The sky has yet to rain cats and dogs, but something almost as mind-boggling recently rocked my world. I had dinner in the most generic of strip centers a mile from Short Pump, and I liked it — really liked it.
Not just once, but three times, I schlep to a part of Richmond that I tend to avoid because of that traffic I must deal with to get there and concerns about driving home after imbibing with dinner. At Ray’s Other Place, I’m pleasantly surprised by every dish that lands on the table at this suburban neighborhood spot.
Riotous pots of blooming flowers and brilliant umbrellas greet diners during warm weather at the door next to the patio — colorful compensation, perhaps, for the sea of beige and brown inside. Fortunately, a vintage soul soundtrack makes up for what the room lacks in style, imparting personality to the innocuous space. What servers lack in personality, they make up for in earnestness.
Ray’s Other Place owes its name to its seasonal brethren, one in the same shopping center and the other in West Broad Village, both called Ray’s Italian Water Ice and Frozen Custard. The Other Place, a family-friendly outpost, reminds me a bit of a suburban Joe’s Inn with its extensive menu, lumberjack portions and low-key vibe, except with more talent in the kitchen.
For proof, look no further than an entree of delicately marinated tuna loin ($15) nearly an inch and a half thick and satisfyingly grilled to medium rare as requested. Its only accompaniment is a bowl of butter-sautéed squash and zucchini rounds with a dusting of Parmesan.
Or, if hearty is more your speed, platter-spanning chicken parm ($15) gets major points for its deep-fried panko-and-Parmesan breading, not to mention a house-roasted plum tomato sauce.
Oh, did I mention that all bread, buns and rolls are baked in house?
Showing off dexterity with the fryer, crab cake salad ($12) is cleverly imagined as a bed of spinach supporting a cast of red onion, bacon, tomato, and a fat deep-fried lump crab cake crowned with house-made slaw. It may not be the most virtuous salad you’ll ever eat, but the flavor profile reads as satisfying on multiple levels.
An entire sheet of the 10-page menu is devoted to breakfast for dinner with frittatas and various iterations of french toast. But it’s the honey-sriracha chicken and waffles ($10) that cause a fork fight at our table. Crispy chicken strips crackle when bitten and the deeply dimpled belgian waffle underneath nicely tones down the heat for sriracha wimps.
Because burgers are de rigueur on menus these days, even at the tiniest spots, it’s only fitting that a casual place like Ray’s would offer a couple, both weighing in at a hefty half a pound. Good luck getting your mouth around the ringer ($12), a bacon cheeseburger swabbed with Jack Daniels barbecue sauce and topped with a towering stack of onion rings. Not that it’s any hardship, mind you, to be forced to devour a couple of the thick, house-made rings in order to fit the burger in your mouth.
Ray calls his cheese steaks old-school and then riffs on the Philly classic with diablo, club and chicken versions. Chopped garlic, roasted red peppers and provolone subbing for American cheese elevate cheese steak romano ($9), without sacrificing the requisite sautéed onions, while the house-baked hoagie roll is more than up to the task of containing it all.
And as if 10 pages of eating options weren’t sufficient, Ray’s lays down a new specials menu — including a breakfast for dinner special — every single night.
Beer ($4-$7) skews reliably local, wine ($6-$12) comes in glasses or carafes, and cocktail prices ($6-$7) register nothing short of unbelievable compared with city restaurants. Imagine gummy Swedish fish swimming through a sea of light rum and a pineapple-infused variety, blue curaçao, sour mix and lemon-lime soda atop a bed of Nerds. You don’t have to try your tablemate’s because the cocktail list includes tiki-style shared drinks, such as the fish bowl for two ($14).
So cheers to you, little guppy, and as long as you’re in the West End, dive into Ray’s tasty, well-priced eats. S
Ray’s Other Place
Tuesdays-Saturdays 5-10 p.m.; Sunday noon-10 p.m.
3061 Lauderdale Drive