So, the Ray’s franchise recently added a new food-stuffery to their to their repertoire. Well, not necessarily THAT recently, as I ate this installment of Sunday Fun-Dinner with my good friends over a month ago in icy temperatures on the verge of snow. And, at the rate good old Ray keeps expanding, a story printed a month later could easily become old news. Case in point, he has already since opened location number 6,100,356, 945 called Retro Rays. I can’t keep up, but, nonetheless, here I go.
A restaurant chain cloaked in mystery, I am constantly intrigued by this empire’s concept, with its minimalistic advertising and image, juxtaposed by its overwhelming following and popularity. It is hard for my marketing and advertising programmed brain to compute this formula, but it seems to work for Ray. The idea that there isn’t really a formal logo, and the websites are essentially crafted with bare bones, early 90’s fashioned sense of design, could say one of many things, leaving me reveling with so many questions unanswered.
For instance, is Ray like the Honey Badger and just doesn’t give a flip about his image (censored for virgin ears), standing in the kitchen tearing meat to shreds without a care in the world otherwise? Or is he really an evil genius, forgoing all forms of traditional marketing and trading them in for just plain quality food at a just plain quality price…relying on good old-fashioned word of mouth to accompany his decidedly old-school approach?
Or, even further, is Ray even a real person?! We talk about him like he is, but perhaps he is actually like the elusive Sasquatch…a mythical beast spoken of in many circles, but never actually witnessed in the hairy flesh. Or, he could be a robot, for all I know. That would, in my book, make him an evil (fried) chicken robot genius! I don’t know. These are all valid questions that I am sure we have all asked ourselves. Maybe Ray really stands for “Really Awesome Yodler” or “Rad Ass Yachtsman” and the joke is all on us. (Relax, relax…I know…Michael Landrum…but I like my version of the story better, still.)
These are all thoughts that have floated around in the universe that is my brain, as I (GASP…eegads) have NEVER been to a single one of his spread-like-wildfire-restaurants. But, as this was my turn to select the “family supper” dinner locale, I finally gave way to temptation and declared Rays To The Third as my illustrious choice. Why? It’s simple. That crazy robot had me at fried chicken.
Well, all that aside, let me get to the meat of my post…literally.
Now, as I said, I originally chose this eatery specifically due to the fact that it had been rumored to have the most amazing boneless fried chicken on the planet, and that is what I intended to eat. Let’s just say it didn’t work out this way, but that just means a second trip may be in order…after bathing suit season that is.
When we arrived in Arlington, my posse and I definitely felt like a bunch of tourists circling the block. If you go, make sure you Google map it first, cause this restaurant doesn’t give way to conventional markers…such as say, signs of any sort. Unless you consider a faded flyer from an Epson printer that reads “Ray’s to the Third” a beacon of identity. But, I thought, maybe its better that way. Keep the riff raft and lazy folk out and leave more room for the rest of us.
Now, if you visit mostly any of the Ray’s locations, you should be well prepared tho arrive like a swat team with cat-like agility. The joint is first-come first-served to keep it fair, and people show up ON-TIME. We were one of the first groups in, but were one soldier down, so it was a no-go to get in until the straggler arrived. So, to avoid the frustration of watching the tables fill up before your very eyes, get your group there early and intact.We were seated in the bar area (pictured below) for a short time and then ushered to our super long table. These dinners are getting very popular, you know.
Once seated, the menus were circulated, and these too…as expected…were simplistic in nature, as was the decor of the space, But, despite the minimal options, the worst of the worst happened to me. I had complete menu anxiety. I had arrived prepared to eat a hearty, rib-sticking meal, but I could just not make the call of what indulgence I would choose. Let me break it down for you so that you are clear on my dilemma. Let’s start with the Gushers. Here is a snapshot of what these little beauties entail:
The Burger That Breaks ALL The Rules…Double Patties Stuffed With Cheese, Just Waiting To Explode!
With American or Pepper Jack Cheese
With Aged Danish Bleu or Double Cream Brie Cheese
Served with Lettuce and Tomato
Topped with Sautéed Mushrooms, Grilled Onions, Sliced Red Onion or Charred Jalapeno at No Extra Charge
Add Apple-Wood Smoked Bacon
Served with Fries or Slaw
Substitute Onion “Fries” or “Half and Half”
Ok, so if eating those is wrong…I don’t want to be right. But, I didn’t order that this time around, hence we have the impetus for my next visit.
Next up, we have the quintessential steak and cheese, philly hoagie style, which my cohort Tim made the move for and seemed pretty pleased, judging by his clean plate club recognition at the end of the meal. Here is the rundown on the ingredients…yum!
-Steak and Cheese Sandwich-
8oz of Thinly Sliced Rib-Eye with Provolone and American Cheese, Grilled Onions
Lettuce and Tomato Upon Request
Add Sauteed Mushrooms, Sauteed Peppers, or Charred Jalepenos
And, that brings us to regret number two, that I didn’t order the monstrous portion of the now famous fried chicken. While I did get to steal a few bites, I am definitely going to need to go back for this treat. I mean, just look at that perfectly brown, crispy crunch, totally boneless and juicy. Basically optimized for rapid face stuffing. Mmmm…if you were on the fence and have heard the rumors, they are true. Go there immediately and order this. Do not pass go.
And finally, we have the notorious steak frites, the coup de gras of the Ray’s franchise, which was ultimately the route I decided to take cause it just sounded too good to pass up. And, as a first time visitor, I wanted to have a taste of what Ray does best and stamps his namesake on. While there are a bevy of versions, offering different cuts of meat, different sauce combinations and different flavors, these are the options that my table eventually settled on:
Served with French Fries and a Salad or Substitute Onion Fries or Double Salad
Hanger (Onglet)– Our Richest, Most Intensely Flavored(But Not Most Tender)Steak with Béarnaise
Filet Mignon – Served with Béarnaise
As you can see below, as my friend Ari so barbarically poses preparing to stab and devour his prey, he had the hangar steak, which was actually (and pleasantly) boneless. I had tinkered with the idea of ordering this cut, but was pleased that I had decided otherwise when I realized how much food it would have been! No way I could have finished it. But, thankfully, Ari is a healthy Norweigian lad, capable of eating twice his body weight, so this was the perfect choice for him.
And then we get to my perfect little nugget of a filet mignon. I ordered it medium and the temperature was spot on perfect for me. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the side salad pictured in the upper corner. It was light with the perfect amount of vinaigrette. I actually wished I had ordered the double portion of it as my fries were a little on the cold/expired side, but the meat was glorious and completely hit the spot.
Just look at that beautiful, buttery bernaise sauce! (say that three times fast)
And, alas, a nice shot of the perfectly pink and juicy steak before I inhaled it at warp speed.
And, the satisfied group digests and pays the bill before heading home to lapse into the inevitable food coma.
Until next time…..
first interior photo courtesy of Rey Lopez @ www.underabushel.com