Restaurant Review: Rip’s Longevity Proves Its Appeal
Mar 11, 2016 09:00AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Open 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs.; ’til 11 p.m. Fri.–Sat.
Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations not accepted but call ahead to put your name on the waiting list.
By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Rip’s Country Inn is unique in our area, in that it looks somewhat like a roadhouse seen in a country western movie. And I was more than pleasantly surprised with what I found inside: the down-home friendly service, the rustic horse-themed décor, the diversity of the patrons, and the expansive menu. This Bowie landmark, operated as a family business since 1952, continues to shine. Back then, Bowie was known as a center for horse racing and thoroughbred breeding and souvenirs of this colorful culture are on display at Rip’s.
Booths in individual “horse stalls” are equipped with their own wall switches so diners can modulate the lighting level to their liking. Harnesses, stirrups, bridles, saddles, and horse shoes are randomly displayed in the several dining areas, where patrons are seated in niches named after such four-legged luminaries as Man O’War and Sea Biscuit. It’s all very cozy and authentic.
With a no reservation policy, expect a wait at peak weekend dinnertimes. We struck up a conversation with a stranger named Mary, a Calvert County resident who confided she stops at Rip’s whenever she’s in the Bowie area. “I come for their liver—it’s the best,” said my new friend as I made a mental note to fact-check her advice. Soon enough we were called to a booth, where a server promptly appeared with a smile and ice water—lemon wedge and straw included.
Rip’s real estate includes a deli and a huge wine and spirits shop next door, and wine in the restaurant sold at retail prices. We eased into the evening with a glass of Rodney Strong chardonnay ($9) for me and an Argentinian Gascon Malbec ($10) for my companion. Oenophiles will be pleasantly surprised with the restaurant’s expansive wine list—an inspiration for the recent launch of wine dinners and tastings. Craft beers and cocktails are another source of pride here—with names like Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, New Belgium Flat Tire, and Angry Orchard Cider. Who knew?
But we were here to find out about the food—described by management as “from scratch,” i.e. everything from soups to desserts made on the premises. Two women—both named Stephanie— are in charge of the kitchen and change the menus with the seasons and sometimes weekly. Thanks, Stephanies, for the mini-loaves of hot cornbread accompanied by honey butter on a cutting board that came to the table with the menus and a page of evening specials.
Their version of hummus is a smooth blend of pureed chickpeas jazzed with sun-dried tomatoes and served with triangular cuts of toasted flatbread—a clever combination, though the hummus cried for more garlic. Soup de jour that evening was a flavorful split pea—just thick enough to coat the spoon and flecked with bits of ham and carrots. So far, so good.
Rip’s main courses include seven entrée salads—among them a combo of roasted beets, wafer-thin slices of Granny Smith apples, candied pecans, and goat cheese crumbles in a salted caramel vinaigrette that suggests “the Stephanies” keep up with current food trends. We sampled their impeccably fresh Caesar with crisp romaine leaves lightly coated with a tangy dressing and shavings of fresh Parmesan and garlicky croutons. The house salad—mixed greens with cucumber slices and baby tomatoes under a tangle of shredded carrots in a blue cheese dressing—looked and tasted like it, too, had been made minutes before arriving at our table.
From entrees organized under steaks and chops (filet mignon, rib eye topped with béarnaise sauce, a 12-ounce New York strip, and barbequed baby back ribs) we went with a 12-ounce pork chop paired with a homemade peach-blueberry relish ($24) and the weekend special of prime rib ($24 for 12-ounce/$26 for 14-ounce). Our eager-to-please server returned to the table with the news that the relish, a seasonal creation, was “out” but that cherries was the “understudy.” Fruit and pork are natural partners, and the crown of maraschino-style cherries proved a sweet enhancement for the tender chop, served with a passable pilaf.
Prime rib hit the sweet spot of my dining companion. Slow roasted to near-rare, then carved to order in the kitchen and seared according to taste, it was a flavorsome treat. True to its claim to “scratch cooking,” the restaurant’s garlicky mashed potatoes are the real thing—maybe not as creamy as some prefer but tasting mighty good. Dinners are served with a homey selection of two “sides” that include country-style green beans (translation: like your mother’s), stewed tomatoes, Harvard beets, mac and cheese, onion rings, baked russet or sweet potatoes, homemade coleslaw, or a small salad (house/Caesar or iceberg).
There’s something for everyone’s favorite home-style taste at Rips—from a hot turkey, roast beef, or pork loin open faced sandwich smothered in gravy to the restaurant’s signature beef/veal/pork meatloaf to grilled burgers, chicken breast, or hot dogs fancied up with brioche rolls. Illustrating the plain-to-fancy choices at Rips are the desserts—all made in-house. No surprise that bread pudding is a best-seller—served in a parfait glass with a sauce that whispers booze. I was surprised to find that the chocolate cake, layered with raspberry mousse, could stand up to competition from many upscale eateries. From beginning to end, our dinner at Rip’s was a series of surprises—and the staff deserves a tip of the hat.
P.S. I ordered a takeout of Rip’s famous calves liver and onions and understood why Mary of Calvert County had raved about it. The liver-lovers club (of which I am a member) is a small group. Rip’s version is simple—thick yet tender slices of meat under a blanket of sautéed onions—but delicious.