Surf and turf remain the best part of Rick’s eclectic menu
Rick’s Café Boatyard
345 Riverfront Drive
Open seven days
Don’t worry about the Missouri River. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard is doing fine – it has its own 10-foot flood wall and is high and dry, despite that the public riverfront park below is under water. The road to the restaurant is open, but is closed a little north of the restaurant. With all that water, seafood seemed just the thing on a recent visit. Heat drove us inside to the nautical-themed great room, a huge space three storeys tall, all done up in white, including the timbers, ducts and ceiling fans. The big, novel dining room seats over 200 and a couple hundred more can dine on the beautiful deck running along the east window wall of the restaurant. Even more can congregate around an outdoor bar on a raised platform. In good weather, this is one of the premier outdoor dining spots in the metro.
Rick’s, which has a sibling in Indianapolis, has always had an eclectic menu that includes chicken and pasta, sandwiches, steaks and chops, soups, salads, and even pizza. The menu may be too big – why the pastas? On past visits we’ve had excellent steaks (strip, ribeye, filet) and the signature house cut pork chops. But this time seafood was front and center – two seafood appetizers and two seafood entrees. Rick’s has plenty of seafood choices, including coconut shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, fresh blue point oysters (off the menu, just ask for them), King Crab legs, walleye, catfish, North Atlantic salmon, whitefish, sea scallops and some of the best calamari in town, plus Maryland crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and lobster tails. Also off the menu are oyster shooters: one and half ounce of vodka, a like amount of cocktail, and one oyster – for $3.50 each.
What was different on this visit was the new chef, Dave Bordelon, a Texas/Louisiana native (as his name suggests) who has added a Southwestern/Cajun-Creole touch to many dishes, including the seafood items. Our appetizers were the crab-stuffed mushrooms ($12) – big fat mushrooms, sizzling from the wood oven, with thick mozzarella cheese collars and a tangy, offbeat, Morrnay sauce – plus the mesquite-grilled Szechuan sea scallops ($12): plump, tender, with a wonderful Szechuan barbecue sauce that was subtle, mildly spicy and unique. These beauties come with a calamari salad, enlivened by a miso-ginger sauce. Bordelon is something of a magician with sauces, melding various styles – Asian, Southwestern, Cajun in subtle ways , never going wrong. He doesn’t overdo it or overwhelm his basic ingredients. The saucing adds an extra dimension, but is never obtrusive.
Among appetizers, in the past we’ve tried the tempura-fried calamari ($10), tender, and served with an ancho chili aioli; the Parmesan artichoke-crab dip ($11), a smooth concoction of blue crab, Parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts – rich and cheesy, served with crispy, multi-hued fried pita dips; Oysters Rockefeller ($12), with plump, fresh blue point oysters smothered in a meld of spinach and parmesan cheese; and the chicken cordon bleu fingers ($9), delicately wrapped with Swiss cheese and ham and deep fried, served with mustard.
A small Boatyard Caesar salad was traditional in ingredients and flavor, except for cherry tomatoes; the blue cheese broiled steak salad was much larger (enough for two) and delicious - various mesclun greens, very tender and fresh, tossed with blue cheese bits, candied walnuts, and with a lovely, subtle sherry vinaigrette ($15). Unfortunately, the steak was not shaved, rare, and served in the salad. Instead it stood next to the salad and was a bit tough. Shaving it paper-thin in the salad would have taken care of that problem (entree steaks, it should be noted, are juicy and tender).
Our seafood entrees were the tempura-fried jumbo shrimp ($20) and the grilled fisherman’s platter ($35). The shrimp are huge – prawn-size, moist and crisp, with a crunchy tempura batter coating and served with a knockout jalapeno-mango glaze that is an example of the fine art of saucing – thick and sweet, with a burst of flavor and heat, but never excessive. This is a terrific entrée. If you like your seafood without sauces, au naturel so to speak, then the Fisherman’s Platter may be your dish, as the selections, on skewers and in a long boat dish, are served simply with lemon butter (easy on the lemon) and they include a beautiful little filet of salmon (perfectly grilled outside, tender and moist inside), a half lobster tail, beautiful, plain-grilled jumbo shrimp and the large, mesquite-grilled scallops. All had the patina of the grill in look and flavor, complemented by the rich butter. Both these entrees came with a Cajun/Southwestern kind of rice, light and fluffy, dark-spicy, long-grained and somewhat resembling Mexican rice or Louisiana “dirty rice” (but without the chicken livers) and “el dente” squash, cauliflower, broccoli and red bell pepper chunks.
We went with seafood this trip, but the nightly special was two and a half pounds of pork ribs, spice-rubbed and slow-cooked ($25).There is a lot more on the menu – maybe too much, but including a pork tenderloin and other sandwiches, a burger, teriyaki chicken, and wood-fired pizzas. At first glance the pizzas ($10) may seem thin crust, boutique style pizzas, useful as an appetizer, but when you bite in, you’ll find the cheese layer thick, with tasty ovals of Italian sausage, traditional pepperoni slices, fresh mushrooms and a delicious herb-marinara flavor in the “traditional” choice ($10) – it would make a meal for two if a couple of appetizers and/or salads were added. Other pizzas now include chicken tostada, BBQ chicken, and Margherita.
Desserts (around $5) include crème brulee, “death by chocolate,” mud pie, mile-high chocolate pie, white-chocolate raspberry cheesecake, a Reese’s peanut butter cheesecake, and a mild, subtle key lime pie that is not overly fudgy-lemon or overly sweet.
To match this enormous list of food items, Rick’s has 63 wines by the bottle and 35 by the glass. Beers, in bottles or on tap include Beck’s Dark, Blue Moon, Heineken, Guiness, Boulevard Wheat, Amstel light, Lucky Bucket (local), Red Stripe, Sierra Nevada, Fat Tire, Sam Adams, Budweiser, Miller, and, among others, Hopluia, an interesting mix of sweet and bitter from Cortland, Nebraska. Manager Phillip Shadid oversees the place smoothly, service from server Ian was perfect and well-informed, and the view of the Missouri River, taken at the flood, was extraordinary.
To appreciate Rick’s, stick with the basics – seafood, steaks and the wonderful appetizers (including the seafood chowder). Don’t wander off into the far corners of the menu. Chef Bordelon has brought some distinction, not to mention imagination, to the sauces, but the seafood and beef mainstays, plus salads, are the thing here. They are all the better for his careful saucing.