Ray’s Super Deli, located on Hudson St. between Morton and Barrow Sts, is the kind of place that could easily get overlooked by the foodie crowd even without the anonymous blue awning that blends it into the rest of the block’s businesses (hint: it’s the northernmost of the two delis on the block). Even walking in, the first things you see are those staples of delis everywhere: the meat counter, the cash register, the ATM, and the drink cooler, and these do not generally scream “Dominican specialties” to anyone.
If you walk along the deli counter to the back of the store, though, you can catch a glimpse of a steam counter containing all manner of Dominican stews, rices, roast chickens, soups, and salads. Of course, there’s no menu or guide permanently posted anywhere nearby – most people who eat here can recognize the dishes by sight, I guess, and the staff is generally helpful at answering questions about specific dishes. The takeout menu located at the cash register also provides a cheat sheet and study guide for the rotating daily menu – though, in my experience, not all listed dishes are prepared every day, and not all available dishes are listed.
What was the price for every single one of these lunches, you ask? $4, except the Cuban. The “small” size was certainly enough for me, though I think the large size could probably feed 2 (at $5.50, this would be even cheaper per person). I think it’s safe to declare that a bargain, though you’ll pay more typical deli prices for sandwiches, sodas, and other grocery items.
Monday’s (also listed as served Friday and Saturday, but I saw it every day this week) roasted pork shoulder (pernil) was tender and delicious, with the crispy and fatty portions being not so crispy or fatty as to be inedible (it’s a fine line!). Despite being out of yellow rice, the white rice took on the sauce of the red beans for flavor, and I ended up eating a lot more of the otherwise bland and sticky grain than I thought I was going to.
I had a suspicion that the pernil would make a good sandwich, and Tuesday’s Cuban sandwich (not a special, but if they didn’t have pernil, it wouldn’t be right) proved it. Your pork is thrown on the grill and topped, successively, with turkey (not sure why this is necessary) and ham, and flipped over and layered with Swiss. Meanwhile, the bun was pressed – I think it was on the griddle rather than the panini-style pressing machine, which is a nice touch. However, I have a huge complaint – no pickle! The lack of garlic spread I can possibly live with, but to omit the pickles from a Cuban sandwich is near-criminal. Provided that this was oversight and not dogma (I swear that the menu said it came with a pickle), I feel good about recommending this enormous sandwich ($5.50) for feeding 1 hungry person, and probably two with normal appetites.
On Wednesday, I had a hankering for the asopao de gallina that is described in English as “Hen Soup” – first on the daily menu, in fact. Unfortunately, when I asked for it, the guys at the counter were more than a little confused; it didn’t seem as though they’d heard of it, or at least heard of a gringo wearing a suit (thanks to the Michelin event) ordering it. Forced to improvise, I selected a good-looking stew filled with chicken parts (apparently called stew chicken, or pollo guisado), though I was a little nervous to note that said chicken parts were bone-in (my record of spilling on myself is a long one, but I’ve avoided the catastrophic fancy-clothes-spilling, for the most part).
Upon carefully eating the chicken, I was rewarded – this chicken was fall-off-the bone tender, infused with the stew’s spices and color. The leg (you may need to request one) yielded the best meat, but the thighs were not far behind. The bed of rice was yellow today, much more flavorful than the white, and the sauce of the stew helped further, but I (having requested beans on the side in a Styrofoam coffee cup, for no additional charge) adulterated it further by mixing in the beans and their delightful sauce. Delish.
I went in Thursday thinking only one thing: meatballs. Again, I was disappointed – this time because they had just run out. I guess I need to start going in earlier than 2pm. Sigh. I ended up with yet another version of Ray’s pork, this time with some kind of marinade/sauce. It was fab, just like the other three iterations of pork I’ve had from them this week, and a fair bit less dry on the end bits.
Friday I went in at 1:30, and it’s perhaps a good thing that I did, because I’m not sure how many servings of codfish salad (ensalada de bacalao) they had left – enough for my portion, though! This salad consisted of reconstituted dried cod (possibly the most important food in history – no joke!), onions, tomatoes, green peppers and cubed potatoes held together with olive oil. Depending on whether you’re a fan of bacalao (I am, but it can be an acquired taste), this was a treat. Light and delicious, it might become my new Friday favorite meal. I got rice and beans with it this time, but in the future, I might ask for salad-only: the warm rice and beans aren’t really a match for the cold salad.
Despite the perhaps-excessive carb-loading of a week of near-daily rice and beans, I was extremely pleased with my food at Ray’s and would happily go back again. Additionally, I hope to make this the first in a series of in-depth investigations into restaurants where the menu is too extensive for a one-or-two visit investigation. Have a great weekend, gang!