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Tom and Ray's, Main Street in Damascus - Diner (with Great Sausage Patties) Open Once Again, Since 1960

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If you were to pull out of the Watergate and head northeast on New Hampshire Avenue, and keep going, and going, and going, you'd weave your way through DC, cross Eastern Avenue into Montgomery County, go through Takoma Park, Langley Park, Hillandale, White Oak, Colesville, Cloverly, Ashton, Brinklow, Sunshine, Etchison (yes, Etchison), and eventually end up in Damascus. Tom and Ray's will be on your left.

Tom and Ray's was founded in 1960 by Tom Bellison and Ray Luhn. Tom's sons, Gary and Rick, now run the restaurant fifty years later. And yes, they even have a website.

It's the type of place where you can order two Pancakes and Sausage ($5.60), three Eggs (over easy (GFY)), Sausage, Home Fries, and Toast ($6.70), a cup of Decaf Coffee ($1.65, unlimited refills), leave a healthy tip, and still have a couple dollars left from your $20 bill.

Everything (*) was good, solid, diner-level breakfast fare, without the gratuitous salting and glistening sheens of nastytude you find in so many old-school restaurants like this.

(*) Everything, that is, except the sausage, which was titanically awesome within the genre (let the skeptics among us find this out for themselves). It's a good thing none of the other food was salty, because these homey, crumbly patties - sourced from Mount Airy Meat Locker - have all you'll need.

Happy Mother's Day, mom ...

Your C-F S.

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Excellent! And indeed, the sausage is a hit. The place around the corner, the "Red Rooster" serves link sausages in the morning from, I believe, the same source. It really makes the meal. A breakfast tip at Tom and Rays - If you order the breakfast potatoes "twice cooked" they come out nice and crispy. Also - don't sit in the back section on a cold winter morning - the door opens directly from the parking lot!

As for dinner, and as with breakfast, there are some definite hits and misses. But overall the fare is good, the price is right and the place feels like home.

Surprisingly, I've found the crab cake dinner special to be consistently better than I might expect. The cakes are nice sized, taste like they should, and don't have a ton of filler. They may have imported crab - but don't most these days? Good stuff and typically the most expensive thing on the menu at $17.95 for 2 cakes and sides.

The open faced roast beef sandwich is good, over white bread and with lots of salty gravy. Similarly, the meatloaf is good.

Check into the veggie sides. Sometimes they are just pulled from a can but other times they are nicely prepared recipes, like the spinach casserole offered one night.

And when the mood strikes, Tom and Rays is one of the few places I can order a simple liverwurst with mayonaise on white bread sandwich. Now THAT'S livin!!!

Damascus is an interesting and somewhat frustrating culinary place. The few restaurants have been there forever. The "dry" laws help keep new places at bay. And your choices are somewhat limited but generally reliable. Tom and Ray's leads the pack, with Red Rooster offering walk-away fried chicken and other quickie-fried stuff like cheeseburger subs. Jimmie Cone offers kinda so-so soft serve ice cream in the summer, but in a come-out-and-meet-all-the-neighbors setting. A new place called Pasquales has recently entered the fray with italian food on a boar's head base. So far so good with them - they have the rare talent of knowing how to make a proper italian cold cut sub. The music cafe has awesome soups and interesting entertainment, while Little Far East is churning out very American-ized but tasty and filling chinese food at a price that means I can feed the four of my clan for about $20.

And Rte 27 headed north from Damascus is a kind of "roadfood" highlight. Lu and Joe's on 27 recently changed hands but retains the decent fare. In Mt Airy, CarterQ has BBQ with a raspberry based sauce that's really, really good and quickly making a name. Laurienzo's makes a mean pizza and seasonally serves the best butternut squash ravioli I've ever had. The Brick Ridge restaurant is north of Mt Airy and on my list of nicer places yet to visit...while Baugher's up in Westminster is like a larger Tom and Rays with a farmer's market attached (but a bit lower quality in the table offerings).

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And BTW Don, I spent 3 hours this Mother's Day morning making crispy latkes, french omlettes and cooking some so-so sausage. I wish I had been as creative as you, desipte the "CF" aspect of it. I swore off mother's day brunches and valentine's day dinners in restaurants looong ago...but Tom and Ray's would have been a good choice. Hope your mom liked it and that you haven't spoiled her at much fancier places...

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Speaking of Mother's Day, Tom and Ray's, their sausage and their crab cakes:

I decided about a year ago to get up early on a Saturday and visit the Mount Airy Meat Locker. They have really great sage sausage - the same stuff served at Tom and Ray's, Red Rooster and others. I told my mother about the place and she asked if she could tag along - it has since turned into a monthly tradition, each of us buying steaks and ground beef and other meats for the coming month.

We recently added a stop at Tom and Rays for breakfast on the way to Mount Airy. So I get to eat some, then buy some B)

This Saturday we learned of the passing of Paul Black, one of the chefs at Tom and Ray's. I mention it because he was the guy behind their crab cakes (I just KNEW there had to be a guy behind those crab cakes!) and I'd put those crab cakes up against any - even if I'm defending them alone.

Anyway...Paul was a good guy from the little I knew him, and I hope someone watched him once or twice as he made those crab cakes. First Gary's (the owner's mom, who passed just a few weeks ago), now Paul...

I'm finding more and more that an element of which restaurants I like has nothing to do with the food, rather with the connection they have with the community - both the one outside their door and the one they create inside their door. In that regard, for instance, I've had similar experiences at Tom and Ray's and L'Auberge Chez Francois, although they are two ENTIRELY different operations at opposite ends of the spectrum. In each case I am (not just feel) more than just served, I'm welcomed. And in each case, when they experience a loss, so do I. Great places are like that.

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