Much like its compact dinner menu, Raymond’s is engaging, inviting and just a little bit quirky- all traits that I find enormously appealing in a restaurant. Raymond’s interior- an authentic reproduction of a 40’s neighborhood ice cream parlor- boasts a black-and-white tile floor, tile-and-mirror walls and a tin ceiling. Listen closely and you can almost hear the Andrews Sisters singing in the background.
Originally a breakfast and lunch café located a few doors down on Church Street, Raymond’s became so popular that owners Raymond Badach and Joanne Ricci found that they were turning away business. Clearly, it was time to expand and open al day for business. As the owners of Church Street’s Restaurant 28- which was open only for dinner- they realized the perfect solution lay in closing Restaurant 28 and moving a newly designed Raymond’s into the larger spot at 28 Church Street.
Today, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Raymond’s has become one of the most popular restaurants in a restaurant-heavy town – and for good reasons. The owners and staff are friendly, the interior is cheerful and upbeat, and the food is really, really good.
After looking over the one-page menu, we settled into our booth with a smile. Somehow, Raymond’s atmosphere just does that to visitors. And the menu? Everything from Chicken Paillard and Lamb Shank to - remember the quirky part – Catfish Po’ Boys and Fish and Chips. This looked like fun.
But it was serious fun, as we discovered after sampling the sublime $5.75 Spinach and Potato Soup, served with a tease of lemon zest and sour cream – a first-class beginning, to be sure. I always jump at the chance to try a roasted beet salad, and Raymond’s, served with blue cheese, endive, walnuts and orange dressing and priced at $8 - $6.50 at lunch – is an excellent one, generously portioned.
My Maryland-based guest declared the plump, $9 Crab Cake appetizer excellent. Packed with generous chunks of crab and spiced nicely, the appetizer is served with hearts of palm, cucumber salad and a tomato vinaigrette. After deciding to split the $10 Vegetarian Chili, we congratulated ourselves for our good sense.
Dismiss your preconceived notions of a bean-heavy vegetarian chili and salute the kitchen for the best version yet of this dish. Packed with savory vegetables, including chick peas, zucchini, pepper, and yes, some red beans – and beautifully, almost delicately spiced – the chili comes with a dollop of sour cream, a little grated cheddar and a square of terrific cornbread – another winner.
Whole Grilled Trout, $17.50, perfectly prepared, is sprinkled lightly with capers, complemented by haricot verts, and served atop a sweet tasting tomato couscous. Beautifully presented and deliciously moist Roasted Chicken, $16.50, is a wonderful comfort food, thanks to the roasted garlic mashed potatoes and baby vegetables. A heartier dish is the excellent $18.50 Lamb Shank, served with broccoli rabe and creamy polenta. Available as a side dish at $5, the creamy polenta is a “must try.”
All desserts at Raymond’s are priced at $5 and many, such as the creamy butterscotch pudding with candied peanut crunch and whipped cream and the strawberry rhubarb cobbler, evoked fond memories of my grandmother’s homemade specialties. Also available: an excellent crème brûlée. In the cooler months, a champion hot chocolate is featured. Served with Joanne’s homemade marshmallows, it will make you bid adios forever to the store-bought kind. But now that spring is here, Joanne promises an authentic egg cream – lower-East-Side-style.
Raymond’s offers a memorable Saturday and Sunday a la carte brunch and is open for lunch during the week. And with the arrival of spring, Raymond’s offers al fresco dining on Church Street, a perfect European-like venue for dining and people watching.