Long before Mt. Vernon Avenue became a fashionable place to dine and stroll, gazing at what all the shops had to offer, and long before Arlandria began getting a facelift on many of its storefronts, RT’s Restaurant was the choice for discriminating diners from all over the area. And it still is.
RT’s opened its doors on Oct. 10, 1985. Chris Wells, the general manager, has been there for 15 of those years.
“I would say that about 50 to 60 percent of our customers are regulars,” he said. “Our wait staff has been here for a long time and we know our customers. When someone comes in and sits down, chances are that one of the staff knows exactly what they are going to order from the bar and from the kitchen. And the food is always great. That’s what keeps people coming back.”
The food is a blend of New Orleans-style and Jim Cernak’s own twist. Cernak has been the chef at RT’s for 15 years. “He reads cook books like most people read novels,” Wells said. “When we sit down with the owner, Ralph Davis, to talk about menu selections, I just let them decide. I know what I like but they are the creative ones when it comes to cooking.”
CERNAK DIDN'T study at a fancy culinary arts institution. “I learned from the school of hard knocks,” he said. “And I like to travel so I bring back ideas from the different places I visit.”
His most recent addition to the menu is a flat iron steak. “It’s a new cut of meat that wasn’t really used before,” he said. “It comes from the shoulder and is very tender. We serve it with a special sauce, French fries and a blue cheese chop salad. People really like it.”
RT’s — it stands for Ralph Thomas — [Davis' middle name] was Davis’ first restaurant. He now owns six others, including the Warehouse and the Wharf in Alexandria. “He is very involved,” Wells said. “But we haven’t made many changes since the restaurant opened. Our customers wouldn’t allow it. There are just certain things that we have to serve, like our She Crab Soup and our crawfish etoufféé. We add specials but we keep the regular selections on our menu constant.”
Here are some of those recipes. Try them at home or stop by RT’s on Mt. Vernon Ave. for fine food and friendly conversation.
SHE CRAB SOUP
1 Stick sweetened Butter (1/4 lb.)
1 Small onion - chopped fine
2 Leeks - chopped fine (white part only)
1 Heaping T. shallots - minced
2 t. Salt
1 t. Ground black pepper
1 t. Paprika
1/2 T. Cayenne pepper
1/4 t. Ground thyme
1/4 t. Ground oregano
1 t. Garlic
4 Heaping T. white flour
1/2 Gallon whole milk
1 Qt. Heavy whipping cream
1 lb. Backfin lump crab
1 c. Cream sherry
Parsley for garnish
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan.
Add the onions, leeks and shallots and sauté until the onions are translucent. Do not brown them. Add the spices and mix thoroughly. Add the flour, mix until all the liquid is incorporated. Cook over low heat for a few minutes. Transfer this roux to a large double boiler; gradually whisk milk into the roux until thoroughly mixed. Cook until soup begins to bubble, stirring often. Slowly add the heavy whipping cream and heat until it begins to boil again. Remove from heat and add the cream sherry and crabmeat. Garnish with parsley and serve warm.
3 sticks Unsalted butter (2 sticks to be cold)
12 oz. Thinly sliced, uncooked chicken breast
24 shrimp Peeled and deveined (21-25 count)
12 oz.Thinly sliced andouille sausage
12 oz. Roast pork or tasso ham diced small
2 T. Garlic, chopped
1/2 c. each -Chopped scallions, green bell pepper red bell pepper
1 c. each -Chopped white onion and chopped tomatoes
1 t. each -Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 t. each - Cayenne pepper, thyme leaves and oregano leaves
1 t. Paprika
2T. Tomato paste
2 c. Veal or chicken stock
4 T. Chopped parsley
24 oz each -Cooked penne rigate* pasta and Cooked spinach penne rigate* pasta
Melt 1 stick of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add chicken and shrimp. When chicken and shrimp are partially cooked, add sausage, pork, garlic, chopped vegetables, salt, black and cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano and paprika. Cook for several minutes until vegetables are partially cooked. Add tomato paste and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat until sauce is fairly thick. Remove from pan and add the remaining cold butter, swirling the pan with one hand and stirring with the other until the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Add the parsley and two cooked pastas and mix thoroughly or pour sauce directly over the hot pasta.
*Penne rigate is a large tube-shaped pasta that is cut on a diagonal and has a ridged outer surface.