The rules for these lunch reviews are pretty simple: Pick somewhere to go, buy a lunch that costs around $10, take a few photos, then eat and assess. I broke the rules on my first trip to the newly opened A&C Grocery. I blame Joe Fournier, the owner of the new store on Washington Avenue. My grilled cheese sandwich was too appealingly oozy to stop and artfully stage a photo. Then it was too delicious to stop eating.
Fournier is making sandwiches every day, both ones to order and a daily special that’s pre-made and sold in one of the refrigerated cases in the front of the store. He’s also offering salads (simple dressed greens were $4.95 on a recent day) and soup, which, on my first visit, was down to just the dregs of what smelled like a fine beef stew.
The grilled cheese sandwich I ordered was just cheddar, melted on oatmeal stout bread (made by Night Moves, the bakery that supplies A&C with breads, pies and cookies) with slices of tomatoes and salt and pepper ($4.95). Given that this is Portland, where everyone and their mother seems to be trying to capitalize on the foodie trend, $4.95 felt like a bargain, although in terms of the cost of materials and the labor involved, it’s more likely simply a fair price. Either way, I appreciated it enough to add one of Night Moves chocolate chip cookies to my order, especially after Fournier’s assistant swore it was the best chocolate chip cookie ever.
While I was waiting for the sandwich, I also picked up a packet of Tortilleria Pachanga’s tortillas from the freezer. These Portland-made tortillas are both delicious and elusive, so I grab them whenever I can. (A&C also stocks them fresh, but were out that day).
The sandwich barely took any time to assemble, but there’s a lot to look at in this sweet, homey space, which treads that line between feeling farm-stand local and very urban. The shelves are loaded with fine wines and the Portland cityscape spreads out nicely in front of you when you’re walking from the tiny parking lot into the shop. Fournier is veteran of Rosemont Market and was a partner in the Farm Stand in South Portland, and he stocks the place accordingly. Meaning, if you’ve read about a local brand, chances are you’ll find it here. The prices weren’t jacked up the way one might expect at a tony neighborhood grocery. My favorite Maine made tortilla chips were just a few cents more than I’ve paid for them at Hannaford, and the Speckled Ax coffee was the same price I’ve seen elsewhere.
My main memory of the grilled cheese, which I ate in the car, since there is no inside seating (with the better weather, A&C has added a picnic table out front) was that it was gooey enough that eating it fast seemed like something I could claim as a defensive measure. The cookie was very good, although not the best I’ve had by any means.
The next week, I returned and grabbed one of the daily specials out of the fridge. It was Genoa salami, fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomato and greens layered into a sizeable chunk of baguette. With tax it came to $8.30. I eyed some bright, baby radishes ($2.95 a bunch) and checked out some small batch crackers made in Portland but managed to get out of the store without spending any more money.
The salami itself was too salty for me, but that’s a taste issue, not a matter of quality, and everything else about the sandwich made me happy. It tasted like summer and couldn’t have been fresher, even pre-made. I’ll definitely stop again and keep trying whatever Fournier’s making.
WHERE: 131 Washington Ave., Portland. 329-4314. Facebook.
HOURS: The shop opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., but the menu (which changes daily) is served from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
WAIT: A few minutes
PARKING: A side lot holds about five cars, but street parking is also available.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes