Suddenly This Summer

Back in the golden years of network television, the Big Three companies — CBS, ABC and NBC — often ran short-lived “summer replacement” series instead of rerunning popular shows. These summer shows were usually oddball musical-variety programs (Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers) that would supposedly whet the appetite for the longer-running shows in that regular time slot.

Similarly, one local restaurateur is putting a summer replacement chef into rotation while he takes off for the season. Instead of hanging a “Closed for the Summer” sign on the door at the Sun Ray Café (813 West 17th Street), Yannis Vantzos is having his longtime friends Randall and Janece Horton run the restaurant until mid-August while Vantzos returns to his summer home in Greece for his annual vacation.

The Hortons are best known for operating the original La Bodega Restaurant at 651 East 59th Street (it’s now Sarah’s) from 1994 to 1997. They’ve been keeping Sun Ray open for weekday lunches and Friday and Saturday night dinners, but doing it in their own style. Out went the Greek-inspired Sun Ray menu.

“We’re doing two or three fresh fish dishes, one vegetarian entrée and at least one beef or lamb dish,” says Randall, who takes over the kitchen himself (with help from son Shawn) during the lunch shift. For the weekend dinners, he says, it’s “whatever comes up in Janece’s mind.” Randall doesn’t worry that Sun Ray regulars won’t be able to order from the menu they’ve come to know. “Janece has her fans, too, and they want the dishes she’s made famous,” he says. “We’re doing things our way this summer so that when Yannis comes back, his dishes will seem fresh and new again.”

Sun Ray still isn’t serving liquor (patrons typically bring their own vino) and doesn’t stay open late, either. “We’ll start shutting the kitchen down at 9:15 or so unless we have a big crowd of people in there waiting to eat. Then we’ll stay open as long as we want,” Randall says.

Fans of the old La Bodega — no relation to the James Taylor-owned restaurant of the same name at 703 Southwest Boulevard — have already been calling Randall to see if the Hortons are back in business, even on a temporary visa. “It’s only word of mouth, so far,” he says. “You know how it is with Yannis. We weren’t sure we were really going to go ahead and do it until he left town.”

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