5th Avenue Sandwich Shop is a delightful refuge for the hungry. It will satisfy the demands of the consumer’s stomach along with the fickle desire of her taste buds. These sandwiches easily stand out from most other commercial sandwich restaurants because they are handmade. The sandwiches aren’t spit out of a corporate machine. Instead, the customer is delivered a tantalizing treat that has been assembled with care.
The menu, too, is reasonably priced. The sandwiches range from $7 to $10. Although one could hypothetically purchase a foot-long from Subway for $5, one would be missing out on the sheer volume of the 5th Ave. sandwich. Rows of meat stacked upon more rows of meat loosely contained between three pieces of toast. That’s right. Essentially, the consumer is receiving a double sandwich. Subway pales in comparison when it comes to the meat-to-sandwich ratio.
The regulars, some of which did not provide their last names, can attest to the benefits of dining at 5th Ave. “It’s pretty much amazing,” was the enthusiastic exclamation of Garry. Garry was out to lunch with his brother Walt and his parents Amoreena and Avery who did not provide their last names. “I like the gluten free options,” Amoreena commented. “It sometimes reminds me of Thanksgiving. Everyone sitting together. It has this family atmosphere.”
Larry, another regular, comes two or three times a week. “I will put up with a lot of things but bad service is not one of them,” he said. “They have great service here. The food is reasonably priced, the pace is fast, and everyone’s friendly.”
Many of the customers asserted that the reuben was one of the best sandwiches at 5th Ave. Having the full recommendation of the customers and staff, I decided to order it. If one is not familiar with a reuben, it is a triple layer of corned beef with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing. As I stated earlier, this sandwich was gargantuan. Dribbled over the corned beef, the Thousand Island mixed with it to yield a nice combination of meat flavor and sweetness. The experience would be similar to that of taking a bite of salad and then stuffing a sandwich into your mouth. The only criticism I have of the sandwich is that sometimes the thick layer of Thousand Island masked the taste of the meat.
Bonnie Elsey, the owner, has been in the restaurant business for 25 years. “Everything is homemade. That is the secret to my success,” she explains. She also attributes her success to the family atmosphere of the place. Due in part, no doubt, to the restaurant being family owned. She started out in Longview, Wash. where her family made soup, salads, sandwiches, and dessert. She moved to Olympia and did the same thing here.
The interactions between customers and staff reinforce the family atmosphere. Many people who dined there were regulars and on several occasions I saw the staff talking with diners in a very familiar way. During my interviews, many of the customers provided me more information about the diner without me having to ask them. Such was their familiarity with the place.
The restaurant definitely has that “downtown feel” to it. Pictures of the early years of Olympia decorate the wood paneled walls. Many of the portraits are of trains and railroad signs. A giant American flag sits against the wall in the back part of the restaurant. Vintage signs say things like “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, we train you” and “Life’s short… Eat cookies.” To complete this cozy atmosphere were oldies playing quietly in the background.
I felt very privileged to have experienced the 5th Avenue Sandwich Shop. It was as if I had been briefly taken in by a family. Upon my way out I thought it would be remiss of me not to purchase something from the bakery. I ordered a fudge brownie with macadamia nuts. Before I could pass them, some elderly regulars told me about their experiences with 5th Ave. and the different items I should purchase when I come back. It was as if they were advertising for it. And why shouldn’t they have? Their connection to the place was personal.
The brownie, by the way, was very good. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting. It, like the reuben, was gigantic.