Have you been to Ruski’s? The Danforth St. dive might be the quintessential neighborhood bar. They’ve got the shabby interior, the ornery wait staff, they open early every day, their prices are reasonable, and the menu says they’ve been “serving the west end for over 150 years”. Sure, I don’t remember the day they opened, but I do remember my first visit and I was looking forward to trying my first breakfast this time, hoping that it would be something to remember for a long time too.
We arrived at about 9:30 on a Saturday morning – they opened at 7 – to a modest and diverse crowd. Some patrons looked like they just got out of work and were having cocktails, some brought the family for breakfast, and a few people looked like they were recovering from the night before. We just wanted a morning feeding and maybe a cocktail to begin our day. As I sat, I looked around some at their old decor which I always find interesting. I noted the “Beer – it’s what’s for dinner” sign and the 25¢ vending machines. I also noticed a board with some drink specials, and though they seemed great, none of them were appropriate for my breakfast.
When the waitress visited, we took a second-long look at the menu and Mrs. Portlandeater ordered a Coffee. When that was delivered, she added a Mimosa and I followed up with a Spicy Bloody Mary. We then looked for something to eat. I wanted both something hearty and something sweet, which is often the case when I venture out of the house for my first meal of the day. My eyes mainly focused on the more expensive items since I was hungry as could be and assumed the pricier meals came with the most food.
Once our drinks were delivered, we were ready to order. I went with the Fill Me Up, Please – 2 eggs, hash and bacon, home fries, toast plus choice of ham, sausage patties, local Italian sausage, or extra bacon. I chose the Italian sausage, eggs over hard, and a biscuit. I also ordered a Single Pancake to cover my yearning for something sugary. She decided on the Just Enough – 2 eggs, home fries, toast, choosing scrambled eggs and grilled English muffin. With that done, I looked over to my bloody to give me some pre-meal juice joy.
The close-to-crimson, cock crow cocktail in front of me was tasty, a little spicy, and otherwise pretty standard. I always appreciate the extras in them and found the pepperoncini, olive, and celery that were included. I didn’t plan on consuming the olive and was uncertain about the celery, but I was all about the pepper. I took it into my hands, folded it in half and threw it in my mouth. It had a spice that was a little strong for mid-morning and I realized quickly that it was a harsh way to wake myself up. Though it’s not a hard and fast rule, I don’t generally eat whole hot – even mildly hot – peppers before noon. Nonetheless, I shook it off and got back to my beverage.
A waitress walked to our table with all the food we had ordered. My meal was huge and though it was hidden under bacon and sausage topped by a biscuit, there was a helping of hash the the size of a fish filet on my plate. What surprised me even more was the the size of the pancake which hid a large portion of the plate on which it was delivered. My wife’s meal was a little smaller, but still pretty serious considering it seemed as though it was supposed to be tiny. I could hardly wait to eat as I squirted some ketchup next to my home fries and grabbed my silverware.
My eggs were perfectly over hard and the bacon as crispy as could be, so I was off to a good start. The sausage was sliced down the middle, and though a little less seasoned than I like, was still pretty good and quite a bit larger than expected. The biscuit was flakey and freshly grilled. I saved the hash to try last. It’s one of my favorites and a couple bites made the meal feel complete. Occasionally eating it with the ketchup, it mixed well with everything else I had and added to the unnecessary, but appreciated, mass of meat in the meal.
It took a while to get through the gargantuan gastronomic glut that was my plate of food and when I was done, I felt pretty full. I took a moment to let the last bite of animal flesh hit the bottom of my digestive tract and then I remembered it. I slowly turned my head to the left as though I was trying not to get caught staring and the corner of my eye began to catch the pancake. I had nearly forgotten about it, but I knew I could not stop now. I pulled it in front of me, grabbed the syrup on the table, and squeezed enough of it onto the cake to sweeten the flapjack to my standards. Then I put the fork to it like it stole my lunch money. Ahhh…the sweet, sweet taste of a good pancake. There was the fix I needed.
Eating the pancake wasn’t easy after all the other food, but I did get a second wind after my first few bites allowing me to get through it all without any serious gastrointestinal discomfort. The wife and I both finished our food and drinks and decided it was time to go home and relax on a day that was expected to be wet and miserable. We paid our tab of $36 before tip and went on our way, venturing outside into the drops of rain. Fortunately, even showers and dark clouds couldn’t take away the joy of having had a meal at Ruski’s. That happiness would stick with us for hours.
Ruski’s has a vibe that is part dive and part super-dive. The crowd there is made up of all kinds of people just looking to enjoy some food and drink where, depending on their mood, they can either not be bothered at all or have a conversion with the person right next to them. The wait staff will get you anything you want, but they might give you that look – you know that look – if you don’t ask for it just right. The food is not even close to high end, but always seems to satisfy. It’s much better and served in greater quantity than the prices would indicate. And the drinks are solid every time too. If you like dives, Ruski’s might as well be Greg Louganis. Go and hang out there for a while. It just feels right.
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