Ialmost never have cash. But on the occasion that I do have actual paper currency in my wallet, I feel like Burt Reynolds or someone of equal social import and the money seems to evaporate at a curious rate. It was with that in mind that I set forth last week to eat on a single, crisp $20 bill.
I work downtown and live on the South Hill, so those were the areas where I’d be eating, giving me no shortage of locales at which to turn this cash into calories. Figuring I’d end up blowing money on some shiny trinket in a store window before too long, I thought I should start with a humble breakfast.
At Brews Brothers I stared at the chalkboard, searching for a tasty way to get the day going. The bagel sounded good, but too simple, so I opted for a yogurt cup ($3.30) with blueberries and strawberries that was smiling at me through the glass of the cooler. The barista asked if I’d like granola. “Sure, let’s get crazy,” I said. She laughed, so I dropped a pair of quarters in her tip mug — a thanks-for-laughing fee, we’ll call it.
The yogurt sustained me better than I figured, given that it was lighter than the sort of gravy-soaked abomination I’d typically eat for breakfast. But by about 1:30 pm, there was an audible rumbling in my midsection, thus I began to wander downtown. I didn’t make it too far thanks to the alluring scents emerging from Chicken-N-More. Waiting in line, I scanned the walls, checking out the black-and-white photos featuring African-American baseball pioneers, old license plates and a 2007 Lewis and Clark High School football poster. It feels like your neighbor’s living room in there.
I ordered the beef brisket sandwich ($8.03 with tax) and fumbled in my pocket to find those three pennies that never materialized. Owner Bob Hemphill said we weren’t going to quibble over three cents and called it good. I tipped him a buck for his kindness. He in turn told God to bless me. Fair trade.
The sandwich, after I slathered it with another layer of barbecue sauce, was a downright pleasure to ingest, as long as you wisely employ the fork and knife provided to you. It can get messy. The beef has a perfectly smoky texture to it — not too dry, not too fatty — that doesn’t need as much sauce as I applied, but whatever. I have no self-control when it comes to self-applied sauces and it’s for this reason that gas station nachos can become a safety hazard in my reckless hands.
That sandwich sat heavy in my stomach for the next three hours, an ongoing and tactile reminder that good barbecue can be found in these parts. When dinner came around, my wife and I engaged in our problematic yet ongoing practice of just getting in the car before deciding where we’re going to eat. Somewhere along 29th Street on the South Hill, she remembered the San Francisco Sourdough Eatery and I agreed because she’s pregnant and only eats things that she really wants to eat. This which is impractical. Still, if you’ve played a part in the fact that a woman is growing a human inside of her body, it’s best not to call this into question. At least not within earshot of said human grower.
Inside, I scanned the menu of the mini-chain, deciding that a bowl of French onion soup ($4.62 with tax) would be a perfect inter-stomach companion to all that barbecue sauce. She got a pastrami sandwich — paid for with her own damn money.
The soup is hot, zesty and replete with melted cheese. It comes with three pieces of warm sourdough and a pickle spear that, upon eating, I realized that pickles need to be better represented in our culture. Everything is better with a pickle. French Onion soup and a pickle — not the most common of marriages, but hey, it’s 2013, grandpa. Anything is possible. I love pickles and feel we need more of them. Not just burgers and deli sandwiches. I want a pickle spear with my oil change. When I’m getting my hair cut, I want them to hand me a pickle to gnaw on while the hair professional verifies that my sideburns are of equal length and density. Screw peanuts, airlines should hand out pickles.
What did I do with that remaining money? I bought a Diet Pepsi and a beer. No, not at the same time and no I’m not necessarily proud of this, but, hey, I can’t be trusted with cash.
MORE DOWNTOWN AND SOUTH HILL CHEAP EATS
1426 S. Lincoln St. • 455-7411
Tucked along Lincoln Street, and essentially on the roof of a Rosauers supermarket, Bennidito’s is a popular South Hill hangout, to say the least. The pies are priced above what we’d usually consider cheap eats, but their sandwiches are right in the wheelhouse. Just order a half — it’s all you need — and you’re good to go. The Meat Combo Sammie is just $5.50 and is piled high with Italian sausage, pepperoni and Italian beef on a base of marinara sauce.
425 W. Sprague Ave • 624-3952
Whether it’s an early morning breakfast, a quick lunch or late-night booze-influenced snack, The Satellite, a downtown stalwart with an inclusive, friendly neighborhood vibe to it, has you covered. Only a few things on the expansive menu eclipse the $10 mark, including a wide array of breakfast options, sandwiches, soups, salads and more. If you’re really hungry, try one of their Extreme Eating Options, which are exactly what they sound like.
Maggie’s South Hill Grill
2808 E. 29th St. • 536-4745
We’ve given you a lot of hearty, filling and sometimes gut-busting options in this year’s Cheap Eats issue, but here’s a place that will leave you healthfully satiated without breaking your belt or your wallet. Maggie’s offers creative wraps and sandwiches (try the Thai chicken wrap, you won’t regret it), in addition to gluten-free and vegetarian offerings. Also, they do breakfast on Saturday and Sundays from 8 am until noon.
Second floor, STA plaza on Riverside Avenue and Wall Street • 325-3284
This friendly local pizza chain is probably best known for its zany 5-pound pizza challenge and for offering up 100 free pizzas to anyone who can help them track down the jerks who robbed one of their stores. But they know how to make a filling pizza, too. In the downtown STA Plaza, you can find refuge from both the cold and the hustle-and-bustle of the commuting crowd at Pizza Rita’s second-floor location. There, you can get two slices and a drink for just $4. It’s quick, easy and if you’re still hungry afterward, well, you’re a talented eater.
122 S. Monroe St. • 835-4177
If you’ve ever had a soup and sandwich from Brooklyn Deli then dreamt that night of paddling upon that soup — probably the creamy tomato — with your sandwich boat, you are not alone. This super-popular downtown eatery, and its adjoining bar, are probably the worst kept culinary secret in its neighborhood, but that’s for good reason. The prices are good and the food is even better.
— MIKE BOOKEY