Thai food in the rough: the Ritz raises the bar
It's East meets West, Bangkok meets Oak Bluffs, fried garlic meets fried clams, spring roll meets lobster roll.
In a fortuitous if unlikely collaboration, the rough-and-tumble Ritz Café is now offering authentic Thai food. A salty bar with a Thai twist, they call it.
It's Pad Thai meets Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The menu features an iconic Thai figure in a traditional pose of meditation, superimposed over a South Beach sunset. There is a greeting from Pissamai Laothong, who creates the southeast Asian delicacies in the cramped kitchen next to the bar. "It is my privilege to share my culture with you," she says.
"Mai," as everyone calls her, sees no culture clash in serving Thai food at the Ritz. "The first day I came to the U.S.," said Ms. Laothong, "I thought, everywhere you go, it's no different. People are people."
Latitudes and attitudes
Janet King, the long-time proprietor of the Ritz, is enthusiastic about the partnership, and is even ready to stock Thai beer along with the Budweiser, Miller, and Corona. She says the food is getting rave reviews from the regulars.
"People who have had it are wild about it," said Ms. King. "They're kind of puzzled, when they come in. It doesn't look like a Thai restaurant." That may change soon. Next week the pool table will be sacrificed for a new seating area. She hopes it will bring new customers into the Circuit Avenue establishment, and bring new attitudes along with them. "People who are afraid of going into a bar, they need to get over that," said Ms. King. "The Ritz was always kind of scary, a little rough around the edges."
Raised in a small town in central Thailand, Ms. Laothong has taken an adventurous route to Martha's Vineyard. She is trained as a nurse. The skills she used in the emergency room of a Bangkok hospital could come in handy if things get out of hand on the bar floor. Her family owns several restaurants on the Cape. Ms. Laothong came to the Vineyard to manage her brother's restaurant, Bangkok Cuisine, further up Circuit Avenue. Now she wants to make her own way in the culinary world. "I want to use my own tradition," said Ms. Laothong. "I learned cooking from my family. It's in my heart."