SunRay Cafe's menu carries a saying: "When you can't be out on the river, or in the mountains, you can still catch a ray or two at the SunRay Cafe." My date and I had no interest in running to the hills or dipping into water, but some food and drink on a patio in the North End was definitely on our agenda.
Inside SunRay, I spied a note signed by the owner about how the best advertising is word of mouth, and there was a timely tribute to George Carlin by the door. It was a printout of Carlin's ideal eulogy, "In His Own Words," full of strategically placed curses and prophetic life lessons. But reading material aside, the action at SunRay is outside, especially on a summer day.
SunRay's menu offers a selection of hot and cold sandwiches with clever names such as the Brian of Bruneau and the Belle of Boise. Since I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of the most convenient of foods, I might like a sandwich named after myself one day—maybe the Eastman Elaine. The McKenzie Moondipper with cucumbers, lettuce, sprouts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, red onion, roasted red pepper and garlic hummus on wheat pita sounded good, as did the Big Springs salad with spinach, vegetables and a raspberry vinaigrette. But in my opinion, naughty pizza trumps healthy vegetables any day.
We decided on a Little Lost River salad ($2.99), half of a Saw-Tooth Caesar salad ($3.25) and a pizza. Pizza toppings range from the typical Canadian bacon, salami and mushrooms to top-shelf offerings such as sun dried tomatoes, red bell peppers and artichoke hearts. Not willing to venture into vegetarian fare, we ordered a medium 12-inch with pepperoni and black olives ($11.50).
The non-alcoholic beverage selection includes Henry Weinhard's root beer and orange cream, Red Bull and soda pop. On tap, SunRay offers domestics like Budweiser, Pabst and Miller Lite and micro brews like Fat Tire, Bridgeport IPA and Black Butte Porter. Even though we were both aware that, being in a part of town thick with hip-ness, we should order microbrews, we had them pour us a couple of Bud Lights.
I was pleased that our server asked if we preferred the salads as an appetizer or with the pizza. It's a small thing, but it shows a level of conscientiousness. And those little things add up, making a customer like me want to share the wealth of my pleasant experience. I was happy to contribute to the tip jar on the counter.
SunRay is a seat-yourself kind of place, and after ordering at the counter, servers are able to find you at your table by giving you a wooden block. Each one has a letter of the alphabet and a saying. We got the "L." On one side it read, "L is for Love, the secret ingredient in all our food"; on the other side, the "L" is for "laughter, the best medicine."
The hot evening sun prompted us to sit on the 13th Street side of the patio in search of shade. While we sipped our pints, I couldn't help but peek over into the windows of the old Garage bar. It seemed to still contain traces of good times gone by, but now is just a sad, empty storage area. Before long, the kitchen guys brought our salads and pie.
The pizza looked good and tasted even better. The ingredients were fresh, and the salad, loaded with mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and olives, came with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette on the side. I enjoyed every bite and even though the gorgeous pepperoni pizza was inches away, my fork kept finding its way back to the salads.
After a few tastes of my date's Caesar, I proclaimed it the best I've had in a long time, reacting with a surprised "yum," punctuated by an elongated "yummm."
The salads were so satisfying that we only ate half the pizza. We left the SunRay Cafe having found a place where we know we can order a Bud Light, fresh salads and a really good pizza.
—Elaine Lacaillade is thinking of opening a restaurant in which all the food will be named after her.