Big Easy Eating Budget Rays Avenue
Lately I’ve been lost in the darkness a little bit. Some of it is my own stuff, which always gets more difficult when the weather gets colder, but a lot of it is connected to the social and cultural shifts happening so rapidly in this city that I love. Air-Bnbs got legalized in New Orleans, rent keeps going up, they’re gonna build a six-story hotel a block from my house, the ham and cheese po-boy at Hanks Supermarket doubled in price overnight… it’s enough to get anyone down. Honestly, I cried last time I was in the lower ninth ward and saw that Community Fresh Market went out of business. It’s not just that I loved their hot plates, and that the owner was trying to do something good for a neighborhood that needed it, it was that terrible overpriced hipster-transplant places like Junction and Reds Chinese were thriving while this attempt at local revitalization folded. If you’re at all conscious, that can be hard to watch.
Thankfully, I started Rays on the Avenue just opened up. Right across from High Maintenance at St Claude and St Bernard, this restaurant is just what St Bernard needs right now. Sidneys and Poor Boys have transitioned from predominantly black-patronized social hubs of St Bernard to white hipster establishments (ok, maybe Poor Boys is more punk than hipster, but that’s not really better). In light of that, it’s really nice to see a delicious, affordable, black-owned and operated restaurant on St Bernard. Rays on the Ave is where it’s at!
Every weekday they’ve got a $5 lunch special from 11am-4pm, and it’s a full white-box of awesome food. Weekends it’s $7 but still totally worth it. I haven’t tried the $2 breakfast yet but it sounds really good. I think Wednesdays are maybe the best day to go: the $5 plate is either smothered chicken or a pork-chop, bread, potato salad, hush puppies, and cabbage over rice. I can’t get over this meal. The pork-chop is almost perfect – was a tiny bit on the dry side, but perfectly spiced and grilled. The cabbage was incredible and came with a big piece of smoked pork neck-bone. Sometimes hush puppies just feel like sad tools to fill you up without really tasting good, but not these! They were a flavorful journey on their own. The potato salad here is sprinkled with paprika and its good and vinegary. Potato salad is a dish that can go wrong in so many ways, but not here. I think i’m gonna eat here every Wednesday!
They also always have $8 seafood plates every day We got the blackened fish. Getting things blackened here is the way to go – you can get fried seafood anywhere in New Orleans, but affordable good blackened seafood is a rare treat. Grilled is probably worth it too, though I haven’t tried it yet. My only critique is the $8 seafood plate isn’t a ton of food – the great potato salad, a fish fillet, and some standard slices of bread. Eight bucks is still a deal, but if you wanna fill up, go for the daily special or some of the other options. On a different trip here I got the shrimp ettouffe and it was filling and delicious, though at $12 it is a little bit out of this blogs usual price range.
I’ve got a lot of family in southern Louisiana, and even the least capable of them can make better gumbo than most of the corner store offerings. Even at fancy places, I can be a deeply skeptical gumbo snob. The gumbo at Rays is actually good, even by my standards. It’s almost perfect, the black pepper is a little intense but the broth tastes home made, complex, and rewarding. The sausage isn’t your average cheap stuff, it’s really flavorful, and the shrimp here tastes great and fresh. It’s not the hugest portion, but at $5 it’s a great deal.
Most of the places I review aren’t spots where you could sit down and eat a meal comfortably. Rays is different. They’ve got plenty of comfortable indoor and outdoor seating. Indoor they’re playing the “throwback jams” station on satellite radio, which is just what I want to hear most of the time. Outdoors, you get you gaze upon the always entertaining scene of St Bernard and St Claude. Either way, Rays on the Avenue is the spot to be.