A steaming hot plate of barbecued meats arrives at my booth. It's covered in a velvety blanket of red sauce. Hard to recall the last time I was offered something so sexy.
I dive in at the left with Ray's favorite, his homemade pork and beef sausage. Words can hardly do this flavor justice. The sausage is unbelievably moist and so savory, its spices sing. It also packs a serious, sinus-clearing kick. This is an encased meat that needs no liquid garnishment. I ignore the lure of extra barbecue sauce.
Next up is the sliced beef. Ray gets it right where so many others fail - he tells me he bastes his meat beforehand, and you can taste the difference. The beef is perfectly cooked and juicy, neither tough nor gray. It goes best with the barbecue sauce - a tangy, sweet sauce bolstered by a soft smoky heat. Rather than being overpowering, it's kicky and sweet. If he starts bottling, I'll be first in line.
"Now the ribs," Busch says. "You gotta get down with it. You gotta own it." I pick one up and bite into the charred black top. What lies beneath is, at this point, no surprise. Tender, juicy porkness melts in my mouth. By the second bite, I am already planning my trip back.
The sides are all home recipes. The potato salad has a light, whipped texture, contrary to the mayonnaise-heavy kind you see melting in the sun at picnics. Busch gives away three of the ingredients: sweet relish, mayonnaise, and mustard. The other three, he says, are secret. The secret mix has a vinegary taste I absolutely love.
The ranch-style "Big Daddy Beans" arrive at Ray's in juice, where he drains and re-imagines them with a personal twist (again, a secret.) The beans are at once peppery and spicy and sweet, made only more delicious by the pieces of sausage and brisket in the rich mix.
The spicy rice is undeniably the best side at Ray's. It's simmered in a homemade stock and served up hot and buttery with accents of fresh scallions and big chunks of that incredible homemade sausage. True to form, the rice has a certified taste-bud kick to it.
The desserts. Oh, the desserts! Co-owner Maxine Davis is in charge of the blueberry, blackberry, and peach cobblers, as well as the cinnamony sock-it-to-me cakes. "I didn't want store-bought," she said. "It's not the same, and people know the difference." Each day, an old family friend - a "grandmother", says Davis - comes in and makes every dessert from scratch in the kitchen. When the time is right, Davis pops the cobblers in the oven.
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I get the first slice of a fresh peach cobbler and fall hard for the spiced crust. Flaky but tender, the dough by itself is enough of a dessert. Add to it the sweet and syrupy hot peaches, and it's the world's most perfect sugar fix.
After living in Kansas City, I didn't expect Texas barbecue to top that of the touted Midwest. Ray's, I stand corrected.