Sandwich City: Avenue B Grocery

Avenue B Grocery
4403 Avenue B. 512-453-3921,
Hours: 9am-6pm Mon-Sat.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.12.13
There’s a certain way asphalt smells when it’s untended, all buckled into humps like a rolling black sea. That’s the way the streets smelled all the time in Wolfe City, Texas, where my grandparents had a farm when I was growing up. Like dirt and oil and summers spent turning in bottles for the deposit money to buy candy.
And where downtown’s biggest street T-boned the second-biggest street sat the East End Grocery. What lay beyond an old swing-and-slam screen door was a dim, cramped shop with wood floors and a collection of goods that looked like they’d landed there by accident: pipe tobacco, Popsicles, cans of cloves, minnow buckets, men’s handkerchiefs. Everything you’d need for an editorial meeting at McSweeney’s.
The first time I walked to Avenue B Grocery in Hyde Park, the city was tearing up the street for resurfacing, and it smelled like the East End all over again. And just as it was back then, the portal into this white clapboard time machine is a screen door with a rusted ad on the handleguard. Among Avenue B’s yard-sale collection of handbags, Halloween candy, antique radios and past-their-prime sports figurines lies just enough ketchup, salt and coffee to call it a grocery, but the man on duty admitted that what they do mostly these days is make sandwiches.
Liverwurst brought me here, a daily special made from that poor man’s pâté I loved even as a kid, even though it has the consistency of spackle and tastes a little like pencil shavings. But man, is it good on white bread with mustard, lettuce, tomato — and most important — onions. The sandwich of Middle America.
It was $5.75, the going price for most of Avenue B’s sandwiches, except for a few specialties like the Queen B veggie at $6.25, the all-meats King Combo at $6.75 and a club sandwich for $7.25. Halves of most sandwiches are $3.25. The meat isn’t cured in-house, the bread is 10 kinds of Orowheat from the shelves and the bacon is just bacon, but it’s filling, and you call the shots on free lettuce, tomatoes and onions. From that collection comes a two-story Club with shaved turkey, cheddar and bacon on the first floor, then thick, sweet ham, Swiss and more bacon on the second floor. If you’re doing it right, it’s built on toasted wheat with lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard.
Avenue B grates white and orange cheddar for its pimiento cheese sandwich, folding in mayonnaise and those enigmatic flecks of red pepper for a thick, creamy hash with a little smoky afterthought. It doesn’t have the architecture of a Club or the earnestness of avocado, but it’s my go-to when the liverwurst is on vacation. The egg salad is as bright white, yellow and messy as a school lunch, but it’s made from eggs they boiled that morning. Same with the tuna salad, made with good canned tuna kept in the refrigerated case mixed with mayo and sweet pickle relish.
If you’ve wondered what the Dublin Bottling Works has been up to since Dr Pepper kicked them out of the family last year, the answer is Dublin Cherry-Limeade and Orange Cream, made with real sugar and artificial colors as bright as candied glass. They’re $1.85 from a cooler full of Cheerwine, XXX Root Beer and other sodas from another place and time, just like the East End and Avenue B.
(TOP: Liverwurst on white bread, my Sandwich of Middle America. INSET: Clockwise from top left: Rainbo Bread on the screen door’s handleguard; Avenue B. Grocery is nestled on a shaded residential street; sandwiches, including a Club, pimiento cheese, tuna salad and egg salad, each on different breads; Cherry Limeade and Orange Cream sodas from the Dublin Bottling Works. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)