A casual favorite for beach seafood
This was not our first visit to Ray's — not by a long shot. OG has been coming to Ray's since he was a kid, and it's always near the top of our casual seafood list when we're on the Seacoast.
On a recent Sunday evening, we headed over to the beach to try a different seafood joint, but it was mobbed: Once we found a place to park and got to the hostess stand, we were told there would be an hour wait to be seated and another 45 minutes to get served.
We're patient, but not THAT patient, so we decided to bail out and head down to Ray's. When we got there, we were told the wait would be about 30 minutes. That seemed more reasonable, so we took the pager and, to pass the time, walked across the street, hiked over the rocks, ditched our shoes and waded into the waves. And the pager immediately went off. Couldn't have been more than 15 minutes. Luckily, our Teenage Bottomless Pit had opted to sit atop the rocks and pretend he didn't know us, so we yelled to him to run back over and claim our table while we got ourselves dried off and reshod.
Ray's menu is lengthy, but it's all about seafood, fried or baked. If you're not a seafood lover, you'll find a limited number of choices. There's a variety of lobster options, chowders, salads and rolls.
For our money, Ray's fried clams are the best on the beach. They're sweet, crunchy, with just the right amount of seasoning. Because we've enjoyed their fried seafood so many times, we tried to avoid it for this review. We sort of succeeded.
We decided to split two appetizers between the three of us. The Lobster Quesadilla ($10.99) featured large chunks of lobster meat with Monterey jack cheese sandwiched between two warmed flour tortillas. And the Fried Calamari ($6.99) was a good sized basket, with lots of rings and relatively few tentacles served with cocktail sauce.
Our Gourmet: I thought the quesadilla was very good. Big pieces of claw meat (my favorite) and just enough cheese to hold it together made for a tasty, lobstery snack to get started. The Bottomless Pit is not a lobster lover, but he raved about it, and said this quesadilla might convince him to order lobster.
The calamari was good — crunchy, nicely seasoned and tender. 8/10 The Dining Companion: I love cheese and I love lobster, but this quesadilla just didn't do it for me. It was OK, but I wouldn't order it again. The calamari was quite good, crunchy on the outside and very tender on the inside, but it needed a dipping sauce other than the cocktail sauce. Overall it was good, but next time, I think I'd try something else. 7/10
OG: Trying to steer clear of my usual choices, I turned to the specials board for the Blackened Haddock Wrap, one of several island-themed specials that night. At $9.99, I was concerned that it would be too small a portion, but our server assured me that it would be large enough to satisfy a dinner appetite. It was. I got a large green flour tortilla containing nuggets of blackened haddock, iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato and chopped red onion.
A container of creamy Mexican-spiced dipping sauce was served on the side, along with an order of fries. The fish was crunchy, peppery and quite good, though it got a little lost among all the salad ingredients. And it needed some kind of sauce inside the wrap — either the dipping sauce or something
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like a pineapple salsa — to help bring everything together. A nice idea, but the execution could have been better. 6/10 TBP couldn't resist the call of the fryer, and ordered the Filet of Haddock ($17.99). A generous piece of fish covered about half the plate, accompanied by fries and cole slaw. The boy was an early fan of haddock as a child, and it's still probably his favorite fish. As such, he made quick work of it and pronounced it "really good." 8/10 TDC: Another special on the board was the baked stuffed lobster, $22.99. My favorite is from a place on the Maine coast that bills it as a 1 ½ -pound lobster stuffed with a 1 ½ -pound lobster — this came in a close second. The stuffing included hand crushed crackers, leaving larger bits, sauteed celery and peppers and a hearty amount of lobster claw meat. The body of the lobster was split and filled with the stuffing, but the tail was intact, with the stuffing on top — and that is one of the things I liked most. Normally when I've ordered a baked stuffed lobster, the tail is also slit in half, and the baking tends to dry out the tail meat — my favorite part. This was still moist and delicious!
OG: Can't go wrong with Key Lime Pie (all desserts were $6.99) as a summer dessert, and this was refreshingly light, creamy and tart. 7/10 TBP ordered Peanut Butter Pie, which featured a peanut butter mousse filling sprinkled with chocolate bits in a chocolate cookie crust. A little too chocolately for his liking, but his long-suffering, chocolate-loving mother thought it rated a 10.
TDC: With TBP taking the peanut butter pie, I opted for the Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, it was not the best I've had. The center was nice and gooey, but the cake was extremely granular and actually a bit dry. Again, now that I've had it, next time I'd opt for something else. 5/10
All the rest 15/20
Ray's isn't a large restaurant, and the parking lot is a little cramped, but both the first- and second-floor dining rooms face the ocean and the Isles of Shoals off in the distance. When the weather is nice, outdoor seating is available on the wraparound decks on both floors. There's nothing fancy about Ray's, but the service is always pleasant, the prices are reasonable and, as we've said before, the food is terrific. After a day at the beach, shopping or just cruising the Seacoast, it's a reliable, comfortable place to stop for a taste of summer and the sea.