Written by on September 13, 2011 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(potbelly.com) – Washington, DC (on D & 3rd Streets, just outside of the Federal Center SW Metro Station)

How I heard of this place: I believe I first heard about Potbelly when I had first moved to the greater Washington, DC area. Soon after, I learned that a franchise had opened downtown Seattle. It was one of two lunch options, when I met up with my friend Negar, in Silver Spring, Maryland a few months ago. Chris and I considered it one night, while walking through Ballston, looking for a neighborhood eatery. And now…It was high time entering Potbelly happened.

Type of cuisine: Sandwiches. Salads. Soup, Chili. Chips, a whole pickle. Freshly baked cookie, Dream Bar, Ice Cream Sandwich. Shakes, malts & smoothies. Canned, bottled and fountain drinks. Simple. To say it in more detail, the Potbelly website offers the full story: “Potbelly started in 1977 when a little antique store on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago started selling toasted sandwiches (right along with vintage stoves, old books and other knick knacks) to boost business. The same care and attention used to select our antiques went into the recipes and menu preparation. Meats and cheeses were sliced in the store every day. The bread finished its baking as the sandwich came out of the oven, making it perfectly toasted on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. Fresh, crisp vegetables and condiments topped them for a tasty sandwich like no other. And folks could add an old-fashioned, real ice cream milkshake that was hand dipped especially for them. We still do things exactly the same way today. For over 30 years we have maintained this distinctive homemade quality and pride in our food that made our first store on Lincoln Avenue a local favorite. As you would expect, our passion for great food helped us develop a huge following of loyal Potbelly fans. Sandwiches like “A Wreck” made with Black Angus roast beef, old world salami, oven roasted turkey breast, hickory smoked ham and melted Swiss Cheese, have put an end to the antiques part of the business (although all our stores still have a bunch of antiques around and books to read). The chicken salad in our Chicken Salad Sandwich is handmade every day. Our Italian Sandwich has four Italian meats – authentic capicola, mortadella, salami, and pepperoni. The meatballs in our Meatball Sandwich are covered with rich marinara sauce and provolone. It’s straight forward, great tasting, wholesome, comfort food. But we have more than just great sandwiches. We have two big new salads, the Uptown and Farmhouse. Both are freshly made with all-natural grilled chicken breast and loaded with flavorful ingredients like grapes, hard-boiled egg, candied walnuts and bacon all on a fresh salad mix. All of our soups are loaded with vegetables and other tasty stuff. And the Chili is super-meaty – just like Mom’s. We are also famous for our sweets like cookies baked fresh throughout the day. We take the time to make sure that each hand dipped milkshake, malt, and smoothie comes with a cute little butter cookie on the straw. Our ice cream sandwiches don’t come out of a wrapper, but are made right before your eyes by layering real ice cream between two of our outrageous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. Our beverage cooler holds some of the usual favorites plus other fun, hard-to-find drinks that you won’t see everywhere. We truly appreciate every customer who comes in to visit us. We recognize that everyone is an individual with unique tastes, likes, and eating styles – including a desire to eat well. At Potbelly, you get the chance to create the sandwich or other item the way you want to have it. You can get “Thin-Cut” bread (we remove 1/3 of the bread), leave off the mayo, or load up on lettuce, or tomatoes, or sliced pickle, or our unique Potbelly Hot Peppers … it is up to you. Here are some options to get you started. The choices are endless. We don’t start making your food until you place your order … so you can let your mood determine what you order. From their very first visit customers are often hooked (some have even been known to experience intense cravings the very next day). It doesn’t take long before Potbelly fans have a favorite sandwich or salad they refer to thereafter as “My Potbelly”.”

Ambiance: From the moment you enter Potbelly (at least I hear it’s the same from location to location), a smile immediately forms across your face. Live music playing loudly, as patrons form a long, but efficient and quick-moving line through the empty spaces between wooden tables and chairs, some at a regular dining height, others taller, bar-seating style. The floor to ceiling windows along the street open into a large space, where the wooden walls and pillars are reminiscent of the late 1970s. Colors, detail – like the colorful, wall-papers in blue & white with an American flag prominently framed and hung – black & white, hand-drawn and illustrated signage and random, mismatched artwork find their home in Potbelly. The ceiling is tiled with a patterned, charcoal-colored array of tiles, reflecting the sunlight if it hits just right. Antique-looking, orange and yellowed lamps hang from the ceiling, as do more modern lights to add brightness to the dim- and naturally-lit space. Chalkboards with colorful fonts, promote the specials of the day, as well as season favorites by way of fruit and soups. As one makes her way through the long, winding line, a young man offers to take your orders and place them into the electronic, handheld device at his fingertips, for ease of ordering and fast-paced service. As the line continues, it is almost like a food-lovers Disneyland, with music playing overhead, the bottled beverages are the first stop as the line turns to the right. Pick up your drinks, continue through the line, greeting staff as they stand behind the counter and prepare your sandwiches; what’s next? The chips! Take your pick of the variety of Zapp’s potato chip flavors, facing forward in small wooden cubbies. As if that weren’t enough, look up to the top of the mini-shelves and find take-away menus and the largest jar of whole pickles you have ever seen! It’s like the Guinness Book of World Records has also made an appearance! A star-spangled, metal lunchbox is open, tempting patrons to pick up a large, tasty cookie on their way through the line and to the register. You’re nearly there when the light streams through the stained glass circles forming a piece of red and yellow art in the window ahead, and at least one staff member confirms your order, as it makes its way down the steady, moving assembly line. “Potbelly Sandwich Shop began in 1977 as a small antique store run by a nice young couple. Despite the fast-paced, never-a-dull-moment world of antique dealing, the couple decided to bolster their business by making sandwiches for their customers. What began as a lark, turned out to be a stroke of genius. Soon, people who couldn’t care less about vintage glass doorknobs were stopping by to enjoy special sandwiches and homemade desserts in this unusual atmosphere. As the years passed, the lines grew. Booths were added, along with ovens for toasting sandwiches to perfection, vista-coolers, napkin dispensers, hand-dipped ice cream – even live music. The little antique shop had become a full-fledged, totally unique sandwich joint. Then in 1996, an entrepreneurial young man by the name of Bryant Keil bought the original store on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Together with his team, Bryant obsessed over every detail of each new store, making sure that they maintained the same charm and heritage. Now more than 200 shops later we hope you find that same magic in your neighborhood Potbelly.” Quiet antique store grows into a happening sandwich shop.  

What I ordered: I had a hard time deciding, since most everything on the menu sounded perfect for a picnic lunch with friends at the United States Botanic Garden, a National Garden in the middle of the Mall in DC. With the assistance of the young man taking our order, I selected the Pizza Sandwich ($4.50) with pepperoni, marinara sauce, provolone cheese, mushrooms and an Italian seasoning on regular bread. My dining companion felt drawn to the Tuna Salad sandwich ($4.50), albacore tuna with Swiss cheese on multigrain wheat bread with the addition of mayo, mustard, hot peppers, lettuce, tomato, pickle, minus the onion. We grabbed a freshly baked Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie ($1.15) to share. 

Grab A Cookie

What I loved: I loved that my dining companion and I split both sandwiches (which were already cut in half for us) so that I could sample both! The pizza sandwich was more to my liking than the tuna; and my dining companion offered that the tuna salad was not her favorite of the plethora of selections at Potbelly. In fact, she recommended A Wreck (salami, roast beef, turkey & ham with Swiss cheese) for my next visit, and I was pleased to find A Wreck Salad with the same ingredients! The cookie, too, was a perfect, sweet (but not too sweet) treat to end the meal.

Why I loved it: I love the thought behind the Potbelly stove making its way into a sandwich shop. “We started out as an antique shop way back in 1977, so it should be no surprise that we took our name from an antique stove. But a Potbelly stove was more than just a place to cook. Potbelly stoves were gathering places in homes and communitieis, warm little outposts where folks could share a meal and some conversation. While the stoves might be a thing of the past, you can still find the same warmth and good vibes at a Potbelly in your neighborhood. So for us, Potbelly is more than just a name. It’s a symbol of what we are. It’s a place where folks gather to grab toasted sandwiches and freshly prepared salads, catch a local musician, enjoy a hand-dipped shake and maybe even make some new friends. We’re not just in your neighborhood, we’re your neighborhood sandwich shop.” I love the live music! “All year long (save for the usual holidays) a musician performs live at a Potbelly store somewhere in America. Over the course of a year, over 653 different musicians perform at our stores. Music has been a part of Potbelly Sandwich Shop since we first opened in 1977. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, we like to think that we are probably the world’s largest purveyor of live music (at least when it comes to the number of music venues).  If you think you’ve got what it takes to perform at one of our stores, you can visit our musicians wanted section to see if we are looking for performers in your area.” I truly enjoyed the speed of service and the price for the delicious food we thoroughly enjoyed!

Cost: Low ($4 – $5.50 per sandwich)

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