Ray’s Place is an inconspicuous dive bar on a quiet street. It’s not near a freeway exit or a town square, but it’s road-trip landmark in its own right. In addition to the usual sports programming and mugs of cold beer you’d expect to find at a windowless bar, it also serves fine old-fashioned hofbrau fare from tiny kitchen with a tiny menu.
There are four items to chose from: ham sandwiches, beef sandwiches, bean soup, and pea soup. The sandwiches are served on wax paper, placed in front of you on the bar. The soup gets a plastic bowl. The beef is chipped roast that is drenched in gravy before it’s layered on the bun. It gets a lot of its mojo from optional (really, the only choice is “yes”) slices of thick, white, raw onions. The soggy sandwich falls apart as you eat it. You do your best to keep the gravy drippings and chunks of lost beef on the wax paper that the sandwich was served on, but the understanding bartenders won’t begrudge you if some gets on the bar.
The ham sandwich is neater to eat, and it is the tastier choice. The ham is also soaked in gravy, this one a thinner, smokier jus that may just be pan drippings. It’s tender, salty, and perfectly suited for a mug of beer. While raw onions might be good on this, we though it seemed more appropriate to top it with a thick slice of bright orange Wisconsin cheddar. One slice is enough to temper the ham with cool creamy dairy. The cheese is unusually robust for sandwich slices, and it is available cut up with crackers as a bar nibble for those who aren’t quite hungry enough for an overstuffed sandwich.
The real star of the bar’s simple food program is mustard made by the owner. It’s a peculiar horseradish mustard that really seems more like horseradish that is tinted yellow with a pinch of turmeric, and some secret spices. Whatever it is, it’s eye-watering, delicious, and perfect with either the ham or the beef. As good as both these sandwiches are, a few slices of bologna on Wonder Bread would sing if it had a generous smear of this exquisite bar mustard.
The soups are cloudy and thin; and it’s nearly impossible to tell the bean apart from the pea. You have to look for the morsels of white bean that fall to the bottom of the bowl on the former. Both get their flavor from little bits of that delicious ham. They are worth ordering on cold days, and to help fill out a sandwich lunch, but they aren’t as essential as the sandwiches. For one, it’s harder to apply mustard to the soups. Some say the soup exists simply so you have something to eat the sandwiches over without making a mess on the bar.