Not a "power lunch" spot. It's the kind of place where the woman behind the counter or the grill will ask about your kids

Charlie Wards

4601 4th St., Brooklyn, (410) 636-2075

Charlie Wards is a quick-stop grocery near the Arundel County line in Brooklyn. The menu features your standard array of subs, full or half, plus pizza, chicken nuggets, fried cheese, and fish platters. And most everything here puts the "cheap" back into "Cheap Eats." The daily special is a half-sub for $2.50 (roast beef on our visit).

We opted for the regular-price meatball ($4) and an Italian cold cuts sub with lettuce, tomato, and spicy mustard ($4). Both sandwiches took a few minutes in the making, and both were closer to 8 inches than the usual 6. The meatball featured four of them swimming in a tangy sauce with plenty of mozzarella on a soft roll, with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese-a nice touch. It was hot, wrapped in foil and a paper plate, which partially turned into pulp before we could open up the sandwich in the car. All-in-all, too messy for road food, but plenty good and filling after it was reheated back at the office.

The Italian cold cuts came on the same kind of roll. The meats were fine, and the lettuce and tomato tasted like they'd been dressed in Greek dressing rather than the standard oil and vinegar. The "spicy mustard" was a bit scant for one of our taste-testers, but a fine sandwich just the same.

Sweat tea is dispensed from a big mason jar on the counter, and a full complement of Pepsi products stock the serve-yourself fountain ("refills are not free!"). Next to the deli counter, just up from the Western Union window, is a veritable wall of Utz's finest products, including hard-to-find items such as corn puffs and chocolate pretzels. With two bags of chips and a fountain drink, we got lunch for two for $11.09.

Charlie Wards is not a "power lunch" spot. It's the kind of place where the woman behind the counter or the grill will ask about your kids, and where a customer might announce he's just fallen off the wagon after 21 years. "I found out I can't drink like I used to either," said one man while making small talk with the blonde hammering on ground beef. "Eight shots put me under."

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