12 November 2007

Belgian Fries/Russian Talk

I take it on faith that the narrow storefront on Avenue A between St. Mark's and 7th streets that harasses you with signage about the Belgian Fries that can be found inside is called Ray's Candy Shop. Nothing I can find inside or outside the store says anything about any Ray, but this is how I've heard the shop named over the years.

The 132 hand-written signs touting Belgian Fries notwithstanding, Ray's has always been best known as a weird little hole in the wall that somehow makes some of the best egg creams in the City. The fries must have been added in the mid-90s, when New York City lay helpless in the face of a Belgian food craze. A Mr. Ray Alvaz opened the place back in 1975. It look very much in keeping with the East Village of 1975 and very out of place with the East Village of 2007, which may still have soul, according to a recent issue of Time Out New York, but also has a lot of neon and fancy cocktail lounges.

I went to one or two of said cocktail lounges the other night, which left me hungry, so I decided to patronize Ray's, which never seems to close. Inside, the only person besides the young, blonde, bespectacled counter girl was a young, swarthy young man with a couple day's growth on his chin. They were jabbering to each other rather heatedly in Russian.

I ordered a simple vanilla egg cream and, so as not to rudely ignore the written pleas that I try the famous taste sensation of Brussels, a small Belgian Fries. The two young Russkies yammered on. They were having a fine old conversation. Could have been a fight. Could have been a lover's spat. Don't know. I know no Russian. I stared at the many available flavors of egg cream, then the many available varieties of sauces for the fries, then at the innumerable posters for Colombo ice cream. There's a lot of ocular stimuli inside Ray's.

I paid my $4.75 and collected my goodies. The egg cream was good. The chipotle sauce on the fries was a mistake. The swarthy young man looked through the door at me as I left. What? Not Russian enough? I looked around for Ray's name on the facade. No luck.


Barbara L. Hanson said...

Ray's employees were usually young Poles, both male and female so, over the years, Ray developed a Polish accent. The store was once renowned for its selection of magazines--if you heard about an article to late to read it (pre-Internet, of course), it would usually still be sitting there.
As a psycho Rangers fan myself, this is my favorite Ray exchange.
Customer: Ray, you having a good day?
Ray: I haven't had a good day since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup.
(I hasten to add that this was after 1994, not a string of bad days since 1940!)

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Yes, Barbara, I thought for a moment that they might be Polish. And, while I'm no linguist, it just sounded more like Russian than Polish to me. But you could very well be right.

Danny L said...

Best egg cream? Still Eddie's of Forest Hills. We were there on Sunday and there is no question about it.

Anonymous said...

I used to live a few blocks away and Ray's was always good for satisfying a chocolate shake craving at any hour. I was surprised that you did not mention the...uh...interesting crowd that hangs around. Despite changes in the area, Ray still provides a warm glow for 24/7 antics of eccentric group of nuts and persons of an addictive persuasion.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

They may well be Russian now, the store has changed greatly, as has the neighborhood's once-thriving Ukrainian/Polish component.

Anonymous said...

Ray's is the BEST--great frozen non fat yogurt--chocolate vanilla swirl--yum--best egg creams--must have one made by the man himself--Ray Rocks!