News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
EATS: PLEASED TO MEET YOU, POTBELLY
It takes so little to make people happy. That’s the thought that was running through my head when I recently visited the new Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Central Park. Sometimes it can take as little as a sandwich, a soda and a cookie. When, truth is, for around the same price you could go to an Asian or Indian buffet and be greeted by so many different tastes, textures and aromas, it would make your head spin.
But it’s sandwich shops that proliferate. It seems like another one sprouts up every few weeks, especially in Central Park. And is there really a lot to differentiate one from the next? Of course, one of them roasts their sandwiches, another toasts theirs; one bakes its sub rolls in-house, while another boasts insanely sized portions. End result: Don’t all sandwiches taste roughly the same? We’re basically talking about meat, cheese and condiments on whole wheat or white.
But people like the familiar, especially if it’s fed to them with just a little twist. Maybe that accounts for the different stories behind the chain sandwich shops. Like the place that serves subs inspired by the fare actual firefighters consume in the workplace. Or the spot that sprang from the mind of a precocious teenage boy with unshakable ideas on how to build a better mousetrap.
Potbelly has its own mythology. Founded in 1977, it started out as a humble antiques store turned sandwich shop with a line out the door. That’s not hard to believe, the turnaround on lunch meats being just a few-hundred times faster than that of a bunch of old gewgaws. A sign posted on the shop’s potbelly stove, besides explaining to youngsters exactly what a potbelly stove is, reads: “We are the stove. We are Potbelly.”
When I arrived, Potbelly had been open more than a month, but the newness factor was still palpable. Its long, narrow space has an industrial feel with a high, stamped-tin ceiling, exposed ductwork, tile floor and that anachronistic contraption at storefront.
The store’s pleasingly retro signs deliver Potbelly’s promise: Fresh Ingredients, Fast Service (“8 minutes through the line max”) and Friendly. At Potbelly, you place your order with a clerk, a sandwich-maker prepares your food and a cashier gets your order together and rings you up—all in less than eight minutes. I put a watch on it, not something I recommend you do. That’s because I ended up getting more than a little distracted, and the one thing you don’t want to be when visiting a new food business, I found out the hard way, is distracted.
I ordered a drink, a cup of chili and a chicken salad “flat” on thin multigrain bread to dine in, and an Uptown salad to go.
As the cashier rang me, I noticed I hadn’t gotten my salad. They assembled it for me and still beat the eight-minute deadline. But when I got to my table, I noticed they’d also forgotten my chili. I reordered the chili, adding a sugar cookie for good measure.
The sweet, mildly spicy chili had plenty of meat and was pleasing, though unremarkable. However, the chicken salad with provolone tasted nice and fresh. The flatbread that enclosed it was toasted, but the contents had remained cool and creamy, a neat trick.
The Uptown salad I ate later was composed of a spinach–romaine blend, grilled chicken, grapes, apples, blue cheese, dried cranberries and red onions. Its candied walnuts, not even the size of pine nuts, didn’t register at all. The salad, which tasted a little too much like its plastic container, was markedly better than salads served at fast-food places, but not nearly as good as those from, say, a sports bar or American grill. The sugar cookie made my sweet tooth happy and had me wishing I’d thought to sample one of the shakes for which Potbelly is known.
Overall, the ’Burg’s latest entry in the sandwich sweepstakes offers a pleasant atmosphere in which to enjoy good sandwiches at a fair price. Its staff is upbeat and eager to please, and even if service needs tweaking, one gets the feeling it’s only a matter of time before the shops runs like a well-oiled, cast-iron machine.
What: Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Address: 1240 Carl D. Silver Parkway (in Central Park), Fredericksburg
Info: 540/736-3946 or visit potbelly.com
Hours: Sunday–Thursday: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday–Saturday: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Prices: Sandwiches: $4.20–$6.60; Salads: $6.30–$7.30; Soups/chili: $3.20–$4.90; Desserts: $1.25–$3.90
The Scoop: Chain sandwich shop that’s typically found in more-urban markets features tasty “toasted” sandwiches, soups and salads, and sugar cookies to die for.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000 | firstname.lastname@example.org