published Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Side Orders: I just can't wait for Ruth's Chris

It's been several years since rumors began to circulate about the opening of a Ruth's Chris Steak House in Chattanooga. If your mouth has been watering for one of their juicy steaks, the wait soon will be over.

The new Ruth's Chris is projected to open toward the end of summer in the Waterside development off Shallowford Road, according to Nancy Oswald, franchisee of the future Chattanooga location, as well as the co-owner of nine other Ruth's Chris franchises.

"Chattanooga has enjoyed a recent economic and cultural renaissance," she said, making it a "dynamic market" for the restaurant.

Honestly, though, I couldn't wait. So I made a trip to Cherokee, N.C., to try the newest Ruth's Chris location at Harrah's. If you're planning to go anywhere during the upcoming holiday season, I recommend you hop in your car and make the lovely three-hour drive to Cherokee. After an afternoon on the greens at Sequoyah National Golf Club, which is touted as the ninth-best golf course in North Carolina, my husband and I were ready to dig in.

While there are plenty of appetizers on the menu, you may want to bypass them to save room for your steak. I couldn't resist a salad with the steakhouse's homemade dressings, though. The citrus vinaigrette was amazing.

My petite filet was the best steak I've ever had. It cut like butter. Though the tender filet would have been delicious on its own, I went with extra toppings -- blue cheese and a dusting of panko bread crumbs.

Pair any dish with a glass of wine from the award-winning wine list, and you have a meal of which dreams are made. You know what I'm talking about ... food that you simply won't forget.

Speaking of memories, I discovered that this tourist town is a far cry from the Cherokee of old. When I was a youngster, I remember watching as Cherokee Indians danced for tourists along the town's main street, which was filled with trinkets made in China. You'll still find that there today, but Harrah's has changed a lot about this town.

Restaurants have opened, replacing mom-and-pop eateries of old, but Granny's, which is right up the road from Harrah's, still gets rave reviews. Back inside the resort, you'll find Ruth's Chris, Paula Deen's Kitchen, as well as Brio's Tuscan Grille, Johnny Rockets, Uno Pizza, The Noodle Bar and several others.

There's no denying that Ruth's Chris is best known for its steaks, but its side orders also are growing in popularity. I've never been a big fan of sweet potatoes until I took a bite of the sweet potato casserole that my husband ordered to go with his T-bone. I couldn't stop eating it. It changed my mind completely, and now I love sweet potatoes, at least prepared by Ruth's Chris.

Our server, Candace, informed us that it has become one of the restaurant's signature dishes and that the recipe is on the company's website. I'm sharing it here. Let me know what you think. I plan to give it a try and see if it turns out just as good as I ate at the restaurant.

Ruth's Chris Sweet Potato Casserole

Crust:

1 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1 cup chopped nuts (pecans preferred)

1/4 cup butter, melted

Sweet potato mixture:

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (see note)

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla (see note)

2 eggs, well beaten

1/2 cup butter, melted

Combine crust ingredients in mixing bowl. Set aside. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sweet potatoes, sugar, salt, vanilla, eggs and butter in a mixing bowl in the order listed. Mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the surface of the sweet potato mixture evenly with the crust mixture. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to set at least 30 minutes before serving.

Note: If you use canned sweet potatoes, drain very well so the mixture won't be too soupy. Also, I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla and loved it even more.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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