Oftentimes, the obvious answer is the most elusive.
Such as to this question: Where should I go for lunch?
Over the course of the near-14 years I have worked in downtown Portland, I have spent untold hours sitting at my desk debating lunch options. Never once have I been to The Works, formerly known as Bagel Works on Temple Street. I have been for breakfast a few times, but never for a sandwich, despite the shop being convenient to my present and previous offices.
What was I thinking?
On a nasty late-fall noon hour with a hard rain falling, I dashed across Temple Street from One City Center to finally try what most of my co-workers know is one of the finest sandwich shops in Portland. It was crowded with people dripping wet, and felt slightly chaotic. I stepped out of the flow to study the large menu posted above the counter where the friendly staff assembles the sandwiches, so the people who ambled in after could place their orders. They obviously knew what they wanted.
The Works offers many choices, and most appear to be (relatively) healthy choices. Nonetheless, I loaded up on meat and cheese. I ordered the Dagwood ($7.95) with a cup of New England clam chowder ($4.69). Served on sourdough sliced bread, the Dagwood was loaded – and I do mean loaded –- with turkey, ham and bacon. It was swathed in more mayo than I preferred, and complemented with a nice tomato slice and lettuce and onion. It was served in two equal halves on a plastic plate that was covered with a paper wrapper.
It was exceptional. The turkey and ham were thinly sliced but piled high, with slices of bacon nestled among the tomato, lettuce and onion. The bread was soft, but no too soft. It held up to the rigors of the job, which was keeping the sandwich intact.
I finished one half, then turned my attention to the chowder. It was served in a paper cup with a plastic top, and came with two bags of crackers at my request. The chowder was buttery and creamy, which I like, and the potato chunks were bite-sized, as were the clams. I appreciated the mild taste, and also appreciated that it wasn’t served piping hot. I’ve had better chowder in town, but I’ve also had a lot of chowder I didn’t enjoy as much as this cup. I liked it enough that I would order it again. With the chowder down, I turned my attention to the second half of my sandwich.
My only criticism of the sandwich was the amount of mayo. It oozed out of the air holes in the bread, and made for a messy meal. I nabbed three napkins from the dispenser before sitting down, and midway through my sandwich went back for three more. My fingers were a mess.
My other complaint involves the layout of The Works. I think one of the reasons I have held off going for lunch is because the space feels uncomfortable and claustrophobic. You order at the counter, then move down the counter to your right to pay and get your drink, utensils, etc. When your sandwich is ready, you go back to the counter where you ordered to pick up your sandwich, forcing you to move against the flow of people who are ordering or moving down the line toward the register. I joined three other guys waiting for their sandwiches, and we spent our time stepping out of the way of other people. It strikes me as a not very logical flow.
I felt the same way when I found a seat. It was busy and crowded, and more than once someone bumped my table as they walked by. No big deal – I’m really not hung up on my personal space. But it was awkward.
Now that I know the reward, I’ll put up with the jostle.
15 Temple St., Portland | worksbakerycafe.com | 207879-2425
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
WAIT: Five minutes, give or take
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, but it might be challenging to negotiate once you’re inside.