“The Secret Diner”
It’s chilly outside, but there’s a cozy little place on Tybee where it’s warm and friendly this time of year. Located at the corner of Butler Avenue and 14th Street, right on the main drag, this little restaurant is well known to all the locals. On weekdays, hungry seafood lovers come to feast on ‘all-you-can-eat’ fresh and succulent local, steamed blue crabs caught by owner Ray Rogers, Sr. who is also a local crabber. But that’s not all! Sting Ray’s was recently voted the Best Seafood Restaurant on the island, at the Tybee Breeze ‘Breezy Awards’ for 2005. Restaurant goers on Tybee will tell you that this place has some of the very best fresh fried grouper, and ‘wild Georgia’ shrimp that you’ll find anywhere in this area.
The small building which houses the interior of the restaurant was built in the 1940′s. Ray Rogers, Sr. bought it in 2000, and in 2002 had his friend, Jimmy ‘Mex’ Quibodeaux remodeled it to include the bar. It still has the brick walls from the original building. There’s a large, front deck that fills with casual diners when the weather is nice, where families and friends can gather outside to eat and socialize. There’s always live beach music, too. However on the evening that we arrived, it was rainy and cold, so we passed up the deck and hurried inside.
A smiling waitress greeted us. It was only a few moments before we were seated toward the front of the restaurant, at a raised table with high chairs, right across from the bar. A single musician, Eddie Mercer was playing his one-man-band set-up nearby. He was quite good, (and not so loud that we couldn’t carry on our conversation). Before I glanced at the menu, I noticed a number of original paintings for sale on the walls of boats and beach scenes. I found out later that Tybee artist, Jim Marsh, did them. The restaurant also sells gift certificates, and colorful Sting Ray’s and Georgia logo tee shirts, hats, and baby-doll shirts. There were several overhead televisions, and the sports enthusiasts at the bar were enjoying the last quarter of the football game in progress. It’s strictly informal dining here, folks, all ready-to-go styrofoam and plastic, and they do a great deal of take-out business year round.
Our friendly server was named Donna. My husband got a bottle of Guinness – ice cold. There were a number of bottled beer favorites listed on the menu, and several drafts on tap including locals like Savannah Fest and Sweetwater 420 (brewed in Atlanta). The wine list included a variety of whites (both California and Sonoma Chardonnays, an Italian Pinot Grigio, and an Australian Sauvignon Blanc), and reds like Rodney Strong Cabernet, Stonehedge Merlot, an Australian Shiraz and a Spanish red called Marques De Caceres Rioja. The prices were reasonable, and most of the wines were available by the glass. That night bartenders ‘Xena’ and Ali were mixing some really cool specialty drinks, too. I decided that it was too late in the season for what they call the ‘Killer Rita’ (bartender Ruby’s ‘Tybee-style’ margarita), so I settled for ‘The Bloody Cure’, definitely not ‘cool’, but just what I wanted – a medium-heat bloody mary, topped with rock salt and a stick of celery! To accompany our meal there was iced tea, sweetened and unsweetened, Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite, as well as bottled water… and powerade.
We had heard about the ‘all-you-can-eat’ Blue Crab Special that’s offered Monday through Thursday, but our visit was on a weekend. (Donna told us that ‘Big’ Ray runs this special all year long, and that we should come when we have time to enjoy them!) She told us that the fried grouper was excellent, and I had my heart set on shrimp, so we started off with an order of Blue Crab Claws as an appetizer ($8.95). (They also have ‘garlic’ seasoned claws.) I got a bowl of the ‘Tybee Crab Stew’, too ($5.95). It was thick and creamy, and full of tender bits of crab, with a dash of cayenne. The appetizer of Blue Crab Claws, offered with drawn butter, was just enough for my husband. The meat was easily picked – not overcooked.
The ‘raw bar’ lists both steamed and raw oysters, mussels and clams, as well as crawfish, stone claws and shrimp. All are priced between $4.95 to $7.95 per half-dozen, and $6.95 to $13.95 per dozen. Blue Crabs and Maine Lobster Tails sell at seasonal market prices. The menu also includes chicken sandwiches, burgers and veggie burgers, crab cake sandwiches and Po’Boys that run from $5.95 to $8.95. Child menu prices are $3.95 or $5.95 for fish, chicken, shrimp, and ‘dogs’ with fries and hushpuppies.
The main entrées all looked tempting. There were steamed dinners with coleslaw and an ear of corn ranging from $10.95 to $15.95, and a steamed assorted seafood platter for $24.95. Fried dinners, platters and combo-plates are served with fries, cole slaw and hushpuppies from $9.95 to $16.95. Fries, coleslaw, corn as well as steamed red potatoes are offered as sides for $1.95 each.
I ordered a fried combo plate of deviled crab and fried shrimp for $13.95, and my husband decided to go for the Grouper Plate recommended by our server, (and the table next to us) for $9.95. The fish was lightly battered, tender, moist and flaky, and not too salty. It certainly lived up to its reputation. My fried shrimp were also cooked to perfection, and the serving was full, (so I didn’t mind trading one of them for a bite of fish). My husband and I both prefer lighter breading on fried seafood (less carbs, more fish), and we were not disappointed. I enjoyed the coleslaw, too, although there could have been just a little more of it. It was fresh and mildly sweet. I should have ordered a larger portion of the deviled crab. (Again you could taste the crab, not just the breading.) I’ll get the platter next time. The hushpuppies were crisp on the outside and tender in the middle. The fries were hot and crisp, and there was plenty of zesty, cocktail sauce for dipping the fried seafood. (Our waitress was quick to notice when we needed more sauce, and to refill our tea glasses.) At the end of the meal, there was just enough room for a single slice of Key Lime Pie ($3.95), split between us. Light and tangy, it hit the spot.
Everyone in the restaurant seemed relaxed and friendly. ‘Big’ Ray, Sr. passed by our table to make sure that we were enjoying our meal. Both of his two sons, ‘Little’ Ray, Jr. and ‘Little Man’ Jason, were there working in the restaurant. (Yep, this is a real family business!) We also learned that Chef ‘Biggin’, Reggie and ‘Dr. Phil’ were cooking that evening.
On balmy days during the winter, patrons may still choose to dine out on the front deck. However, the restaurant inside will accommodate small parties, with a limited amount of family seating in the back. No reservations are required, and it’s family friendly, and smoke free! If you haven’t been out to Tybee lately, now is a great time of year to come. It’s well worth the drive.
Sting Ray’s is located at 1403 Butler Ave., Tybee Island. Hours of operation are 11AM until 10PM on weekdays, and 11AM ‘Until’ on the weekends. Phone: 912-786-0209.