WATERTOWN – For Michaela Ritcey, there’s no life quite like the restaurant life. It is what she has always wanted to do, and now that childhood dream plays out every day at Ritcey East in Watertown. Michaela got her start working at her parent’s restaurant.

“I was the type of kid that always wanted to get off the school bus at the restaurant. I just felt like the restaurant itself was my family, so I spent every minute I could in there. As I grew up, I went to other restaurants, made other people my family, and then here I am with my own.”

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Michaela and her restaurant family have created a cozy, “come as you are” spot that serves nostalgic comfort food.

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Takeoff on Hot Pockets at Ritcey East (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“I wanted to take any type of classic dish that I had and enjoyed as a kid and transform it into something a little bigger, a little better. So we do things like hot-pockets… We do a play on that with empanada dough, ham and cheese, really simply fried.”

You’ll take a culinary trip down memory lane if you order Ritcey’s version of Oodles of Noodles, loaded up with lo mein, veggies and flank steak in a sweet soy. Then there is an amped-up take on a burger you may be familiar with.

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Two beef patties, special sauce… at Ritcey East (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“We griddle two 4-ounce patties; we put a secret sauce on there, on the sesame seed bun… It’s absolutely delicious. That is the thing that people all the time, write about. They send emails just saying, ‘That is my childhood. You’ve taken something that I remember from my childhood, and you’ve made it better.’”

Your childhood may have included Mac and Cheese, but never like this. Topped with Doritos, this plate of pasta has customers floored before they feast.

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Mac and Cheese with Doritos at Ritcey East (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“People either are appalled, or just so excited,” Michaela said. “I think the people that are appalled then get excited once someone at their table gets them. Who knew that adding more cheese on top of cheese would’ve probably been the answer all along?”

The toppings on the Hot Diggity Dog will make your heart stop.

“Hot Diggity Dog is the worst of everything. I said we should serve it with the baby aspirin because it really is a heart attack,” Michaela joked. “It’s an all-beef hot dog, a large hot dog wrapped in bacon. We flash fry it. We put it in a nice toasted bun, topped with the beer cheese, and then we put crispy French’s onions right on top.”

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Hot Diggity Dog at Ritcey East (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Many items on the Ritcey East menu are designed for sharing, from Grilled Corn smothered in lime, cotija cheese and chipotle aioli, to Soft Pretzels served with whole grain mustard and a splurge-worthy beer cheese. Other shareable plates include addictive wings tossed in a brown butter buffalo sauce, and Fish Tacos presented in little taco trucks.

People also love to sink their teeth into the sandwiches at Ritcey East, whether it’s the Kicken Chicken, a pickle-brined fried chicken thigh dusted in spices and served on brioche, or the so-called “It’s Okay to be Pork” sandwich.

“This is our play on the Pulled Pork Sandwich,” Michaela explained. “It’s a four-inch Brioche bun that we butter, we grill. It’s loaded with coleslaw, pulled pork, cheddar cheese and a little bit of spicy barbecue sauce. It’s a very messy sandwich.”

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Kicken Chicken sandwich at Ritcey East (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Your experience at Ritcey East will be one delicious taste of something truly special.

“I think there’s a lot of places that you go that I think are trying to be something that they’re not. We’re very open here. We’re very clear about what we do, and we’re just here for a good time, good food and good friends.”

You can find Ritcey East at 208 Waverly Avenue in Watertown, and online at ritceyeast.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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