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Ralic’s Steakhouse

by James Verde

Ralic’s Steakhouse: Prime Time
26 S. Haddon Ave., Haddonfield
(856) 616-1520
4 forks

Haddon Avenue is not a stretch that wants for great steaks. Driving down the tree-and-restaurant-lined boulevard, you’ll find your fair share of prime cuts, not to mention countless trattorias and American BYOBs that know their way around a piece of beef. Ralic’s Steakhouse is the latest establishment on the avenue gunning for your carnivorous affections. Managing partner and South Jersey resident David Ralic opened the restaurant in mid-June and hired Burlington-bred chef Ed Battaglia, whose name you may recognize from season seven of Gordon Ramsay’s TV cooking competition, Hell’s Kitchen. They met through a friend of Ralic’s wife, a social worker at the school where Battaglia taught culinary arts.

“It was a marriage made in heaven,” Ralic says. “We needed a chef, and Ed needed a forum to let his talents be shared with the public.”

South Jersey steak aficionados are richer for the union. The restaurant sources gorgeous beef from Swedesboro Prime Meats & Seafood in Philadelphia (the same butcher that supplies Georges Perrier), and because the soothing cream-colored dining room is so diminutive (just 28 seats inside, plus 16 on the sidewalk), each dish gets Battaglia’s personal attention. When you order your strip loin, filet mignon, rib eye or porterhouse medium-rare, it arrives medium-rare.

Non-steak choices like roasted chicken with Manchego-enriched polenta and rack of lamb anointed with rosemary oil sound tempting, but heed your server’s advice: At Ralic’s steak is king. Battaglia cooks five cuts, grilling or pan-searing after a liberal rub with salt and crushed black pepper, fragments of which cling to the meat’s surface.

Though I loved the caramely roasted-shallot sweetness of the silky brandied cream sauce draped over the lean, 30-day-dry-aged 12-ounce strip, the 16-ounce rib eye is my pick, a double-down of intense beefiness thanks to heavy marbling and a trim belt of molten fat encircling the bone-in chop. This is not the kind you need a hacksaw to cut through. No, it was rich and luscious, singed on the outside, soft as butter and totally edible. Each bite of the rosy red meat delivered a concentrated shot of flavor. Ralic’s doesn’t offer steak sauce: they don’t need to.

While the excellent beef helps separate Ralic’s from the steakhouse pack, the rest of the menu does even more to distinguish it. This restaurant is no one-trick cowboy, evidenced even by the vegetables Battaglia thoughtfully pairs with the steaks. Creamy chickpeas and crisp, slender haricots verts mingled with red onion in a picnic-worthy chilled salad dressed with sharp lemon, which worked like a palate-cleanser with the unctuous rib eye. The leaner strip was coupled with toothy sautéed spinach and gold fingerling potatoes I could have eaten an entire plate of; Battaglia pan-roasted them in lots of butter, and you can taste the luxurious fat in each spud.

Starters showcase real finesse, too, from perfectly seared scallops over sweet, nutty celery root puree with truffled shiitakes, to an uncommonly crisp wedge salad with thick-cut North Country Smokehouse bacon, chopped tomatoes and a flow of Gorgonzola dressing. Even staid old shrimp cocktail gets a makeover, with jumbo crustaceans, chunky house-made cocktail sauce and a halo of lemony coriander oil.

That cocktail sauce could use a heavier dose of horseradish zip, one of a few small tweaks I’d make to Ralic’s. I’d also cut the rib eye thicker—an extra half-inch would go a long way—and give the menu, divided into categories entitled Embark, Graze, Experience and Indulge, a modern rewrite.

Staffed by warm, able servers, Ralic’s is really on the right track, and only gets better with desserts made by Cherry Hill native and former Cake Boss pastry chef Toni Walton. (Double dose of reality TV!) She enrobes moist red velvet cake with light chocolate frosting and stuffs it with an Oreo center, and adds bourbon and sweet/salty maple-bacon brittle to a golden apple bread pudding made with challah French toast. There might be plenty of places for steak on this street, but maple-bacon brittle? Only at Ralic’s.

Photo: (Douglas Bovitt) Shrimp cocktail gets a modern makeover thanks to homemade cocktail sauce and a touch of lemony coriander oil.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6 (September, 2011).
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