“You will never see a restaurant supply truck in my parking lot,” boasts Sammy Ray Thomas, who, along with his wife, Lois, has been running Ray’s Tavern for some forty years. To make the half-pound hamburgers that have put his dark, edge-of-town hideway on the map, Sammy gets his meat from the butcher, ground fresh daily. Garnishes come from produce sellers; condiments are not food-service labels, but name-brands: French’s mustard, Duke’s mayo, Hunt’s ketchup. He makes his own chili for chili dogs and uses nothing but Nathan’s all-beef weenies.
Sammy is a man who is proud of what he does, declaring without equivocation that his half-pounders are the best for miles around. They are dense, hefty rounds of beef, nearly an inch thick, cooked through but good and moist, at their best when served all the way, with lettuce, tomato, chopped onions, mustard, mayo, and ketchup. Singles are big enough; doubles are just short of ridiculous. A worthy off-the-menu option is a Sammyburger. That includes a thick slice of caramelized grilled onion, a tomato slice, and cheese, and arrives in a toasted bun.
Sammy recently lost his potato supplier, so the last time I visited, he and his wife, Lois, both apologized for having to use already-cut potatoes for French fries. Still, they’re decent spuds, served glistening from the fry kettle, soft and spuddy more than crunchy. Add slices of melting American cheese and Sammy’s sweet, slightly-hot chile, and you have a plate of potatoes that could be a meal for two.
Fine tavern fare this is; and make no mistake, Ray’s is a tavern more than it is a restaurant. The food menu is limited to hamburgers, hot dogs, wings, and a fish or chicken sandwich. The bar and tables are outfitted with ash trays for smokers. The kitchen closes at 7pm, but the place stays open for another couple of hours for drinking and shooting pool at the table in back.