Driving Powers Boulevard, you couldn't miss Ruby's Diner with all its '40s glam and the burgundy vintage Oldsmobile out front. But rigid franchise rules left owner Steve Link cold, and in late January, he decided to step out on his own with a makeover of the restaurant.
Shedding the '40s frock, what's now called Stevie Ray's Eastside Grill has gone through a spectacular transformation, leaving only a ceiling-circling model train behind. Gone is the bright, red-trimmed white exterior, replaced by a less visible, brown-trimmed, muted taupe that doesn't hint at the stylish interior. Think: rich, dark chocolate blends with pale blue and yellow accents, and artful glass vases inside wall cutouts. A wall of shiny blue tiles, which Link himself placed by hand, now frames the window to the kitchen, and bottles of Blue Sapphire line a small, tiled bar area.
Sexy. But maybe a little too sexy. The upscale décor seems to over-shoot much of the menu's caliber.
As our server proudly shares, most of the Ruby's dishes remain. You can still fill up on breakfast treats, Oreo shakes, burgers, sandwiches and salads. For lunch, the Hawaii Chicken Burger ($9.49) with a juicy, large chicken breast, grilled pineapple, double Swiss and a drizzle of teriyaki proved solid. But the Pastrami Ruben ($8.99), toasted nicely on marble rye, brings too much Thousand Island dressing and could benefit from a little more meat.
With the freedom to veer off Ruby's script, Link offers a new burger that dares ordering: Stevie Ray's Favorite. At $8.99, the thick creation consists of double Swiss and two slices of bacon with a special house sauce and ... creamy peanut butter? I got it and didn't get it at the same time. The peanut butter didn't destroy the burger, but failed to add much either.
With constant topping off of water and coffee, the staff never left me feeling forgotten. The batch of mostly Ruby's veterans appear happy with the changes that many of them helped facilitate — painting during the transition and the like.
Dinner seems to be where most of the menu changes have occurred, with traditional favorite additions like pot roast, steaks and chops. We chose to go with the fish of the day, a halibut steak ($14.99) and the glazed pork chops ($11.99).
While waiting, a random, complimentary offering of a few carrot sticks with ranch appeared, followed up by sweet and flaky small corn muffins filled with whole corn kernels. The delicious muffins, free with entrees, made the four carrot sticks feel like an unnecessary and odd gift. Up next: The fanciful steak tip appetizer ($9.49) of tender top sirloin bites under gorgonzola and pico de gallo failed to excite, with the cheese overwhelming the beef.
Our entrees were simple, yet arrived competently prepared. The grilled Halibut steak (blackened if you prefer, I did not) arrived succulent yet firm over a starkly basic rice pilaf with fresh broccoli. My husband's pork chops were moist with a tasty glaze, but the meat lacked flavor.
Call it Pretty Woman syndrome: In its current form, the please-all menu pulls and tugs at itself like a kid in a suit for the first time. Once memories of Ruby's fade, Stevie Ray's will have to surpass sliders to justify the gorgeous new wardrobe.
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