Rittenhouse Grill celebrates 25 years in Philadelphia

-Brenda Hillegas

photo courtesy of En Route Marketing

The vibe at Rittenhouse Grill immediately won me over. Tell me- where else can you find a leopard print carpet, live piano music playing upbeat tunes (like Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”) and a list of cocktails that will take you back in time? In fact, the whole menu (down to the font choice), service, and decor will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another era.

Located on the first floor of the Warwick Rittenhouse Square Hotel, the Rittenhouse Grill (once the Prime Rib Philadelphia) has been a part of the city for 25 years now. Much of the 35-person staff has been a part of the Rittenhouse Grill for over a decade, including Executive Chef Eddy Castillo since 2009. The dedicated staff and, as owner Garth Weldon mentions below, consistency and quality of the menu, are the reasons why this restaurant is here to stay.

Read more about Rittenhouse Grill below in my Q&A with Weldon who began working at the Prime Rib’s DC location as a bus boy. He was promoted from waiter to captain to maître d’’…’ before teaming up with chain owner C. Peter “Buzz” Beler to launch the Center City location at 1701 Locust Street.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your history with the Prime Rib chain and why you wanted to bring it to life in Philadelphia?
A: After spending 20 years at The Prime Rib of DC and Baltimore, we were looking for another location, and Philly was the natural next stop on the Amtrak line! We also were aware of Center City’s renaissance under Mayor Rendell, and desired to be part of that.

Q: What can diners expect when they walk through the doors? Can you talk about the atmosphere inside Rittenhouse Grill?
A: It’s like stepping back in time to Manhattan supper clubs of the 40’s and 50’s – swanky leather banquettes, plush leopard carpeting, gold trimmed black walls, floral centerpieces, and best of all, live piano nightly.  Think Mad Men meets Rat Pack. All this with first class service from tuxedoed waiters and bartenders.

Q: We see so many restaurants come and go- what gives Rittenhouse Grill such staying power? 
A: I tell people that our main attraction – beyond top-quality beef and seafood – is consistency. Whatever the occasion – birthday, anniversary, graduation – or just a night out at the bar, you can depend upon the meal being at the same level as last time. Our longtime purveyors and suppliers know that we serve only the best quality goods, and provide them to us.

The sesame seared tuna is a must-try starter item. I thought about it for days leading up to my visit and I can’t stop! As for the cocktails, we tried the Hotel Nacional (Bacardi rum, apricot liquer, pineapple, lime) and a Whiskey Smash (Old Forester bourbon, lemon, mint).

Q: Your Executive Chef, Eddy Castillo, has been with the restaurant since 2001- what are some of your favorite dishes he has created over the years?
A: Most recent winner is Iberico Pork Chops, from Spanish heirloom pigs that are free-range. They are considered the “Waygu of Pork.” Chicken Rittenhouse is another, and every season he will offer the freshest seafood as a special.  

Q: What’s your go-to meal at the restaurant- what drink, starters or sides, entree and dessert would you order?
A: I like to tee off with a cocktail from our specialty list, perhaps the Hotel Nacional or Penn 75. Our Iceberg Wedge with blue cheese and bacon is a great starter, followed by a USDA NY Strip or Ribeye, creamed spinach, and ending with one of our desserts such as Key Lime Pie or Chocolate Mousse Pie, all of which are made here on the premises.

Fresh and top quality! Prime rack of lamb and the Chicken Rittenhouse. Of course there are plenty of steak options on the menu too, but no matter what you get, the meat will be just perfect. A huge variety of veggie side options are also available, but the fresh corn off the cob was an excellent choice. I’ll be back to try the creamed spinach.

Save room for dessert, of course! Weldon mentioned the Key Lime Pie, so I had to try it. No matter what you get (the crème brulée is fantastic too), you probably made the right decision! I always like to get an espresso martini if it’s a menu option and this one is really nice. Not too sweet, goes well with the dessert menu.

Q: Rittenhouse Grill is in an amazing location, steps away from so many of Philadelphia’s museums, theaters and iconic landmarks. What are some of your favorite spots to visit in our city?
A: Last month, I took in the Flower Show. In season, I like to attend the Philly Pops or Broadway at the Academy Shows. My 7-month old puppy enjoys the dog park on the Schuylkill at 25th and Spruce (as do I).

Q: How do you personally make sure guests return over and over again? How do you plan to keep customers- old and new- coming through the door for the next 25 years?
A: By keeping it to the consistently high standards of service and food quality that brought us the great reputation that we enjoy. As an independent, local restaurant now, we aren’t subject to the corner-cutting pressures that chain restaurants have to endure.

Happy hour at the bar is 4:30-6:30, Wednesday to Friday and Sunday. Some menu items include angus beef sliders, kobe franks in a blanket, coconut shrimp, and drink specials.

On Wednesday, April 12th, Philadelphia’s City Representative Sheila Hess will deliver a proclamation to Weldon in honor of the restaurant’s 25 years in service. Hess will deliver remarks as will Ben Feliccia, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Engagement at the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Rittenhouse Grill is open Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 4:30pm. It’s the closest thing Philadelphia has to a vintage supper club and you’ll want to experience it at least once. Visit www.rittenhousegrill.com to view the menus and make a reservation.

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