Good food so cheap it feels like theft

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Turkey, Swiss, bacon sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

by Eric Ginsburg

I may have only been in pre-school, but I still knew it was wrong. When my mom caught me in my bedroom closet playing with the animal figurines I had spirited away from the preschool at my temple, I didn’t make any excuses. The jig was up, and I remember feeling embarrassed as I brought back the toys — I think one was a lion — and apologized to my pre-school teacher.

When I walk out of Washington Perk & Provision Co., I experience that same small adrenaline rush like I’m getting away with theft, but there’s no guilt associated with the lunches that feel like a steal. And I sure as hell don’t have to give back the loot.

It’s not easy to find good, cheap food in downtown Winston-Salem, and there may not be anywhere in the Triad with a sandwich this tasty for under $5. Though I’ve eaten there on more than one occasion, I still do a doubletake at my total each time the cashier rings me up.

Washington Perk & Provision Company opened its second location, Downtown Perk, on Trade Street in mid-2013, providing much-needed affordable lunch options to the downtown workforce and residents. Like the first location on Acadia Street, which is still open, customers can buy produce, a wide range of craft beer, deli sandwiches and other groceries. The store takes EBT, and sells a bunch of unusual snack options as well as an assortment of frozen vegetarian meals that I wish I had known about back in my meat-abstinence days.

The sandwiches and salads — almost all of which are less than $5 with the exception of the Reuben, Italian Stallion and hummus & pita — are made to order. At this point I’ve nailed down which ingredients I circle on the small slip of paper that acts as an order form: turkey, Swiss and bacon with lettuce, tomato and mayo on honey-wheat bread.

Even with the addition of a small chicken-salad salad, my total didn’t hit $10 until I threw in a drink to wash it down. See what I mean about stealing?

The friendly guy behind the deli counter at Acadia Street made sure to apply mayonnaise to both slices of bread and microwave the bacon, that added touch making a world of difference. With fresh, juicy tomato slabs and a solid helping of turkey, this sandwich would easily cost several dollars more, if not double, most other places.

The taste of bacon lingered in my mouth long after the sandwich disappeared, a crispy addition to a sandwich that has long been my favorite, ever since I discovered it on a fresh, soft sub roll at a deli in my Massachusetts hometown. While nostalgia ensures nothing will ever reach the same acclaim, Washington Perk can hold its own, doing the meal justice.

The chicken-salad salad with spinach and lettuce.
The chicken-salad salad with spinach and lettuce.

I figured the chicken-salad salad would be a more standardized order, but it too, like all the salads and sandwiches, are made to order, so I opted for a bed of spinach and lettuce, leaving out other veggies to let the house-made chicken salad do the talking.

Speaking of stealing, it’s hard to believe how much comes on a small side salad. We’re talking twice as much as on some full salads at other restaurants in the Triad, and better tasting than many as well.

Another longtime personal favorite, it comes with pieces of green apple and a little too much onion. One day I hope to find somewhere that serves — or convince someone to serve — chicken salad with halved red grapes in it like my grandmother makes, but in the interim this will do just fine.

The biggest steal at Washington Perk may be the breakfast items, including a sausage biscuit that they let go for less than five quarters and four other combination biscuits for under $2. But the options don’t stop there — this is a neighborhood coffee shop, forming a triangle with its namesake Washington Park and UNC School of the Arts. There are $3 mimosas on Saturdays, bulk meat for sale and a soup de jour — on Monday, they served up a chicken pot-pie soup.

The folks working at both locations all seem to be a little quirky in the best way, quick with a smile and happy to chat up customers. But besides the cheap and satisfying food, the best perk for both locations may be their relative quietude. Many patrons slip in and grab a thing or two to go but few seem to linger at the tables, making it a calm place for a lunch meeting, date, study session or just to eat in peace.

Visit Washington Perk & Provision Company at 301 W. Fourth St. or 228 W. Acadia Ave, (W-S). See washingtonperk.com for more info.