JEFF RUBY'S STEAKHOUSE
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Photography courtesy of Jeff Ruby's Culinary Entertainment
Twenty-five years ago, I was a brand-new Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee in training at the Cincinnati headquarters of the burgeoning chain of college wing joints known back then as BW3. Celebrating with the franchise owners in Cincinnati always meant a visit to the Precinct – an old police station turned upscale steakhouse by the already legendary restaurateur Jeff Ruby. The Precinct appears regularly on short lists of the best steakhouses in America and always delivers a decidedly Jeff Ruby encounter: over the top, memorable and worth the investment.
By the time Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment (the name says a lot about the approach to developing restaurants) opened their Columbus Steakhouse in 2017, I felt well-familiar with the brand and had my own favorite high end spot. I hate to admit it, but I blew it off. About a year later, some girlfriends invited me to dinner at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse on Nationwide Boulevard. Knowing the reputation for incredible food and, almost more importantly, an extraordinary dining experience, I didn't expect to be necessarily “wowed” but certainly gratified. I was wrong. The historic building felt faintly familiar from my visits to the Precinct and characteristically opulent, but also very uniquely Columbus. The service and food was impeccable. Like Jeff Ruby, his eponymous eateries are in a league of their own.
For this article, I had the unexpected opportunity to sit down with Jeff Ruby himself. Anticipating a quick interview and hoping for a couple of useful soundbites, I was gifted with almost two hours of pure Jeff. Equal parts Frank Sinatra (it's more than the eyes), Bugsy Segal and John Wayne, Jeff Ruby is an unlikely head of a restaurant empire. With a list of accomplishments a mile long, he isn’t remotely boastful. Instead, he emphasizes his remarkable come-from-behind life – almost as if he barely believes it himself. He jumps around a laundry list of hard knocks, failures and heartbreaks, but always lands on the lesson, the growth and the redemption. He also can’t stop talking about his kids: his three biological children and the scores of “adopted” kids he has mentored and to whom he has served as a father figure throughout years of volunteering as a registered Big Brother and employing legions of young people.
Following our interview, I enjoyed a tasting experience like no other. With recommendations from Jeff, our server and the manager, a guest and I sampled a dizzying lineup of cocktails, sushi, appetizers, entrees and desserts. Though this is a steakhouse, the sushi and raw bar menu is impressive, with a simple selection of beautiful nigiri and sashimi and specialty rolls for every taste, including a lobster and filet roll that was heavenly. Jeff was insistent that we
try the King Crab and gave me some details about how carefully it is sourced, so by way of compromise (the sheer volume of food was becoming overwhelming), I ordered a deconstructed Jeff Ruby signature Collinsworth-crowned petite filet mignon. The Collinsworth steak topper is named for Ruby’s close friend, former pro football player and Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment investor, Cris Collinsworth. With Red King Crab, asparagus, bernaise and bordelaise, it is a steakhouse staple done right. My guest enjoyed the light and delicate Dover Sole, deboned table-side. No steakhouse visit is complete for me without a crabcake, and Jeff Ruby’s delivers a hearty portion of crab with just enough filler to bind without interfering with the delicious flavor. Share-able sides include a luscious mac and cheese, flavorful Loaded Potato Gratin, lightly spiced Roasted Cauliflower and Classic Creamed Spinach.
After dinner we were treated to a table-side production of Bananas Foster, with our server regaling us with his “Jeff Ruby story”: as a young boy, his father had taken him to the Precinct for his first grownup dining experience. After the 10 year old ordered A-1 with his steak, a gregarious Jeff Ruby came to the table to humorously chastise him for “ruining my steak.” Years later, when that same little boy was a grown man and accepting an offer for employment from the steakhouse that had wooed him so many years before, the offer came with a case of A-1. What had been a memorable experience for him had been remembered by the venerable Jeff Ruby, too.
Beyond the impeccable food and service, a Jeff Ruby dining experience is also about the ambiance. Deep red velvet upholstery lines the windows and gracious, tufted banquettes. The entire first floor exudes timeless sophistication with rich wood, glossy black accents, stained glass and large artwork. The Buckeye Room is an homage to OSU – with the necessary nods to sports, but also refined and thoughtful touches like buckeyeladen stained glass panels and a chandelier constructed from a sousaphone – “It's what they use to dot the “I” in script Ohio,” Jeff explains. Ruby and his team personally scour auctions and antique stores to source decor that will help them to tell the story of each location and the community in which it quickly becomes home.
What struck me most about the visit, though, was the way Jeff interacts with patrons and staff at the restaurant. Jeff Ruby's restaurants have always been “see and be seen” kinds of places – evidenced by the walls of photos featuring Jeff and a cast of celebrities. Heads of state, actors, musicians and especially sports figures go out of their way to not only visit a Jeff Ruby restaurant, but to get their picture taken with the fabled character. Despite the notoriety, Jeff ambles around the restaurant, noticeably restless, in an Ohio State sweatshirt and unlit cigar in his hand. As my guest and I sample the menu, Jeff falls just short of hovering, with an obvious concern that we had enjoyed his specific recommendations.
It can be easy to mistake exuberance for arrogance, but in the case of Jeff Ruby, he wears his heart on his sleeve. This self-described “Jersey kid” clearly remains as interested in making people proud today as in his hardest days as an emancipated high schooler endeavoring to please his football coach. Feeling compelled to know more? Visit one of his restaurants and buy his memoir, Not Counting Tomorrow, which is available on Amazon and at jeffruby.com. From someone who reads (and eats!) a lot, you’ll be glad you did.
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