Greensboro’s ten best cheap lunches
Soup Delights @ The Exchange
338 Tate St.; 336.273.2243
Since Mike and Terry D’Atre started slinging soup lunches at the restaurant formerly known as The Exchange, they broke new ground on the UNCG lunchtime scene: a noontime meal that’s fast, cheap and eminently delicious. Mike’s also heard the ‘“No soup for you!’” line from ‘“Seinfeld’” about a thousand times. Yeah, I miss the chicken Rockefeller they used to serve here, but now I can get it in soup form, with just a slight hint of Pernod. The soup menu changes daily with individual servings ladled into a house-baked bread bowl or flights of three soups that come in smaller portions. If you drink water, you can get out of here for five bucks.
Gate City Diner
102 N. Elm St.; 336.272.9465
Located in the lobby of the Southeastern Building at the downtown corner of Market and Friendly Streets, with its art-deco elevators and the old-school glass mail chute that runs the height of the structure. This is your typical Southern lunch counter, with a few tables scattered about the hallway and a menu that includes some regional standards at reasonable price points (the pimiento cheese sandwich runs $3.75 and a fried bologna goes for four bucks). They also have a rotating menu of hot lunch plates ‘— baked chicken, meatloaf’… that kind of thing ‘— that come with countrified sides like gravied mashed potatoes and green beans boiled to within an inch of their lives. They also serve homemade pie. But with the Southeastern Building up for sale, the future of this lunch counter looks uncertain.
Brown Gardiner Drug Fountain
2101 N. Elm St.; 336.275.3267
This is another throwback joint that harkens back to the day when the corner drugstore was all things to all people. You could renew your prescription for psoriasis medication, pick up some corn pads and get a BLT all in one stop. They still have a full-time pharmacist on duty at Brown Gardiner, and a lunch counter with prices that also bring you back in time: burgers, hot dogs, stew or soup, egg salad and pimiento cheese sandwiches each for less than two bucks. And they mix up the orangeade with real orange juice and a ton of sweet, sweet syrup. The high granny factor should alert you that you’re on to something good ‘— nobody knows more about the cheap lunch than senior citizens.
Hot Dog Guy
All over town
Hot Dog Guys set up all over town, with most of them doing business during the after-hours food rush. But you can still find a couple of them out there at lunchtime, most notably at Center City Park and on Greene Street by the municipal building. Hot dogs, also called ‘tube steaks’ by the more vulgar among us, may not be the most nutritious lunch in town, but when you can pair a couple of them with a drink and a bag of chips for less than three bucks, who cares? And if you’re all that concerned about your health you probably shouldn’t be eating on the street, anyway.
Greensboro Public Library
219 N. Church St.; 336.373.2471
Talk about cheap ‘— I’ve paid for lunch at the library with change found under the seats of my car. The cuisine at the little shop up front is limited to a small selection of those triangle-wrapped sandwiches that you sometimes see in gas stations (egg salad, chicken salad, ham salad and some heavily processed meats) and a few kinds of candy and chips, though it’s so cheap that you could walk in there with five bucks and not only feed yourself but also treat any one of the homeless guys from the periodicals section to a meal. Also, they serve espresso shots for like a buck.
1219 Spring Garden St.; 336.272.8284
More tubesteaks, but this time from the decades-old eatery in the center of the UNCG campus on Spring Garden Street. I name this place not for the quality of the food ‘— the dogs are of the type that appear red as a baboon’s hindquarters on the outside and have a washed-out gray color at the center, though with enough chili and slaw the consumer is spared this disconcerting color scheme. I mention it because my kids love it: ‘Yum Yum’s’ was among the first phrases my oldest child ever spoke. This is also one of the best places to get an ice cream cone, but that’s a Ten Best for another day.
Harris Teeter/Lowe’s Foods/ Bi-Lo
Various Greensboro locations
News flash: It is no longer considered ‘ghetto’ to buy your lunch from the supermarket. These days the deli counters at these Greensboro grocery chains have more to offer than many restaurants. Hand-rolled sushi, packaged sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, fresh salad buffets and hot or cold entrÃ©e selections make a trip to the grocery store feel like a stop at a deli. And because you’re not paying for table service, silverware or a tip, it means you can eat on the cheap, too.
Unlisted address and phone number, possibly deliberate
For years the Whataburger on Church Street looked to me like an abandoned business. It looks like somebody’s house, for one, but with a faded logo painted like a mural on the side of the building. And whenever I drove by it was locked up tight as a drum. But a local boy brought me there for lunch and once I picked up my burger I didn’t put it down again, just crammed it bit by bit into my gaping burger-hole. A two-fisted meal like this can be yours for a single portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
GTCC Culinary School
601 High Point Rd., Jamestown,
336.334.4822 x.2462 for reservations
Maybe it’s not the cheapest lunch in town (and maybe it’s not strictly ‘in town’) but the budding superstars enrolled in GTCC’s culinary program put on a fantastic midday meal every Wednesday and Thursday. Each week students prepare a three-course meal based on the semester’s curriculum. The last time I went the appetizer was a salmon and scallop terrine, the taste and texture of which I can still recreate in my imagination. It’s only six bucks, but reservations must be made in advance. They also serve dinner on Thursdays for an extra buck.
A Taste of Thai
1500 Mill St.; 336-273-0180
This is a beautiful little spot between Battleground and Lawndale with a spacious and well-appointed dining room and a meticulously polite staff. An ever-changing menu of lunch specials that bottom out at $4.95 take some of the risk factor out of Thai food, though for newcomers I’d ask the server what to expect from your dish ‘— I once had a piece of tuna there with a wasabi gravy that was entirely delicious but was strong enough to make me weep like a little girl with a scraped knee.