Fine dining in the country

Thursday, September 20, 2007
Ray Ressel prepared Bananas Foster for patrons at his restaurant, Ray's Fine Steaks, Seafood and Gourmet Pizza, in Kelso, Mo. (Kit Doyle)

In a town of fewer than 600 people, you could most likely find a few homes and farms, a place or two of worship and maybe even a convenience store/laundromat/diner. Most fast-food giants wouldn't think to flame broil there. The closest thing to a shopping center would be a road trip away. The closest thing to fine dining is served at a family's kitchen table. Although these statements may seem true, the ideas are mistaken. Ray's Fine Steaks, Seafood and Gourmet Pizza in Kelso is proof that fine dining is only a short drive, or a pasture jump, away.

Ray's offers an extensive menu full of flaming favorites like chateaubriand and beef Wellington to classical fine dining options like veal oscar and shrimp scampi to more commonly loved tossed salads and gourmet pizzas. Although one might not expect to see pizzas and chateaubriand on the same menu, owner and chef Ray Ressel says that things have always been unique at his restaurant.

"We're not a cookie-cutter type of business," Ressel says about his unique menu, location and restaurant philosophy. "We keep tradition in some things but in others we have changed over the years."

The large amount of seating options at Ray's in Kelso, Mo., gives a deceptive image of what amount of space is used to produce the varieties of foods. (Kit Doyle)

Ray says that the secret to his culinary and business success is a tradition of quality that he learned from growing up in the restaurant business. "We offer quality all the way. Quality food, quality servers and quality entertainment."

Apparently the philosophy of quality has always worked for Ray and his family. The original Ray's was started by Ray Sr. and his wife Carmen, opening in 1964 as a pizza and steak drive-in. According to www.raysofkelso.com the location was successful until Interstate 55 between Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Mo. opened, decreasing the traffic flow from the U.S. 61 location. By 1967, the traffic decrease forced the family to relocate, opening Ray's House of Pizza and Steaks from their own home. The business boomed but closed in 1976 when Ray Sr. fell ill. After a 30-year-plus hiatus from the family restaurant business, Ray's Fine Steaks, Seafood and Gourmet Pizza is open and dishing out food with the same recipes and philosophies his parents had.

J.R. Ressel took steaks off the outdoor grill at his father's restaurant in Kelso, Mo., on Saturday, September 15, 2007. An outdoor buffet is offered for most of the summer months with some live entertainment. (Kit Doyle)

"We've always said that everybody must leave happy and feeling good about their experience, and we'll do anything to ensure that they feel this way when they leave," Ressel said. According to some of his customers, Ressel and his staff aren't joking. Buz Southerland has been a customer since the Ressels had their home-based restaurant. "It's just a neat comfortable place to come and eat. The buffet here is enticing. You just can't eat like this anywhere else in Cape Girardeau," Southerland said.

Another loyal customer is Lloyd Smith, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's chief of staff. Smith said he recommends Ray's to everyone that he possibly can for dining or banquets. "I have never had a bad meal here at Ray's. The food and service is outstanding, and you can tell that they pay tremendous attention to detail here," he said.

Ressel said that to offer his guests a variety of dining styles, the restaurant is divided into three parts: the main restaurant with a more formal feel, the Whiteford House that offers the same menu but with private party rooms, and the casual outdoor dining tent complex.

Live entertainment is offered in the outdoor dining area. Pat Schwent's Saxy Jazz Quartet and the Jerry Ford Combo are two bands that perform outdoors. The area has a more casual, cook-out feel compared to the indoor facilities at Ray's, with a fresh-grilled buffet of filet mignon shish kebabs, peel and eat shrimp, vegetable dishes and more. Often the outdoor events are themed as Caribbean-style luaus or starry night jazz cook-outs with the menu altered according to theme.

Ray's also has a catering truck that can provide on-location meals and bar services for up to 400 guests. With all of this success Ressel and his wife say that they are really blessed. "We never thought it would escalate into what it is today and in such a short amount of time.


Suggested from Ray, staff and customers:

Drinks

Pearl Pomegranate Martini

Made with Pearl Pomegranate vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime.

Raspberry Iced Tea

Stolichnaya Raspberry vodka, Jose Cuervo Gold tequila, Tanqueray gin, sweet and sour mix and a splash of coke.

Wines by the bottle

Five Rivers Pinot Noir

Catena Mendoza Malbec

Chateau Clos LeBere Sauvignon Blanc

Appetizers

Portabella Saute

A sliced portabella mushroom with artichoke heart quarters sauted in butter, burgundy wine and garlic. Served with an over-baked cracker crisp seasoned flour tortilla.

Crab cakes

Made fresh daily with Dungeness crab meat from a special family recipe originating in Spain and served with Barcelona roulade sauce.

Entrees

Chateaubriand

Carved and served flaming tableside. A one-and-a-quarter pound center beef tenderloin cut in-house. Rubbed and aged with seasonings and charbroiled to taste. Served with bearnaise sauce with vegetable sides.

Pecan encrusted sea bass

An 8-ounce boneless, skinless filet marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs. Coated with minced pecan breading and a touch of Dijon mustard, baked and garnished with feta crumbles and served with two sides.

Pizzas

Ray's Special

Specially prepared red sauce with four-blend Italian cheese, Italian sausage, ground chuck, bacon bits, pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and black olives.

Desserts

Creme Brule

Classic French egg custard made with natural Turbiano Hawaiian sugar, a touch of Gran Marinier and Godiva White Chocolate liquors topped with fresh blueberries and served with vanilla wafers.

Baked Alaska

Thin layers of rich chocolate cake between vanilla ice cream layers, covered in meringue and briefly baked. Served tableside and flamed with 151 proof rum.

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