VIDA BITES Classic NY: Ray's Candy Store
October is my favorite month of the year. Extended nights, cool afternoons, and the yearning for comfort. Comfort food, to be exact. It is Sunday, and on this fall afternoon, the weather in New York City is perfection; sunny with a mild breeze. These are the best days to be a New Yorker. As I stroll down Houston Street on the lower East side, I am reminded of other foodies who seek comfort as well, hence the ridiculously, long lines at Russ and Daughters, and Katz's Deli--two of the best Jewish Deli's in the city. Yet, I am not deterred. The comfort I seek is not savory. I'm chasing the dragon of sweetness; I want a sugar high!
Collins Dictionary defines comfort food as "enjoyable to eat, and makes you feel happier, although it may not be very good for your health." That's an understatement. Nothing can spike your glucose levels quite like the sweet treats offered at Ray's Candy Store. Since 1974, this classic, cash-only, dessert shop is known for its versatile selection of comfort food favorites: The chili cheese dog, Belgian fries, and the chicken fingers; to the deep-fried haven of beignets, deep-fried Twinkies, Reese's peanut butter cups, and yes, Ray's even offers a deep-fried Twix! Also on the menu, are old-school fountain drinks of yester-year, such as the root-beer float, and the elusive, New York classic by Louis Auster: The egg cream--a drink that, ironically, has no egg, or cream in its recipe.
Yet, for all the delectable, deliciousness I just named, I'm jonesing for a particular, sweet, treat I once believed to be a part of urban folklore: The deep-fried Oreo! For years I've heard of this coveted treat, but it was never tangible to my surroundings. And now, on this day in October, it is my turn to indulge.
I make my way towards Avenue A, and double-up my pace. My cravings are intense, and I need my fix now! When I was growing up, Alphabet City was notoriously known for its heavy drug scene, and crime-ridden streets. But gentrification, and the over-priced housing market have put an end to that era. Throughout the massive changes over the years, Ray's Candy Store survived. Finally, I arrive at my destination. The exterior of Ray's, is funky, and colorful, with an animated likeness of the man himself on its signage, above the entrance. As I enter the tiny, narrow, shop, a woman well into her eighties takes my order. Could this be Ray's girlfriend? Ray, the hardest working octogenarian, (he's 88) is nowhere to be seen.
As I await my treat, I check-out the walls which are covered with old, newspaper clippings of the various press, Ray's Candy Store has received throughout the years. Interwoven with the scrapbook-wallpaper, are several home-made signs of cardboard, and written in black sharpie, with the stores offerings. You see, there is no menu. Scanning the walls is your best way to maneuver, till you land on your hearts desire.
Behind the counter, above a cluttered shelf stacked with ingredients, is a massive, blown-up image of Ray with the late, great, author and chef, Anthony Bourdain. It is obvious, that this is Ray's most prized souvenir, as it is larger than any newspaper clipping, or cardboard sign in the entire joint. Ray suddenly appears from a creaky door in the floor, behind the front counter. He shuffles around looking for something, not finding it, he quickly, retreats back to the basement. And like Kyser Soze. . . he is gone. My Oreos are ready.
I scurry across the street to Tompkins Square Park, to nosh on the nearest park bench. It's time. I retrieve my small container of almond milk from my bag, (cookies are nothing without milk!) I begin to engorge myself in my deep-fried Oreos. The first bite, is hot, chewy, and smothered in powdered sugar. With every, bite, I take a swig of milk. The high is intense. The sugar is making me giddy, energetic, powerful, even. The fried coating of the flour acts as a protectant from the hot cookies and cream: it melts in your mouth like sweet, lava. It's the comforting sensation of the sugar, hitting your tongue, that puts you at ease.
The sugar is starting to seep into my body, and my only focus is on my fried Oreo's.
I'm in a sugar haze. I wonder who was the genius who invented this sweet, fried treat?
That accolade belongs to Charlie Boghosian, AKA "Chicken Charlies," of Southern California. According to Forbes Magazine, from an article written in May of 2018, Mr. Boghosian stated that while working at the San Diego County Fair, "In a lineup of food stands, you needed to have something different. And I thought chicken--although very good tasting, is boring. To get the customers attention I invented deep-fried Oreos." Thank you Charlie!
Ray's Candy Store is located in Manhattan at 113 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009.