I'm generally a simple man when it comes to dining out, especially at lunch. I don't look for much, just good food, at a good price, served by people that don't want to waste a lot of time chit-chatting.
Over the years, at various jobs and in different cities, I've had a series of regular places. There was the hot dog stand in a suburb of Birmingham, the BBQ place around the corner from a bookstore in Atlanta, the gyro place in the mall in Austin, the Scottish-themed short-skirt burger pub, the wing joint - at every one, I establish myself as a regular pretty quickly and cultivate the staff - I tip them, chat just enough to get to know them, and I order the same thing. Sounds monotonous, but I usually can only afford lunch out once a week, or once every other week, so it's a welcome break from leftovers or homemade sandwiches.
At the wing joint near our house, I manage one a week or so - usually Wednesday, as that's the day my favorite waitress works. Why favorite? She knows what I like to order, and has a pint drawn up for me by the time I sit down. We go through the normal social pleasantries, she confirms I want my usual and then I'm left in peace to read, or write a little in my notebook, while I nurse my beer and sometimes listen to a podcast. The food there's simple, hard to mess up, and enjoyable. Lots of televisions showing football or hockey or whatever sport is in season, but it's not one of those obnoxiously "sporty" places.
Lately, though, I've been a cheatin' man. I've found a new place, and it's even more what I like. It's called The Noble Pig, and these guys know some mother-lovin' sandwiches, lemme tell ya. It's a tiny little place, in a tiny strip mall literally at the edge of Austin - across the highway, and you're outside the city limits. They do almost everything there themselves - bake the bread, grind the sausage, cure the bacon, pickle the... pickly things. I suspect the owners must've spent at least a few years on top of a mountain in Tibet learning the Art Of The Sandwich from some old wrinkly dude in a saffron robe, because their sandwiches are all simple, beautiful things of awesome power.
First time there, I ordered a Knuckle Sandwich - roast beef, cheddar, onions and horseradish on wheat - and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I mean, just look at it!
I almost cried as I ate it, it was so good. I've always thought myself skilled in sandwich making, but I felt like this guy who's always bragged on how his mother pinned his art to her refrigerator, and suddenly he's sitting in front of a Rembrandt realizing that he's got nothing to compare.
I manfully resisted the temptation to lick the butcher paper clean when I finished, but it was a near thing.
This is a sandwich made by someone who cares about sandwiches, about food in general, about taking the time (and it takes time - nothing pre-assembled here, no sir!) to make something right. These guys take their sandwiches seriously, and it's obviously a labor of love for them.
One downside, they don't serve beer - and I do love a nice pint with my lunch - but they have a good selection of quality sodas, and tea and coffee.
The Noble Pig is a stripped-down lunch experience. The chairs and tables do their jobs - keeping you off the floor and food off your lap - the dining area is, no joke, smaller than my bedroom, no fancy pictures on the wall or potted plants cluttering up the place. You get a sandwich and chips on a tray, with some butcher paper under it. Ordering to go? Here's a plain brown bag to hold it. Have you ever seen those ancient men that do T'ai Chi? Clean, simple moves, not a motion wasted, just the motions that must be made and nothing extra. It's like that.
So I'm torn - old reliable, or the new hotness?