pretty good as well. We had great service on this night, even though they were pretty busy during our stay. We even got a visit from Chef Ritter while eating here. He actually took the time to visit each table, which I thought was a nice touch. We will definitely be back. Glad to see that there are now more Cajun options in OC, and Ritter's is near the top of those options.

Out of five knights, (because ritter in German means knight), five being best to zero being worst, Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking gets 3.5 knights.

For more information about Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, go their website here: http://rittersskc.com/

Ritter's SKC on Urbanspoon


  1. Such a good review on the food and still a 3.5? Rough. I've heard from others about how uncomfortable the chairs are too, hah...

  2. I liked Ritter's a lot on our one visit. The RB&R was the best I've had around here, besides my wife's, since leaving NO back in '87 (non-native; lived there 4 years, and ate a lot of Monday red beans at some great Big Easy joints); it got the smoky flavor and I don't need it hot. I also liked my wife's cilantro chicken and my jambalaya. I'd go back here in a second, like you. The portions really are great and you're right about the photos not capturing that.

  3. Minerva - Only 25 percent of all restaurants we have reviewed have gotten a 3.5 or higher, so this makes this restaurant better than 75 percent of the places we have been to, which is pretty stellar. Those chair though would receive a negative score. Ugh.

    Mike - I've never been to New Orleans, but it's on my bucket list of food places to hit someday. Glad to hear that the red beans and rice is pretty authentic here. We will come back soon. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. Robert - Thanks for the kind words. Also, thanks for taking the time to read the blog. I appreciate it.