May 31, 2012

Eat and Run: Partly Sonny

Our reviewer liked his lunch, but missed out on breakfast when the store was closed despite a special advertisement.

Although I had never set foot inside Sonny's Variety, I was predisposed to liking this Italian market down near St. John Street in Portland.

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Ryan Phillips puts together a Roast Beef Italian with extra black olives at Sonny’s Variety in Portland.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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WHERE: 935 Congress St., Portland; 773-8549

HOURS: Theoretically, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

CHEAPEST GRUB: $1.85 for a single clam cake; $1.99 for a hot dog

WAIT: Five minutes



Based on a five-star scale

The story goes like this: A few years ago while walking to a Sea Dogs ballgame at nearby Hadlock Field, I watched a guy park his car in the 15-minute spot directly in front of Sonny's, 935 Congress St.

The guy was wearing a Dogs hat and carrying a wind-breaker. It was plainly obvious that he was going to the game; no way he planned to move his car within 15 minutes.

Irate, a man bolted out of Sonny's and chewed this guy a new one. He was livid that this baseball fan would be so arrogant as to leave his car for an extended period in a short-term parking spot right in front of his store. Arms waving and voice raised, the man cursed this guy all the way down the street. The guy just kept walking.

I was going to the game myself -- I parked legally up the street -- so I didn't hang around to see how the drama unfolded. But I assumed the restaurant had the car towed.

I hoped so, anyway. Good for them for standing up for their business. Because of this incident, Sonny (or whoever it was) had always been a bit of hero to me.

Until last week.

I woke early one morning, and after getting my paper a little after 6:30, I walked down my hill in the West End and went for a breakfast sandwich at Sonny's. There is a big sign out front that says, "Sonny McMuffin and 12-oz coffee/$2.99 + tax/6:30 to 11 a.m."

I wanted one. That's a good deal. I noticed the sign driving by the day before, and decided it would be a perfect way to start my day.

Only problem was, Sonny's wasn't open. It was after 6:45 a.m. by the time I arrived, and the store was locked tight. Not a light on inside. Bundled newspapers still sat on the stoop.

A sign on the door said that Sonny's opened at 8 a.m.

So which is it, Sonny? 6:30 or 8? I was there 15 minutes after your advertised opening, ready for one of your scrumptious Sonny McMuffins. But no way I was waiting around another 75 minutes. I took my breakfast business elsewhere. You probably don't want to hear this, but the place I ended up is just around the corner from your store. It has big golden arches.

But this story has a happy ending. Being an open-minded fellow and always willing to give anyone a second chance, I went back for lunch and ordered the most expensive item on the menu: Sonny's Touchdown Sub for $7.99. Packed with ham, salami, turkey, roast beef, cheese, all the veggies and just a little bit of oil, I quickly realized why this sub is called a touchdown. It weighed as much as a football.

It was very good. The bun was soft and chewy, and the ingredients tasted fresh, and there were plenty of them.

I ate only half the sandwich and saved the rest for later. With a bag of chips and a water, my bill came to $11.77. A fair price for two solid meals.

Sonny's is a simple place. You can get fried and grilled food. Next time, I will likely try a hamburger ($2.60). If I give it a second chance for breakfast, I might try two eggs, home fries and toast ($4.20).

Sonny's also has beer and wine, and a smattering of take-home grocery items. But it's mostly a sandwich shop, with a few tables toward the back.

Keep in mind that it's cash only, and the ATM in there was out of service the day I visited.

And if you're going to the game, be sure to watch where you park. Sonny wants your business, but he won't put up with any grief.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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