I was clued in to this Roadfood jewel by Lorraine Eaton of the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, who joined me for what began as a meal of fried oysters, catfish, and a shrimp sandwich. Lorraine explained the difference between these succulent seaside oysters and bayside oysters (less salty) as proprietor Kim Tann decided to give us tastes of a few other kitchen specialties. Out came a pair of sweet potato biscuits stuffed with country ham. The biscuits are a house specialty, made from a recipe that is decades-old; and their gentle sweetness provided marvelous balance for the ham which, being Virginia ham, isn’t all that brackish. We also dug into plates of luxurious crab imperial and flounder stuffed with crab imperial as well as a creamed crab dish that isn’t really a stew but is too thick to pass as soup.
Deluxe though some dishes may be, service at Sting Ray’s is downhome. Place an order at the counter and pay. Find a seat (which can be difficult on weekends) and the meal will be brought out by one of a staff of professional waitresses accustomed to customers going ga-ga at the food. One named Etta turned out to be a fount of Sting Ray history as well as a top-notch adviser when it came to ordering, steering us towards sweet potato pie for dessert (sweet potatoes are a local crop). Its creamy goodness was accented by a dollop of bright-flavored damson plum preserves.
Now for the fun part. This prodigious restaurant is located in a gas station, sharing real estate with fuel pumps, a pottery shop and a boat storage facility. Locals know it as Chez Exxon, and while it is entirely possible to come for ordinary breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers. the distinctly regional nature of the menu – as well as the expertise of the kitchen staff – make Sting Ray’s a Roadfood treasure.