Some people have moaned that Ruby's–which has gone on to practically monopolize eating at the end of a pier from Oceanside to Malibu–has a habit of subjugating old beloved places for its empire. A Ruby's Crystal Cove Shake Shack post I wrote a few years ago on my personal blog spawned a lively debate with comments like “What Ruby's did was take something with real history and authenticity and toss that aside in favor of Ruby's faux history.”
The same kind of reaction came around when I reviewed the Ruby's at the historic Five Points Building in Anaheim. Though I liked the food it served at the restaurant, which went beyond the usual burger combos in favor of stuff like a majestic plate of ground Kobe beef covered in red-wine reduction, I tended to agree that it could've done without the carhop service it tried to revive. “Now I know why drive-ins are extinct,” one of my friends said at the time. Then about a year later, the empire took over a shuttered Cask 'N' Cleaver space at the Santa Fe Depot in Old Towne Orange. This place, I'd argue, is the best thing Ruby's has done since the original Ruby's Diner opened on the Balboa Pier in 1982.
I did all of my eating and drinking at the bar it's dubbed the Steamliner Lounge while watching a model train clank around a track on the ceiling. At the corner, a musician did a bang-up job covering everything from John Mayer to John Lennon and I consumed food conceived by David Slay from Park Ave. in a room that felt like a bar Bogart could cozy up to. There was a lobster mac and cheese with properly cooked pasta shells and actual morsels of shellfish. And I can't remember the last time I had a better grilled artichoke.
Then the capable bartend made me a drink that made me nostalgic not for the old train station I was in, but a recent vacation to Hawaii. The Blue Shelby is the kind of thing that would usually have a pineapple stuck on the brim, and it tasted like my version of paradise. He used standard Captain Morgan spiced rum, Malibu coconut rum, blue curacao, pineapple juice and Sprite and let it become something better than the sum of its parts. If anyone has any gripes about this Ruby's, I'd advise them to sit there, order it, and let the faux history and this drink wash over them like a calming wave.