Rayner’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop, a mom-and-pop cafe, bakery, and chocolate shop in Glendale, is the kind of place that inspires love at first sight.
The first time I visited Rayner’s, I became transfixed by the shop’s bakery case, stocked with European pastries like buttery sablés and Scottish shortbread, big airy rolls of pain au chocolat, and chocolate-dipped spears of biscotti.
Then I noticed a smaller display case brimming with handmade chocolate truffles, glossy little domes featuring gourmet flavors like pear and champagne, many of them marbled with brilliant jewel tones. The truffles are made in-house, using premium Belgian chocolate. There are other chocolate confections, too, like Rayner’s signature chocolate high heel shoes, which are packed in clear, plastic boxes, ready to be gifted to a chocolate-loving co-worker or best friend.
If you’re not a sweets person, Rayner’s has a cafe menu with an eclectic array of sandwiches, Cornish pasties, breakfast plates, and specialty lattes. There’s also a British-style tea service, featuring mismatched porcelain tea cups and saucers, and a teapot outfitted in a fuzzy, hand-knit tea cozy. You take a sip of your English breakfast tea, sweetened just right with demerara sugar cubes, and feel like you’ve slipped into some version of Anglophile heaven.
Rayner’s itself is a cozy and friendly space with two small dining rooms and classical music piped in softly over the house speakers. The shop seems to attract a steady crowd of neighborhood college students and ladies who lunch, and why not? There’s free Wi-Fi, tea and coffee aplenty, and service is friendly yet unobtrusive. As a bonus, co-owner Pat Rayner has a charming way of singing while she works — “Here’s your tea-ee!” she sighs, carefully placing your sweater-wrapped teapot on the table.
If all that isn’t enough to charm you, Rayner’s even has a small market pantry, stocked with classic British import products like clotted cream fudge, Jaffa orange cake, and all kinds of miscellaneous jams and teas.
So, yeah, it’s pretty easy to fall in love with Rayner’s. But you should know that Rayner’s will probably break your heart.
That’s what happened to me recently, when I fell head-over-heels for the Glendale mom-and-pop, only to find out that it’s closing at the end of the year. It’s a feeling akin to making a new best friend, only to find out your new acquaintance is permanently moving to Europe in a couple of months.
Pat and Tony Rayner, the wife-and-husband team who have owned and operated Rayner’s since 2012, will be closing shop on December 24. The couple — she’s an American with years of experience in the gourmet chocolate trade, he’s a British-born pastry chef and the cafe’s sandwich guru — are preparing to set off to England for a well-earned retirement.
Good for them, but bad news for the rest of us — especially those of us who only recently discovered Rayner’s, which is situated in a somewhat obscure strip mall near 51st Avenue and Thunderbird Road, close to the ASU West campus.
You still have some time to get to Rayner’s, though, and its impending closure provides a good excuse for eating pastries and chocolate truffles with a sense of justifiable urgency.
Before you do that, though, consider stopping by Rayner’s for breakfast, which is served daily until 10:30 a.m., and all day on Sundays.
That’s where you’ll find specialties like the Welsh breakfast sandwich, which features scrambled eggs layered over a savory hodgepodge of hash brown, pork sausage, and melted cheese. Everything at Rayner’s is a little refined, and the elegant flourish here involves a light smattering of chipotle aioli and a couple sprigs of fresh cilantro, which are tucked into the sandwich. The chipotle is an unexpected but welcome twist, and the sandwich is awash in savory, lightly spicy flavor.
Chef Tony really has a knack for marrying sweet and savory flavor, a virtue probably best reflected in the Monte Cristo panini. This version isn’t egg-dipped, but rather grilled on sourdough, the bread lavished with butter and crispy, and dusted with powdered sugar. Turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese, fused in between the two slices of bread, give the sandwich a meaty profile. But it’s the decadent tug-of-war between sweet and savory flavors that make it compelling and delicious. One of the most intriguing breakfast dishes I’ve had at Rayner’s, though, was something called the Bacon Nut Sandwich. It’s a simple sandwich — just mayo-smeared toasted white rye bread with scrambled eggs, plus conspicuously crispy layers of bacon and finely chopped, toasted almonds. You bite into the sandwich and there’s a sharp, audible crunch that can be heard from across the room. It’s memorable, but also delicious.
Lunch staples include homemade Cornish pasties, with a nicely crimped shortcrust and buttery, flaky pastry. There are two fillings to choose from — ground beef and veggies, or chicken and mushrooms — and the latter is slightly more satisfactory overall, thanks to a creamy sherry sauce.
The classic ploughman’s lunch gets a modern twist with Rayner’s ploughman’s roast beef sandwich. Ribbons of roast beef are punctuated with gorgonzola cheese, and tucked into a warm Greek pita that’s dressed wwith fig jam. It might sound like an ill-fated mash-up of flavors, but the results are another peculiar triumph — sweet chasing salty, all of it wrapped up in the mellow savoriness of the roast beef.
You’ve had a Black Forest ham sandwich before, probably, but the Black Forest ham sandwich at Rayner’s is worth your attention. The smoked ham sandwich, melded with a thick segment of Brie and dressed in a raspberry-Dijon sauce, is wonderful.
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Rayner’s is the kind of place where skipping dessert is not really an option, because the shop’s pastries and chocolates are simply too uniquely good to resist. I’ve become attached to Rayner’s homemade sablés, impossibly rich butter cookies topped with a circle of fruity jam. They’re so soft and buttery, they crumble like sand in your mouth.
Other highlights include Tony Rayner’s chewy, sugar-crusted snickerdoodles; a Highland shortbread that’s pressed into a soft, buttery rectangle; and perfectly flaky, fruit-filled turnovers. Of course, there are also Pat Rayner’s exquisite chocolate truffles. If you have the means, you might be tempted to buy them in bulk now, so that you can stash them away for those days when Rayner’s is gone, and all you have left are memories.
Rayner’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop
14021 North 51st Avenue, #106, Glendale
Tuesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Welsh breakfast sandwich $6.99
Cornish pasty $8.50
Black Forest Ham and Brie sandwich $8.25
Belgian truffle $2