Food Issue Extra Helpings: Sandwiched Together
Notes from the 'Chronicle' lunch line
By Kimberley Jones,
10:00AM, Wed. Feb. 12, 2014
There are no bad sandwiches. Only better sandwiches.
The Chronicle goes to press on Wednesdays. In an effort to keep bodies in the building on the most stressful day of the press cycle, the office provides free lunch for employees on Wednesdays – pizza, pasta, the occasional Tex-Mex delivery, and, at least twice a month, a sandwich spread.
Sandwich day is an embarrassment of riches. There are cold cuts and all the usual fixins, plus some flourishes. Little jars of pickled somethings. A microwave queso that congeals to spackle-consistency by the time the last lunch group rolls through. Central Market sushi and side dishes. (It's kind of a Wednesday game, for me at least, to test the remarkable staying power of a single stalk of asparagus.) There are typically three different kinds of mustard, in varying side-scraping stages of emptiness, and an abomination called wasabi mayo that gets farted out of a plastic squeeze bottle, to the shudder of everyone in its earshot.
It’s an impressive spread, and a labor of love on the part of the office staff that puts it together for us. They pull back a bamboo curtain while they’re prepping, which only adds to the anticipation. In truth, the sandwich never tastes as good as the anticipation of it. No matter how much care you lavish on its assembly, the sandwich usually gets half-eaten then abandoned for a couple of hours when some crisis arises. Or all the tomatoes are gone by the time you show up, and what’s a sandwich without tomatoes? (Not a bad sandwich, mind you – it just could be better.) Unwise decisions are made in the lunch line, like that double fistful of potato chips you would never otherwise allow yourself. Not to mention how many grubby hands before yours were fishing around that same potato chip bag. I’m convinced I picked up mono from the lunch line 14 years ago, and I’m just as certain I’ve passed on my various colds and flus to the poor suckers behind me. For better and for worse, the lunch line is a sharing place.
In a lot of ways, Chronicle staff travels in packs, easy cliques according to departments; as an editorial staffer, I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t always known the names of the ad reps. The lunch line is where I get to know them – not just their names, but who’s a vegetarian, who’s on a weird diet, who prefers a tortilla to traditional bread, who wishy-washes over turkey versus ham (you never want to get stuck behind a dawdler).
Years ago, classified rep Bobby Leath recruited me to the Chronicle softball team while we waited in line; now I show off my bruises and snicker about my batting average. (It’s not great.) Graphic designer and photographer Shelley Hiam tells stories about rowdy mosh pit shoots. Production manager Chris Linnen and I have bonded over Mr. Wickles pickles and mourned together when our office manager cindy soo stopped buying them (too expensive). Promotions director/Luv Doc Dan Hardick inevitably says something inappropriate. (“Handbook!” is what we all shout when somebody tells a dirty joke; Dan hears the word so often, I wonder if it haunts his dreams.) Chrondog Hank hovers, looking for a handout, just like the late, much-loved Chrondog Eevee did before him. In five-minute snippets, we hear about buying houses, baby’s first steps, fresh break-ups, and whatever YouTube obsession someone’s nursing that day. There’s community, and continuity, in that line.
Which is not to say I won’t shoot death glares at anyone who takes the last tomato slice.
By my count, Avenue B Grocery makes the greatest sandwiches in town. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward, perfectly put-together sandwich – the kind you wished your mom packed in your sack lunch in elementary school. If you go there often enough, they’ll write down your order and keep it behind the window. Mine’s called the Jonesy: salami, double mustard, provolone, tomato, and red onion on multigrain bread. There are no bad sandwiches, but there’s a best sandwich for everyone, and that one’s mine.
Read more Extra Helpings stories at austinchronicle.com/daily as we lead up to the release of our special annual food issue. The Austin Chronicle’s First Plates Awards & Food Issue is on stands Thursday, February 13.