Nostalgia and a Whole Lotta’ Heart
Sep 02, 2018 12:00AM ● Published by Brian Saucedo
By Rita Calvert Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
With Bowie being the former hub of Maryland horse racing, dining at Rips Country Inn is nostalgia personified...certainly a unique experience in the midst of a franchise deluge. Rips—Comfort with a Kick, as their sign says.
As we strolled in, we asked the host if we might get a booth in the charming “barn” room with booths reminiscent of pristine horse stalls, albeit with au courant lighting, and sleek brushed stainless-covered menus. We were ushered to “Nashua’s Stall” and found it cozy and quiet, even with a good crowd around us. We enjoyed the horse themed artifacts adorning the dining areas, which include more open rooms with traditional tables and chairs adjacent to the barn booths.
Our friendly server, Andy, greeted us quickly and delivered water with fresh lemon wedges. He offered us two specials: Chicken Corn Chowder, “Tastes like the inside of a chicken pot pie,” he quipped, and Black and Blue Rib Eye Steak, a full 14-ounce behemoth (larger than the regular 12-ounce ribeye), blackened seasoning with blue cheese and bacon crumbles.
Wine lovers alert: Wine bottles in the restaurant are sold at the same retail prices as Rip’s adjacent liquor store. This is part of Rip’s program for their wine tasting dinners, which I’ll explain later. Libations are important at Rip’s, where the bar bills itself as a “scratch bar” and the “only craft bar in Bowie.” Not only did the wine selection offer a careful curation, there also are 27 craft beers and a full sheet of “handmade” cocktails made with fresh juices, purees, and unique ingredients like the flamed orange peel. My dining companion thoroughly enjoyed her Kick in the Raspberries drink, with jalapeno-infused tequila, house made raspberry syrup, and lime juice. It was a good choice after contemplating the other unusual and tempting options. “Next time,” she said.
Fried Green Tomatoes caught our eye on the starter menu with an upscale finish of Goat Cheese and Jalapeno Sauce. The gussied-up country favorite arrived with panko crusted slices arranged side-by-side with the fixings drizzled on top. The four slices were tasty, although one slice was overly green and crunchy, which must illustrate the challenge of finding the perfect ripeness of a green tomato. No matter, we ate every bite even though we also ordered the Fried Calamari. We might have found that common starter easy to skip—but at Rip’s, the calamari are fresh, not frozen, and given an in-house flour dusting before flash frying. We found the teriyaki sesame dipping sauce very sweet, and Andy was most gracious about bringing us some house made garlic aioli to try also. I suppose we could have called it a night right there, especially with the sweet little loaf of corn bread served gratis with honey butter. But the temptations were too great, so on to the entrees.
With the menu offering two different crab cakes, we asked Andy to clarify the difference. The individual six-ounce lump version is broiled and served with a blanket of beurre blanc sauce. Two four-ounce cakes are composed of backfin meat and deep fried. Andy said you can get the 4-ounce cakes broiled as well. I chose the large single and was pleased by the broiled style along with the extra portion of tasty buerre blanc sauce I asked for. There are quite a few sides to choose from, but I chose the standby baked sweet potato and mixed vegetables.
My friend indulged in the special ribeye. Whoa boy, it’s a whopper. No skimping on the toppers either; plenty of crispy bacon and blue cheese. Flavorful beef, cooked to medium rare just as ordered. The blackened spice was apparent too, but with a welcome light touch, especially with the other toppings. She thought about mashed potato, but went with baked, and also the classic spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Still bright green—very nicely done, not overdone like fresh spinach so often is.
All desserts are made in-house—a nice surprise these days—so we had a hard time deciding. We went with sharing the large cube of pecan-studded carrot cake which arrived warm with cream cheese icing oozing down the sides. It skewed overly sweet for this gal, but I’m sure it would delight most. Swirls of whipped cream were flounced with thin gratings of fresh carrot—just charming. And Andy offered to brew a fresh pot of decaf just for us.
The retail store was generous with information on the wine tasting dinners which take place two to three times a year. They are held when the owner or wine maker can attend. Dinners accommodate 30 people and are priced according to the evening’s menu and wine pairings.
Now we know why Rip’s still pulls in big crowds after more than a half-century. With its generous service, substantial portions, an ambitious focus on house-made ingredients and fresh twists on many classics, plus an intriguing bar, there’s a lot here to enjoy.