Wednesday, November 28, 2012

QUICKVIEW: Ralph's Bull & Claw - +++

Ralp's Bull & Claw is your standard sort of local haunt with a massive menu. It's very Rhode Island, very local, and very good.

The location isn't the best place, but it's not bad, either. Ralph's is situated along Charles Street in North Providence, right along the Pawtucket line. It's north enough to not be in the increasingly bad areas farther south, but not north enough to be part of the more expensive locations into Lincoln. The atmosphere and clientele is precisely what one would expect from the location: a sitcom cliche. I was sat next to a group of people that seemed like family members from the movie Moonstruck.

The interior is nice enough. Standard family restaurant designs. The building is much larger than the small frontage indicates. There's lots of natural light. Essentially, nothing about which I could complain.

Service was a bit slow since they were busy for reasons that I will explain. Our waiter was friendly, attentive, and at ease in her job.

The food was very good. Frequently, local haunts have a tendency to serve bland food. I think that it's just a side effect of running a business that isn't interested in delivering gourmet experimentation, and is instead focused on delivering good food to people that simply want good food.

And that's the important thing. Everything was good. The dinner bread is one of the best presentations that I've ever seen: two, big boules of Italian bread, freshly baked. No pretensiousness. No nothing. Just good bread with butter on the side. They say, and by they I mean Janeane Garofalo's character from the film Ratatouille, that you can tell good bread by its sound. Well this bread sounded great. Many gourmet restaurants would do well to take a page from this no-nonsense approach. Don't give me weird breads filled with nuts and currants. Or some strange, house-made sourdough. Just give me bread, baked, with butter.

The soup was loaded with vegetables and pasta, and had good punch to it. Not in the slightest bit bland. The baked stuffed sole was super-sweet and a table favorite, but it was a bit overwhelmed by its butter sauce. I would have liked a much lighter drizzle. The seafood casserole was well-balanced, without being swamped in stuffing, cheese, or sauce as many places do. And the gorgonzola sauce on top of a steak was mellow and not too pungent.

There were a few things to pick on. The steak wasn't the best cut, but it was still good, flavorful, and well-prepared. The vegetable wasn't much of one, simply being some steamed kale and olives next to mashed potatoes. But these things, insofar as being negative, aren't much worthy of note. Especially when you consider their ace in the hole: half-price Sundays.

Every second and last Sunday of the month, everything on the menu, and I mean everything, is half priced. A $30 steak drops to $15. My baked stuffed sole was only $9. Gorgonzola steak: $11. When you think about the mark-up generally required to keep a restaurant churning, they're probably reducing their price down to around, or maybe even below, the break-even point, so it's a good attention-getter for them, while costing only a little.

Now you understand why service was a bit slow. The dining room wasn't swamped, but I'm sure that they handle waves of people coming in throughout the day, which does much to diminish pre-prepared supplies.

This promotion makes Ralph's perhaps the single best deal in all of Rhode Island. I don't consider that an exaggeration. I can't think of any other restaurants with prices like this for a menu like this. Good for great prices is, in my mind, better than great food for good prices.

With a menu for everyone, the best deal in Rhode Island, a friendly personality, and good service, Ralph's is the kind of place that I would default to when I don't know what else to get. There are few restaurants that I would describe as an excellent place to bring the family, but Ralph's is one of them. Now all I have to do is find a family.

Ralph's Bull & Claw: +++

1027 Charles Street
North Providence, RI 02904

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