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Working Lunch: Pop’s Market on Grace

Expect a line and a hefty, efficient meal at this popular downtown spot.

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Let's be clear about one thing: The sandwiches at Pop's Market on Grace are gargantuan.

Gawking at one of the behemoths, I ask our server if anyone finishes so much bread and meat. She grins, admitting that it only seems to happen when someone spends hours there working or studying. "Then they'll nibble on it the rest of the day to finish it," she says.
Another time, I comment on the sheer weight of my sandwich and our server acknowledges, "Yeah, they're so big they intimidate me, so I don't even try."

Chances are, you'll want to make the effort because there's a lot to like at Pop's.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Vibe

Vintage wood floors, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light supplied by the arched Grace Street windows and the Fifth Street glass make this a welcome respite no matter the weather. Sturdy wooden tables and chairs, a lounge area, shelves filled with wine for sale and shelves of children's books fill the ample space with options. Bands like Fleetwood Mac play at an easily heard volume that gives the place a convivial feel.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Menu

Major props are in order for Pop's baking staff who daily churn out fresh-baked rye, bagels, English muffins and rolls that elevate whatever filling goes on them.

A solid all-day sandwich is the Italian grinder, thick with soppressata, prosciutto, pepperoni, provolone, Parmesan and, inexplicably, turkey. On another sandwich, chunks of chicken breast in pesto get support from thick slices of mozzarella and roasted red pepper, onion and greens, but the undisputed star is the fabulous focaccia that envelops it. Ditto the outstanding crusty rye that encases what feels like a mother lode of tuna fish with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

Pop’s Market on Grace has become a downtown staple for breakfast and lunch, with items like the pictured Banh Mi. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Pop’s Market on Grace has become a downtown staple for breakfast and lunch, with items like the pictured Banh Mi. 

As good-looking as it is mouth-watering, a salad of roasted beets, spring mix, cucumber and onion gets a boost from spicy peanuts and an abundance of creamy blue cheese, while a seasonal salad of skin-on sliced peaches, spiced walnuts, red onions and blue cheese over greens makes for a light lunch on a sweltering day.

The only sandwich I couldn't get behind was a meatball sub because the thin, watery red sauce it sports was almost completely lacking in seasoning, not even a hint of salt. A side of overly creamy redskin potato salad also misses the mark, tasting more of mayo than potatoes.

Breakfast, served until 11 a.m., includes a veggie frittata, biscuits and gravy and egg sandwiches, plus hot and iced coffee, orange juice and mimosas.

Pro tip: If you want one of the house-baked chocolate chip cookies, stake your claim early because they rarely last beyond noon.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Service

Pop's Market is full-on fast casual, so you'll need to order at the counter, take a number and find a table to await delivery of your food. You're lucky if, like us, your lunch is ferried to the table by owner Josh Wright's mom, who conveys welcome and bon appétit by making you feel like you're a guest in her house.

But fair warning: Unlike many restaurants, Pop's doesn't begin lunch service until 11:30, at which time the line forms immediately although it does move at a good clip.

Surprisingly, the person taking your order doesn't always know what's possible. I was a tad surprised when requesting onions be added to my tuna sandwich to be told that, "Josh doesn't add things, he likes his sandwiches served the way he designs them."

I can accept this, but considering that the tuna arrived with bits of onion in it, why wasn't that mentioned? When we ask for the Italian grinder's roll to be toasted first, it requires a consultation with two people to ascertain that it's possible.

Workability

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

On my visits, there's no shortage of people working or having meetings, hardly a surprise given the availability of free Wi-Fi and an abundance of tables with room for spreading out lunch and work supplies. That many people wear headphones may speak to the relatively loud volume of the overhead music, which adds to the ambiance for nonworking eaters.

Choosing to sit at the long, window-facing counter means your back is to the distraction of the dining room, although your workspace is more compact. The lounge area in the back has a love seat and upholstered chairs clustered around a faux fireplace, making it a homier place to hunker down with your laptop, as I spotted several worker bees doing on my visits.

Speed

First off, good luck finding parking downtown at lunch time, making Pop's best suited to those who live or work in the neighborhood or don't mind a walk. But once you're there, even if the line ahead of you is long, the kitchen moves efficiently. Ten to 12 minutes from ordering to food being delivered allowed plenty of time to eat and get some work accomplished.

Price

Did I mention the sheer weight and enormity of sandwiches at Pop's? A $10-12 sandwich that's enough for two meals is a bargain in my book. Sides run from $1.25 for bagel chips to $7.50 for pâté with gherkin gremolata — a steal, I might add — and for those working lunches that require some extra motivation, mimosas cost a thrifty $5.

There's a reason that Pop's has a devoted following. Working or not, I've yet to visit and not feel glad I'd come.

Pop's Market on Grace
Tuesdays – Fridays 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
415 E. Grace St.
644-7677
facebook.com/popsongrace


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