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Ray's Seafood Market 

7 Pinecrest Drive, Essex Junction, 879-3611

Father John and daughter Victoria Hiebert

Matthew Thorsen

Father John and daughter Victoria Hiebert

You probably already know you can buy fish at Ray's Seafood Market — they've been shelling out seafood in Chittenden County since 1949. But did you know the family-owned and -operated business is also a bustling sit-down restaurant? My sons and I popped in recently for a quick dinner and enjoyed the scene every bit as much as the food.

We walked past a line of creemee-seeking folks on the way into Ray's aqua-colored interior, where fishing nets, lighthouse figurines and nautical pictures complete the angler theme. On our way to a booth, we noticed the specials list. The bright-pink salmon steaks, clams, fish fillets and lobsters on display assured us that whatever we ordered would be fresh.

My plan was to get a mix of fried and broiled seafood so we could sample both preparations, figuring my older guy would likely go with a "landlubbing" choice. The main menu featured dozens of options, from appetizers such as shrimp cocktail and cheddar-cheese shrimp "jammers," to baskets of fried seafood and, baked, stuffed haddock dinner. Healthy, kid-friendly sides, including corn, baked potatoes, applesauce and rice — in addition to French fries — were available for $4.25.

When it was our turn to order at the counter, I started to rattle off grown-up selections for the boys, but the cashier steered me to the children's menu, pointing out that it was a much better value.

As I predicted, my older, 8-year-old son followed his tastes by ordering a cheeseburger with applesauce and corn. The children's menu offered the choice of any two sides to accompany fish, burger or hotdog entrées.

His younger brother, who is 6, got fish and chips with corn and applesauce, for $5.95. I ordered the Cajun catfish basket, which I envisioned as blackened grilled or broiled fillets.

The restaurant was busy while we were there, but we waited only about 10 minutes for our food. Ray's doesn't have toys, books or crayons available, but that was ok with us. When the 6-year-old got wiggly, he started counting the lighthouses in the paintings and figurines, then how many were on islands and how many were on shore.

By the time he began tallying how many lighthouses were illuminated, they called our number and we picked up our food at the counter. Instead of the piece of grilled fish I had anticipated, my dinner was fried — big, spicy, battered catfish wedges that were crispy, light and not at all greasy. The modest $8.95 "mate's" portion from the adult's menu was plenty for me, but hearty eaters would probably want to go for the captain-sized choices. The coleslaw was good and fresh, if a bit sweet for my taste.

My son's fish and chips included small pieces of a white fish — not the sort of reconstituted stuff some places serve.

Although we looked longingly at the strawberry shortcakes other diners brought back to their tables, we were too impatient to stay for dessert. Maybe next time we'll count a few more lighthouses and fit in the last course.

"Out to Eat" is a monthly family-friendly restaurant review. Where should we eat next? Email us at Cheryl Herrick is a writer and blogger who lives in Burlington.
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