Ray’s Place in Eau Claire

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

On a recent visit to Eau Claire, we needed a quick bite, and a Google search introduced us to Ray’s Place. Ray’s is the quintessential small-town bar, but what’s more, in a town engulfed by college students, it’s a rare townie bar, where few of those students congregate.

But what really attracted us were hints that Ray’s sometimes offered something known as Spanish Stew. This did not appear to be the traditional bar and grill fare, and we were delighted to see a sign in the window announcing the presence of this dish. Upon entering, we could smell something good — not the “popcorn and stale beer” fragrance some small bars have, but a welcoming, home-cooking aroma.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Our server didn’t know exactly what made the stew Spanish, although she did know that it’s an item people clamor for. It’s served in one size ($4.25 to eat in, $4.35 to go), not ridiculously large, and turned out to be one of those simple dishes that can be delicious, even when they don’t look like much. Ground beef, potatoes, onions, and celery had been slow-simmered with paprika, creating a nicely rich gravy. It was hearty and heart-warming.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Ray’s eschews most typical bar grub like burgers and wings, instead offering soups, roast beef, and ham sandwiches. We tried the roast beef ($5.25 to eat in, $5.35 to go, 40 cents extra for cheese) and were given a burger bun filled with thin-sliced, tender beef slices, also in a satisfyingly rich gravy. An unlabeled jar of mustard arrived with it, and we were told it was made from scratch by the owner (as were the soups, stew, and sandwiches) and were warned that it’s very spicy. This is something we’ve heard many times right before biting into something that has little to no heat, but it turned out to be true in this case; the mustard was packed with horseradish in a tear-inducing (and good) way. It was an excellent addition to the roast beef.

This isn’t the kind of place where you worry about presentation. That isn’t the point. Instead, what we wanted — and what we got — was a good, quick, homemade meal at a reasonable price.

Ray’s Place838 Water St, Eau Claire, WI, 715.832.3991; Mon-Thu 10-2 a.m., Fri-Sat 10-2:30 a.m., Sun 10:30-2 a.m.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

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