MCRUINS: FAST FOOD WORTH WAITING FOR
I’m freshly showered. Teeth are brushed, I’ve got on some clean clothes—not a kitchen uniform for once. There’s no real need to dress up. I’m not going on a date. I’m all dapper for some fast food.
Weird, I know. But it’s worth it.
It’s an icy Monday evening, mid-winter, and Ruins Restaurant is packed from booth to barstool. This unassuming corner joint is deliciously quirky, with a rotating menu showcasing the kitchen’s versatility. Each month, this foodie hotspot flexes its culinary muscle, taking a particular world cuisine and melding it with the establishment’s ethic of uncomplicated, well executed, crowd-pleasing fare. One week could be Eastern European, the next, Mexican—all sculpted with the casual creativity that is unique to Ruins.
But tonight I’m here for Ruins’ hip transformation into the otherwise-shunned world of fast food, dubbed “McRuins”. And like any art, culinary or otherwise, it’s hard to beat simple things done well. Monday evenings, Ruins becomes an unpretentious-yet-refined slinger of burgers, sandwiches and fries. Their approachable, certainly recognizable, dishes are both nostalgic and elevated: they comfort and surprise all at once.
Our group arrived around 6 o’clock to a packed house and a line nearly out the door (true to the fast food theme, customers order at the bar on McRuins night). But waiting in this line is nothing like standing in the fluorescent-lit lobbies of a drive-thru. People wanted to be here—they were proud to be here.
THE MCRUINS MENU
As the early crowd thinned, we quickly made our way to the front of the bar. The chalkboard menu along the southern wall made us feel right at home: it was straightforward, laid-back, and sounded damn tasty. There was a lot to be excited about, and we wanted to sample a little bit of everything. We each ordered a different item and made our way to a booth by the window. Halfway through our drinks ($5 Olympia with a shot!), the food was brought to our table. We stared in awe, we salivated, and then we cut those bad boys into thirds and passed everyone a slice.
I first scarfed a rich peanut butter burger, savory and fatty in all the best ways (if only Elvis could try this one). Next was the Viet-French hybrid, the bahn mi. Like much of the cuisine of SE Asia, this staple’s greatest strength is the kaleidoscope of flavors & textures: marinated & grilled pork, tangy pickled veggies, and the crunchy freshness of herbs, all corralled by a crusty baguette (thom ngon indeed). The Nashville chicken sandwich lived up to its name with spicy breading, pickles, and a sweet chili sauce—the kind of sandwich that leaves you with more flavor than unused bread. But the standout was the restaurant’s take on the ubiquitous Big Mac.
AN AMERICAN TRADITION
The Big Mac is a classic for several reasons: it’s nostalgic; it’s found everywhere; and it’s honed a flavor balance that only corporate lab research can (or should?) attain. A true household name. While eschewing the simplicity which accompanies corporate “restaurants,” Ruins has captured the same indulgence, the same gratuitous joy, associated with simplistic Americana cuisine. Their take on the American icon is spot-on.
The beef patty is well-grilled and properly seasoned. The “special” sauce balances sweet, savory and creamy, a perfect amalgam of Russian dressing and the slight brininess of pickle. The shredded iceberg lettuce and toasted sesame bun all contain and temper this milieu. The Big Mac at Ruins is approachable and elevated, a successful teeter-tottering that makes for a delicious experience. With a side of dirty fries, it’s, dare I say, better than the original. Not to mention, the buns are made from scratch, in-house. Who needs golden arches when you’ve golden kitchen execution?
Like a neighborhood diner, but with cooks that could easily hang in fine dining, Ruins is simultaneously comforting and welcomingly challenging. I can’t wait for their next take on iconic American (and world) cuisines (check their FaceBook page for frequent updates). No matter the night’s menu, the palate will recognize the morsel, but the brain will be surprised by its delicious execution. It’s what approachable cuisine should be.
Guess I’ll be dressing up for fast food more often.