By Ann Parker
Special to the Sentinel
It took a moment for the pun to click: U.S. Meal? But the restaurant’s logo, which shows a burger and the USPS eagle on a stylized postage stamp, made the reference obvious. Then there was the subtitle: United Plates Social Service.
I was still shaking my head over the postal puns and thinking of others — help stamp out hunger, etc. — while texting my friend Tom to meet me at U.S. Meal for lunch. If anyone would appreciate corny food-related puns, Tom would.
This new eatery is in a corner of East Cliff Village Shopping Center formerly occupied by Deli-Licious Café. Owner Roger Barnes has made major changes to the site, including adding double side doors leading to a landscaped patio area with picnic tables and a big fountain.
Inside, the seating includes round tables with surfaces of red granite and a modern counter with high-backed aluminum stools. With its big windows, crisp white walls and blue trim, the entire room looked bright, clean and inviting.
All four staff members wore matching blue polo shirts the same color as the room’s trim. Behind the counter, a personable woman named Barb took orders and greeted each diner like a new friend.
“I’ll know all your names sooner or later,” she cheerfully told a customer.
When Tom joined me, we studied the neon-bright menu boards posted on one wall. They were divided into sections for burgers made with beef, turkey or salmon, as well as garden burgers and additional sandwiches. Paper menu are also supplied, although they don’t include specials such as the restaurant’s $5 Lunch Box combinations: That day’s choices were either a small cheeseburger with fries and or a teriyaki chicken sandwich with macaroni salad, both served with bottled water.
“We sold out of pulled pork for the third Lunch Box but we’ll have more tomorrow,” Barb told us.
I chose another special, the Jalapeño-Guacamole-Pepper Jack Cheeseburger ($6.95) with a can of Blood Orange Pellegrino ($2). Tom ordered a Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($3.50) with a Coke ($1.75). We also added a Turkey Burger with Avocado ($6.95) and two sides: Onion Rings ($2.25) and a Half/Half order of regular and sweet potato fries ($2.25).
In a short time, Barb and Graciella, another pleasant staff member, brought our food in blue plastic baskets lined with blue-and-white checked paper. The very hot onion rings super-crunchy (a little too crunchy for me) but not at all greasy. Both types of fries — again, crisp-edged without being greasy — were tasty but Tom and I both preferred the regular fries to the crinkle-cut sweet potato fries.
My hamburger was just as I had ordered, medium-rare and layered with lettuce and tomato, no onion. A generous amount of guacamole and pickled jalapeño slices added color and flavor to the hand-formed grilled beef patty. The large Aldo’s bun fell apart a bit because the ingredients were so juicy but I thought it was worth this minor inconvenience to have such fresh bread.
Tom bit into his crisp-edged grilled cheese sandwich and said happily, “This is just the way I like it. The cheese is completely melted and there are nice grill char marks.”
To me his sandwich tasted like childhood, the flavors simple and straightforward. No fancy cheese, unusual bread or gourmet ingredients: all it needed was tomato soup and a rainy day.