Some of us never had a Polish grandmother. Others have a Polish grandmother who's too busy to turn out delectable pierogis, golabkis, kielbasa, real mashed potatoes, lazy pierogi, baked chicken, fried haddock, shrimp and czarnina. At Ray's Lounge, 2070 Clinton St., you can feast on unlimited amounts of all of these dishes. But like Brigadoon, the magical experience happens only occasionally.
In the case of Ray's Lounge, it happens every Friday between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. The rest of the time, Ray's Lounge functions as a banquet facility, hosting everything from funeral breakfasts to weddings. A few decorated bridal arches stand off to the side, and the buffet table is parked just off the dance floor during the four hours when Ray's becomes a restaurant.
The menu lists a Haddock Fish Fry for $7.95, a Shrimp Dinner for $9.50, Chicken in the Basket for $6.75, a Roast Beef Dinner for $7.95 and a Pierogi Dinner for $6.50, but who would choose those when you can have almost all of them for $9.95? So it was the buffet for all four of us.
"If this place isn't a throwback, I don't know what is," Dan said in complimentary tones as we looked around at tables filled with people, including several large families. But we didn't look around for long - there was that tempting buffet to dig into.
The best foods being offered were, in order: the pierogis, which were plump, tender and fried to perfection; the nicely spiced kielbasa, which we all loved; the golabkis, which were stuffed with finely ground meat; the lazy pierogi, which was delicious; the chicken, which amazed Ruth and John with its tender, moist meat and crunchy coating; and the haddock, which was as hot and fresh as if it had been made to order rather than for a buffet. The tiny breaded shrimp fell a bit short of the perfection of the homemade specialities, but were a nice option. Grape tomatoes, bacon bits, grated cheese and even applesauce augmented what Ruth called "a nice 1950s iceberg selection." Two soups, traditional Czarnina and Meatball Minestrone, were offered with fresh rolls.
There were a few tense moments before dessert. A large tray of "fruit cocktail cake" sat next to a mostly gone tray of fudgy brownies. Would more brownies be brought out? We'd watched main dishes being replenished regularly, but it was past 7 p.m., with less than an hour of serving time to go. Maybe they'd let it slide.
But rejoice! A replacement tray of the fudgy brownies appeared. We'd have applauded, but we were too busy eating.
2070 Clinton St.
3.5 pennies (out of 4)
- Anne Neville
Ray's Lounge is open as a restaurant from 4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays only. There are a few steps up to the door.