Winter restaurant options on-Island are limited, and as someone who’s relatively new to the Island, and still adjusting to these cold winter days and nights, I’m often left craving a different type of food. Honestly (and don’t scoff at me for saying this), I’m tired of the endless bowls of clam chowder. My taste buds are worn out, and my waistline could use some relief from the creamy soups. That’s why when I ventured out to Oak Bluffs, where friends and true Texans Larkin and Jackie Stallings have bought The Ritz, I was excited to sample and taste Southern-inspired eats from The Ritz’s kitchen.
The Stallings bought The Ritz last July, and since then have become an integral part of the Oak Bluffs community. Maybe it’s because they own a bar, or maybe it’s because they’ve been coming to the Island for the past several decades; regardless, the locals have embraced them and their new venture. The Larkins intend to improve upon the popular Circuit Avenue bar’s infrastructure (they just put in a squeaky-clean beer system) and develop a bar menu that’s not only affordable, but delicious and made with fresh ingredients — which you can’t say about a lot of bar food.
Their resident chef is Scott Southworth, better known as Scottie Blue, who also cooks at Jimmy Seas during the summer. On the menu you’ll find their Texas Chili (which recently won third place in the best professional chili category at the Big Chili Contest), Chili Frito Pie, and a variety of soups of the day. Their truck-style tacos come with two tacos nestled between four warm corn tortillas and topped with fresh chopped onions and cilantro — like you’d find at any taco place in the Southwest. Housemade salsa, guacamole, and cool sour cream top them off. Don’t skip the quesadillas they offer — especially the shrimp one! Packed with fresh shrimp and cheese, it’s a steal at $9. Last, but definitely not least, are their burgers. Made with a special hamburger blend that Reliable Market makes exclusively for The Ritz, it’s a flavorful patty with the usual suspects, but they’ll top it off with Texas chili and cheese if you’d like. That, my friends, is just what my winter needed. The kitchen is open daily from 12 noon until 9 pm, and they also offer takeout if you give them a call at 508-693-9851. For other Southwestern inspired fare on-Island check out The Wharf on Monday nights, and Park Corner and The Newes from America on Tuesdays, for their taco and burrito nights, respectively.
Below is the recipe for Texas Truck-Style Carnitas: served at The Ritz and now you can make them at home. Hands down, a favorite — so simple, yet so full of flavor!
Texas Truck-Style Carnitas
Recipe courtesy of Jacqueline Stallings, co-owner of The Ritz
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 cup of chicken broth
¼ cup lime juice (from about 2 to 3 limes)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coarse salt, plus more to taste
to serve: corn tortillas, avocado slices, chopped cilantro, chopped onion
Place the pork in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add chicken broth, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt, and enough water to cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours.
After two hours, bring heat to medium-high. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally while turning the pieces, for about 45 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat. Let it sizzle in this fat long enough to brown at the edges, turning pieces gently because they will be ready to fall apart.
Pork is done when lightly browned all around, even a little crispy on the edges (my favorite part!). Serve in chunks, with warm corn tortillas and freshly chopped cilantro, onion, and avocado.
Notes: The key to good carnitas is making sure you have enough fat on your cut of pork, otherwise they’ll just come out too dry. Fat is good! You can add your favorite salsas, play with juices and spices, during the two-hour simmering process. Some Texans like to add Dr Pepper instead of chicken broth. This basic recipe is a good place to start.