New Orleans is a unique city where I spent close to five years of my life.
I studied psychology at the Xavier University of Louisiana and while I was in one of the most creative culinary cities, I didn’t appreciate the food as best as I could have. It’s a regret of mine and one that I plan to rectify by returning to the city to envelope myself in as much food as possible. As I wait until the day I can return, I like to find places in Los Angeles that can create food as delicious as that which can be found in NOLA. As I was invited to Ritter’s Steam Kettle Cooking I was excited to try plates that could be reminiscent of my time in the south. The moment I walked into the busy restaurant, I could smell the Louisiana style cooking immediately.
The restaurant owned by Mike Ritter brings Cajun creole cooking with local flare to everyone who can grab a seat inside the busy restaurant. Cooking the food in steam kettles offers guests plates and bowls that are evenly cooked, customizable, and fun to watch. Ritter who is from the south side of Chicago discovered southern cooking while at a friend’s church repass. From that day, the interest and exploration of southern cooking grew and after working in various kitchens learning unique techniques, Ritter opened the restaurant that carries his last name. From hearing the excitement in his story, I was more than ready to try the dishes I ordered.
The first plate to the table was the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($13). A handful of deep fried molasses and brown sugar marinated shrimp were wrapped in bacon and served with a molasses mustard sauce. Prior to picking them up to try them, I can admit that I never paid much attention to molasses aside from using the phrase, “slow as molasses”. Although it may not have the best reference, in the bacon wrapped shrimp it was almost essential. I loved the way the molasses paired with the brown sugar and then soaked up the saltiness from the bacon creating a sweet tanginess that cloaked the shrimp. It was hard to talk about it without making it seem like it was more than it was, a condiment that probably gets forgotten about in the back of the cupboard, but the moment Ritter pulled it out and mixed it onto the shrimp, it became almost magical.
After the bacon wrapped shrimp I took hold of the Softshell Crab Po’ Boy Sandwich ($15). The po’ boy was prepared on a French roll with mayonnaise, creole mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, and Cajun Trinity served with Cajun fries. Diving into the plate my hands went to the fries first. They varied in seasoning throughout with some lightly dressed fries to others heavily coated. The seasoning was perfectly spiced to the point that it gently tingles across your lips, but also keeps you coming back for more of the sweet and salty burn. After I stopped myself from creating what could be turned into the next potato famine I directed my attention to the sandwich. Smashing the stuffed soft shell crab further between the book ends of bread I was able to get a better handle on the monstrosity that sat in my hands, both hands to be accurate. Biting into the toasted bread it was easy to see that I could be taken down by this sandwich. Not that I would give up without a fight I gave it an honest try. Bite after bite gave heavy portions of the soft shell crab that was exactly as its name implies. Soft and beautifully cooked releasing delicious flavors and spices with each touch to the tongue. The Cajun Trinity of onions, bell peppers, and celery that was paired with the creole mustard gave the po’ boy a set of individual flavor components that gently made way as they were compressed. It was spicy and acidic and then gradually became mild as the mustard and mayonnaise began to creep through. It didn’t take long for me to admit defeat and consider the fact that maybe I had dove in too deep with the fries after all.
I managed to make room for the next plate. Ritter’s Famous House Gumbo ($23) which was a large gumbo comprised of okra, Cajun Trinity, and Andouille pork sausage that was cooked in a full flavor dark roux sauce served with white rice. The best part about this gumbo was you get to select your choice of meat or seafood to add to the bowl I went with shrimp, crab, clams, and whitefish. To complete the order, I adjusted the level of spiciness to an average five out of ten. As I tasted it, it was still hot to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if I left with a mild case of heartburn. Should that occur as a result of this delicious gumbo it was welcome and I would deal with the consequences later. As of now, the delight from the enormous bowl came the moment I tasted what sat on the first spoon. The consistency bordered on a perfect thickness where it wasn’t too dense and weighted that it was difficult to navigate through the bowl. The immense amount of seafood, particularly shrimp, was more than I expected. From other restaurants you may be lucky if you find a second shrimp, in this bowl I felt like I found a second pool of shrimp. Mixing it all in with the sausage and rice brought forth a flavorful array that was delicious from start to finish.
The last plate of the dinner was the dessert. A trio of Beignets ($6) were covered in powdered sugar and paired with a chocolate mousse. Eating the beignets it was easy to see that they were sweet, soft, and fulfilled the dessert need that I had at the end of the meal. Dipping them into the whipped mousse gave it another layer of taste making it the perfect way to end the meal.
Although I spent close to five years living in New Orleans, I didn’t appreciate the food as much as I should have. While I can’t go back into the past to change how I should have eaten, I can make the future a bit more tasty. Sure I can always grab a plane ticket and make my way back down to New Orleans, but in the meantime I’m glad I have a piece of Cajun food close to home.
- Food tastes great
- Friendly staff
- Can be pricey
- Limited space in parking lot