Tasty meals at Ray's

Ray's Deli and Tavern unassumingly sits at the corner of Webster Street and Western Avenue, right before you head across the Petaluma city limits. You may have known it in a former incarnation as Larray's Corner Market & Deli, or even before that as Ray's Grocery. But in its newest form, it is a lovely public house that serves its neighborhood of southwestern Petaluma, and anyone else who wants to stop in for morning coffee, a great sandwich, a cold beer or glass of wine and some camaraderie.

Ray's was purchased in 2011 by partners Miranda Austin and Eli Schuepbach and celebrated its third anniversary on Feb. 1. They have modernized the building infrastructure, updated the counter area, added outdoor seating and art from local artisans, and replaced the commodities racks with long family style rustic walnut tables for dining. They can now seat 50. But much of the interior retains its original homey character. The bar, wooden floor and the oak paneling are all original, dating back to 1947. The tavern and deli areas occupy two adjacent rooms, connected only by a doorway. It has the feel of a neighborhood establishment that has been around for a long time.

Schuepbach and Austin have found that Ray's now serves as a central meeting place, a "public house" in every sense of the word. They note that there are neighbors who have been living near each other in the area for years, yet didn't know each other until Ray's started operating as a pub. Now the general feeling in the area is of connectedness and community. And they are very family friendly. The biggest boost to their business so far has been the opening of the nearby Nationals' Little League Park at Petaluma Junior High.

They open each day at 9 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) and stay open until last call at 10 p.m. (deli service stops earlier). Since they know all of their neighbors, they try to be respectful of bedtimes and work schedules. They host an open mike night on Wednesdays and music on Saturdays, both from 6 to 9 p.m. All shows are free.

Their goal is "to have everyone be comfortable, to be fed good food with good ingredients that are thoughtfully made." All recipes are their own, and all the salads and sandwiches are made to order — even the coleslaw isn't dressed until it's ordered, so it doesn't get soggy.

The sandwich menu is extensive, with lots of house specials, a highlight of which is six riffs on specialty chicken breast sandwiches. And you can, of course, craft your own deli sandwich. The very helpful staff is happy to make recommendations, depending on your tastes. Soup is made daily, with fresh and local ingredients. The salad menu hosts seven hearty greens-based salads plus macaroni and coleslaw. Prices are reasonable, since they deliberately try to keep pricing down to stay accessible to patrons who won't go to high end restaurants. And the bar serves "mostly" local craft beer on tap, as well as mostly local wines, although occasionally wines from outside California will appear on the list.

While there, we sampled a cup of the soup of the day, which was a house made cream of broccoli ($4.). It had a little zip, owing to a dash of cayenne pepper, and a delicious tang that Austin attributed to her use of both buttermilk and cream. The soup was accompanied by house made croutons and fresh bread.

We then shared a mixed green salad ($8.50), which contained sweet candied pecans, crunchy green apple and fresh goat cheese on a bed of mixed greens dressed with a light vinaigrette. The sweet of the pecans and apple played well against the creamy cheese and bite of the vinegar. Finally we shared the "Rachel" sandwich ($8.50), a take off on the classic reuben, substituting thinly shaved lean pastrami, Swiss cheese and crunchy housemade coleslaw with Russian dressing, served hot on marbled rye bread. It was a true deli sized sandwich, almost more than you can get your mouth around. But we managed to finish every last delicious bite.

Schuepbach and Austin started this community restaurant as a way to have their family all work together. In the meantime, they have made friends and connections, and have found that they now act as a sort of host for locals and other businesses to promote each other. Austin's hope is that anyone who comes to Ray's will feel "like you've come to our living room."

(Contact Lynn Haggerty King at argus@arguscourier.com)