March 16, 2010

Lobby Cafe piles it on for a fresh, satisfying meal

By BOB KEYES Staff Writer

— One of the curses of coming home from a 10-day vacation is an empty fridge.

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by John Ewing: 20080723 Wednesday, July 23, 2008...Dan Fuente prepares a breakfast sandwich for a customer at his Lobby Cafe at 400 Congress Street in Portland.

That's what I encountered Monday morning when I pulled myself out of bed and got myself motivated for work. I tried eating a bowl of cereal, but the milk was stale.

I had no fruit, no bread, no bagels.

The freezer was well-stocked, but Ben & Jerry's at 8 a.m. did not seem like a good idea. So I did what any time-starved guy on the run does: I got my coffee and bagel on the run.

For years, I have walked past the Lobby Cafe at 400 Congress St. in Portland on my way to the U.S. Post Office. If you work downtown and visit the post office or offices in the building, you know the Lobby Cafe. It's a small food stand in the lobby.

I've gotten coffee there many times, but I rarely order food there. This time, I did.

I ordered a cinnamon and raisin bagel with butter, and a cup of coffee with cream. While neither was what I really wanted -- I wanted my breakfast at home, with the luxury of time -- both satisfied my needs. The bagel was fresh and chewy, the coffee rich and aromatic.

Perfect, given my pinch.

The problem was, Tuesday rolled around and my fridge was still empty. So I went back, this time for lunch.

Lunch is where the Lobby Cafe excelled.

I ordered a roast beef on wheat with mayo, lettuce, pickles and Swiss cheese. It's been a long time since I indulged in a roast beef sandwich, and the first thing that struck me was how substantial it was.

It came wrapped in wax paper, folded up in a nice little bundle. It actually felt weighty. It didn't feel like a sandwich, but more like a hardcover book.

It tasted even better. Thinly sliced, the beef had a rich, hearty flavor to it, and the bread was chewy and substantial.

It was one of many options. The counter is small -- maybe the size of my cubicle at work. But I had more choices than I could have imagined: tuna, egg salad, seafood salad, chicken salad, ham and cheese, turkey and any number of wraps. There are soups, salads, club sandwiches and all manner of other items.

Everything was reasonably priced. At $5.25, my roast beef was the most expensive thing on the menu. Most sandwiches were in the $3 to $5 range.

Color me impressed.

Next time I buy stamps, I might not feel so bad about stopping for more than coffee.

But that's no excuse for an empty fridge.

The Features staff of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for about $7.

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