Date Night at Ray’s of Kelso

His dad said, “Give them the best you can give them and a fair shake every time. You’ll never go wrong.” Being born into that philosophy has garnered Ray Ressel of Ray’s of Kelso, much success. 2014 is a special year because it marks 10 years for Ray’s in the in the original Farmers and Merchants Bank of Kelso building. It also marks the turning of the golden anniversary, or 50 years for the Ray’s family name in the restaurant business.
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So what does such a long tradition in the restaurant industry mean for Ray? It means quality first, in both food and service. It means constantly working and changing to keep up with the current trends in taste. To accomplish such a paramount task, Ray draws on his 20 years experience as a chef. It also doesn’t hurt that he basically grew up in the industry. When he was 12 years old the family opened Ray’s House of Pizza and Steaks in their family home. When asked what he thought about his home turned restaurant Ray remarks, “I didn’t give it a second thought; I thought it was normal.” Ray started helping the family when he was a young boy and has worked to instill that sense of family into his current operations. Today his grandson can be seen “helping” in the dining room and greeting guests. With a smile Ray remarks, “He’s been walking around with me since he was a year old, it’s almost like he owns the place.”
Ray and his wife, Cindy, started this endeavor over 10 years ago. He says, “Our real goal was not to open a restaurant. It was to open an arts and crafts store. That’s why all the art is on the wall.” Ray explains that there was a cappuccino area in the store that was popular. He says that all the customers were stopping in and telling him how much they missed his dads pizzas and steaks. Laughing, Ray says, “We quickly switched directions!”

And thank goodness they did! Ray and his wife started with the main restaurant and have since expanded to the Whiteford House, the Outdoor Courtyard, Ray’s Banquet Center and Catering. When asked about the expansion to the Whiteford House Ray says, “We were so busy we were constantly turning people away. I needed a way to expand without damaging the look of the building.” With the outdoor seating he felt the acquisition of the property next door made sense. Each area offers its own personality to guests while still maintaining the integrity of the dishes that have made Ray’s of Kelso famous.
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When asked how he does it, Ray says he enjoys the fast paced environment and the challenge in the kitchen. He likens himself to a more demure Chef Gordon Ramsey when it comes to running the ship. When asked how he manages all the moving parts between the locations he says, ” I’ve got a lot of good people!”

When it comes to the amazing menu Ray explains that they wanted to bring back a touch of the 60’s and 70’s style with the table-side flambé. He remarks, “You had the N’Orleans and the Purple Crackle but once they were gone nobody was doing it anymore.” He says it’s like any generation cycle, “It all comes back around.” Ray says they are known for his dad’s pizza and all their flambé dishes, especially the Steak Diane and the Bananas Foster.

I was curious about the flambé experience so I ordered the Steak Diane. All I can say is that it is fabulous. The steak melts in your mouth and the lump crab meat takes it over the top. Dining at Ray’s of Kelso is a full sensory experience. The ambiance has a quiet charm. You are surrounded by interesting artwork in a historic setting. The staff is knowledgeable and attentive, like a well oiled machine. And the food is simply delightful both in taste and in presentation. As I sipped my wine and enjoyed the soft sounds of Michael Buble playing in the background, my day just melted away. Rays of Kelso is a truly a great place for a date night, or to unwind after a long day.
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As written for iluvlocalplaces.com
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Ray’s of Kelso is located at 151 South Messmer St Kelso, Mo 63758

Reservations are recommended

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Home-Style Cooking at its Best, Hickory House Restaurant

What do you get when you cross a background in business with a love for food, and mix in a few years of retirement? The Hickory House in Jackson, Missouri. More than just a diner, the family friendly restaurant features made from scratch home-style entrees, hand cut meats, special recipe sauces, smoked meats and BBQ. The delicious aroma greets you like a warm hug as soon as you step in the door and beckons you to the dessert case.

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Don’t let the unassuming exterior of the building fool you. Once you step through the front door it is home cooking through and through. The building houses a cozy and comfortable atmosphere reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen. The Hickory House is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, it is the only sit-down service style breakfast of its kind in town.

Owners Ron and Bobbie Nevlis have always been in business together and always talked about opening a restaurant. Ron explains, “We were getting kind of bored and complacent in retirement and decided to do one more thing.” The couple, who have been married almost 50 years, fell in love with Jackson when visiting grandchildren from Florida. The business savvy pair had been keeping their eyes open for investment opportunities and found the right mix of small town charm and potential in the old Mazzios building. After eight months of do-it-yourself style renovations the couple opened the restaurant in 2010. Ron said the City was great to work with through the renovation process and was even surprised with a phone call from the Mayor herself.

The Nevlis thought that Jackson needed a sit down restaurant with a general menu that families could enjoy. Ron likes to see big groups come in because with such a wide selection on the menu there is something to please everyone. He says, “The menu is based on what we like and what the people like.” There is made to order fried chicken, homemade pastrami, catfish, kettle beef, and chicken and dumplings to name a few. There are also lighter dishes such as salads and soups. Ron enjoys doing some of the cooking. He’s been doing it his whole life and was a butcher during a time when people relied on them for instructions on how to cook certain cuts of meat.

Some of the recipes are family treasures that date back to the 1800’s. They still use cast iron pans to cook the cornbread and brown the meats. Even the meat for the salad is smoked and treated with care. Ron says, “We don’t use lunch meat here.”

That kind of care and tradition is what lends itself to the Hickory House name. The couple wanted to tie the name back to the town. They toyed with several versions of names that played on Andrew Jackson’s nickname of Old Hickory. They finally settled on the Hickory House even though they feared they would be pegged as a BBQ joint. Rest assured if you want great BBQ they’ve got it, but home cooking is their specialty.

When asked what the Hickory House is famous for Ron kind of laughs and modestly says, “Well I don’t know that we are famous but people say the burgers are the best they’ve ever had”. Modesty aside, how can you go wrong with a hand-cut and custom blended burger?

Ron and Bobbie have settled in nicely in Jackson. Ron a Georgia native and Bobbie a Massachusetts native have found a good blend of geography, weather seasons and welcoming people. “Good, honest, hard-working people” Ron says of the towns people. For the Nevils the best part of the business is the clientele. They enjoy seeing the interaction between customers. Ron says, “It’s a small town restaurant and people know each other. They say you have the best restaurant. I say no, I have the best customers.”

 

Notables
Location: 2259 E Jackson Blvd, Jackson Mo
Hours of operation: Mon closed, Tues-Thurs 6a-8p, Fri-Sat 6a-9p & Sun 6a-3p

Written for iluvlocalplaces.com