What if I were to tell you that there’s a hidden gem of a restaurant located somewhere inside the province of Ontario that unequivocally offers a dining experience which will shake you to the core and make you thankful for being a sentient, free-living, western-hemisphere dwelling carnivore?
Ray’s Third Generation Bistro is a true revelation to those who have never heard of the name, and a definite re-affirmation for those fortunate enough to savour a worthwhile meal even as the world is falling apart around them. A long time ago, it was simply known as Ray’s Bakery; an unassuming little village eatery started by Gavin & Vera Ray back in 1966 and nestled deep in the heart of Alton (in olde english: Old Town) – a tiny community where Caledon seemingly meets Narnia.
This is where the serenity of the Canadian north can be felt in ways unimaginable. The scenery is gorgeous; babbling brooks and clustered trees align the corners of Main and Queen Street West – that’s where you’ll find salvation. Because Ray’s is really for that someone who’s struggled mightily with a desire to escape civilization and locate a really nice and safe place to eat. A sanctuary that’s not only endured the pandemic, but has emerged as an inspirational force for over five decades in their local community because of it.
As you head inside, you’ll be struck by the rustic interior that combines a delicious homage to retro popular culture fused with gorgeous music from an era where Led Zeppelin ruled and Bob Dylan crooned. The patio outdoors is nearly as impressive as the interior which harbours the faint architectural echoes of a home that was once lovingly converted into something special. At some point, you’ll notice the proprietor of this delve in all his fastidious splendor; once you get past the urbane tattoos and mischievous glint in his eye will you only then realize that owner and head chef Jason Perkins might be the last of the culinary renaissance men still living in the northern hinterland that’s yours to discover.
He’s a veritable one-many army who’s gone the mercurial mile to honour his family legacy with complete diligence and boundless creativity. His smile is infectiously disarming and resonates with a singular appreciation for his customers – it’s a uniquely Canadian genteel warmth; a jovial, heartfelt declaration for each and every patron that walks through his Hobbit-hole of small town, big country hospitality. Every dish he meticulously designs, cooks and prepares can be found on a simple chalkboard that beckons your hunger and fondles your curiosity simultaneously – as if it knows you’ve come from Gondor and need to find a wizard, fast.
First impressions are, for the most part, the whole raison d’être behind owning a restaurant. And that’s where Perkins and his band of merry men and women conspire to offer something as unique as it is forgotten during a virulent pandemic; stellar service, delicious food, and a world class dining experience. Your very first visit to this establishment is likely to leave you stunned that something this splendid existed for so long while you were busy wasting your time with sodium-riddled franchised pretenders and their predictably overpriced and undervalued options. If you don’t impress easily, prepare to be easily impressed.
From their signature Yorkshire Pudding to their outrageously scrumptious Shepherd’s Pie to the decadent Crème Brûlée that’ll leave you wondering if you’ve died and gone to heaven; Ray’s is elegant simplicity and pure consumer value at a time when our basic traditions are being torn apart at the seams and replaced with the mumbo-jumbo of highly mediocre indulgences. Whether you choose to stay for the ambience, drop in for a quick snack, or plan your evening at home with a superb take-out platter; it’s just a matter of time before you’ll realize with total, unbridled confidence that you’ve just stumbled upon Ontario’s best kept secret.
Ray’s Third Generation Bistro is located at 1475 Queen Street in Alton, Ontario. Be sure to mention the Whiskey & Cream podcast during your stay and there’s a good chance something fortuitous and worthwhile will transpire.