Remembrance of Arby's Past

Maverick's
1746 Lexington Ave., Roseville; (651) 488-1788
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Saturday

Surprise and delight have animated my every moment lately, ever since I got a new pair of spectacles and discovered that the little people I see everywhere are children and not, as I previously suspected, leprechauns, monkeys, or Norm Coleman. Look about the public spaces carefully, and you may note some as well. Generally they are chauffeured about the metro strapped into elaborate apparatuses in the back seats of cars and vans, which seems to suggest that they are repeatedly endeavoring to carjack their vehicles. But this I cannot know for sure.

One thing I have noticed is that they seem to go through two ages of cuisine before they learn to zip their own coats and thus are issued pre-approved credit cards with which to carve their very own abysses of debt. The first age of child cuisine would be that of dried cereal products and sippy-cups, some sort of clever evolutionary adaptation whereby children may always be located by mere identification of a crumb trail. The second age would seem to consist entirely of chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, chicken fingers, French fries, string cheese, and tubes of squeezable yogurt. I have never seen anything like it. Today's youth are a mobile army, unfamiliar with fork or place mat, ever ready to march and catch their nutrition with one hand as they go. Who put the nation's youth on permanent bivouac?

I'll tell you who will pay for it--each and every one of us. Mark my words: Your fancy dinner menu in 2048 will consist of hand-minced chicken fingers on a bed of string cheeses, home-ground chicken nuggets with a Cheerios syrup, and Swiss chocolate-hazelnut yogurt tubes. What else could their comfort foods be? They'll have seen meatloaf only twice, on TV.

Don't buy it? Well, hasten your doubting self to Lexington Avenue North right off Larpenteur Avenue West, to Maverick's, a little spot in a strip mall where they make the best roast beef sandwiches in town, mostly because they've got very fond remembrances of Arby's past. "Whenever I describe the sandwich, I ask people if they remember Arby's back in the day--that's the roast beef I do," says Bret Hazlett, co-owner of the sandwich shop. "People in their 40s remember," he says. "It's the ultimate comfort food."

Well, I don't know about that. A 1970s Arby's doesn't sound all that comforting to me, and frankly I have a hard time imagining that any fast food was ever this good. Not that these sandwiches are complicated. In fact they're incredibly basic: just hot, rare roast beef, sliced to order and placed on a bun, which is itself toasted to order. At Maverick's, $2.79 gets you a small roast beef sandwich (three ounces) on a sesame bun; $4.95 nets a large one (five ounces) on a kaiser roll, onion kaiser, or pumpernickel roll. That's all! No gizmos, no gadgets. In fact, you don't even need condiments.

Me, I never had a roast beef sandwich that was so tender it didn't need condiments, so that came as something of a shock. But glory be, what a treat. Just two ingredients here: a Blackey's Bakery bun, as fresh and light as could be, and then the just-roasted, warm, big-tasting, tender meat. Eureka. Of course, there are condiments available, if condiments you desire: creamy horseradish sauce, chopped onions, pickled peppers, and house barbecue sauce. You can also get cheese: American, cheddar, or Swiss, for another 29 cents. But I say skip it--it just dilutes a good thing.

The other standout at Maverick's is the beef brisket sandwich ($2.79/$4.95). One day when I was standing at the counter I noticed that the word "brisket" seemed to confuse people. Basically, it's fork-tender pot roast, and Maverick's serves it with barbecue sauce or plain. Plain is the best, all beefy and dark tasting, but please note that it's so juicy it will start to dissolve the bun if you don't consume it immediately.

Everything else I tried at Maverick's was just as it should be: good fries ($1.09), fresh cole slaw (89 cents), ultra-eggy potato salad (89 cents), creamy shakes ($1.59-$2.29), chunky homemade soups ($2.39), and even stuff for kids--hey, chicken fingers ($2.59)!

Except for the sandwiches, Maverick's is something of an odd duck. Undeniably, it's friendly and upbeat. Bret Hazlett has been behind the counter each and every time I've been there, chatting with the regulars, offering first-timers tastes of brisket or special meal deals. (Newbies can get one each of the small brisket and small roast beef, for the price of a large.) Yet as cheery as the people there are, there's something oddly placeless about Maverick's. Although the sandwich shop has been open for more than a year, and even though the interior is painted with a vast mural of colorful canyons, the place looks like it could be turned into a cell phone store in two blinks of an eye. You get the sense that a little interior decorating would triple the place's popularity. The way it is, though, there is plenty of room. The shop must seat 60, at big open tables. One day I was there, Maverick's hosted an impromptu all-company birthday lunch for a local business; another day, half a dozen moms and a dozen kids staked out tables for lunch and coloring.

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