Monday, February 21, 2011

Fillin’ Up At T-Rays


T-Rays Burger Station
202 South 8th St.
Fernandina Beach, FL

Beer selection: A few standard domestics if you really need one.

Food: Five Star burgers!




Life isn’t all T-bones and microbrews for us Suits in Strange Places.

Far from it. Although that’s the sort of thing we like to write about.

I’m generally not going to bore you with my 2am trips to the Texaco in search of some sort of sustenance.

But that’s the unglamorous reality for Suit757.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret – no matter how much you paid for that airline ticket, it doesn’t include food. Even in first class.

So by the time you land in Savannah, stand in the rental car line and drive to Woodbine, it’s 2am and the only place open in town is the 24 hour service station.

Those hot dogs that have been revolving on those little rollers for God-knows-how-long and the stale buns and the little packages of watery onion slush start to look pretty good when you haven’t eaten anything in 16 hours.

Oh, yeah, I’ve partaken in many a gas station meal. Sometimes, several times a week.

So eating a meal inside a gas station doesn’t faze me in the least.

The shocker is, T-Rays out here on the Florida/Georgia line is darn good gas station fare!

Literally hiding out inside an Exxon station, T-Rays is the place to go in Fernandina for biscuits & gravy, fried shrimp, delicious burgers and small town gossip.

One of my many Suits in Strange Places theories about finding a good place to eat is that quality and advertising are inversely proportional. If you’re good, everybody already knows where you’re at.

Under that theory, T-Rays is Five Star fine dining.

T-Rays not only doesn’t advertise, it darn near camouflages itself. Not even a sign out front.

It’s just an old beat up Exxon station. There is no outward indication that anything special is going on here. Except for all the cars and pick-ups parked out front.

But open the front door and your nose will instantly tell you something better than oil changes is happening here.

Owner Big Ray Mullis sold gas here for nearly four decades while his son, T-Ray, flipped the burgers on the grill next to the beer coolers.

Until about two years ago when federal EPA bureaucrats essentially shut Big Ray down by demanding he spend a quarter million dollars replacing his perfectly good fiberglass gas tanks (probably part of a trillion dollar “job-creating” stimulus plan).

Thanks to T-Ray’s world renowned skill behind the grill, Big Ray’s decision to shut the pumps off for good made sense: most of their little company’s profit came from burgers and onion rings, not gasoline.

So the old pumps – which couldn’t go above $3.99 per gallon anyway – still sit out front rusting while Big Ray now works the lunch time crowd inside, slapping backs and cracking jokes with the his loyal contingent of regulars.

This is the kind of place – and the kind of town – where everybody knows everybody. And the appearance of a stranger (suit or not) prompts lots of head swivels and stares.

The cramped little “dining room” with mismatched chairs and tables is cluttered with knickknacks celebrating the true passion that unites this part of America: SEC football.

Like the rest of this border town, the décor tilts decidedly toward the Georgia Bulldogs. But Gators, Seminoles – and even, God-forbid, Gamecocks – are all well represented in the posters, coffee mugs, bobble heads and even serving plates at T-Rays.

But, needless to say, the décor is not the main attraction here. It’s T-Ray’s burgers.

As someone who has gotten quite a bit of practice lately describing extraordinary food, I find it hard to pin-point exactly what makes T-Ray’s burgers so good.

They’re not the biggest. Not the juiciest. But they just might be the best.

Perfectly constructed on high quality toasted sesame seed buns, these nicely seasoned, ideally cooked burgers come with an excellent accompaniment of crisp lettuce, fresh tomato and sautéed onions.

Like Irina Shayk on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, all the parts just come together so nicely.

The French fries and corn nuggets -- a local delicacy -- that come out of T-Ray’s magical deep fryer are the perfect side dish.

Corn nuggets can best be described as little lumps of creamed corn breaded and deep fried.

If the above sentence doesn’t sound appetizing to you, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention to this blog.

Let me repeat: corn is nice; deep fried corn is exquisite.

Crunchy on the outside, soft and sweet inside, corn nuggets are an addictive Southern side dish.

But nothing says “Welcome South” like good ‘ole Fried Green Tomatoes, which just happened to be the appetizer special of the day.

Already knowing what T-Ray can do with his vat of bubbling grease, I was anxious to see how this ultimate Southern delicacy would turn out.

Let me just say, I wasn’t disappointed.

These beauties were perfectly breaded and fried with an excellent horseradish dipping sauce that cleared my sinuses.

While thanks to the eternal wisdom of our federal government, I couldn’t fill up my gas tank at this old Exxon station, I had no trouble filling up my stomach.

Gas station cuisine may never get its own Zagat’s fine dining category, but as something of a gas station fare connoisseur, this Suit can boldly claim that T-Rays serves the best meal to be found in any gas station in America. Proving once again that being a Suit in a Strange Place is sometimes the best place to be.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!




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2 comments:

  1. I am a Fernandina local and definitely a T-Ray fan!!! Chicken/Dumplings is a gut buster! Thanks for doing them and our town justice. "Eat here and get Gas." awesome slogan of theirs!

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  2. Not only are the burgers fabulous, but Friday's Fried Shrimp are amazing, and T-Ray's breakfasts are fantastic!! A favorite of my dad's for years, and now T-Ray's is a three generation choice breakfast and lunch destination!!!

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