When you hear about a dish called "Wet Shoes," your first reaction might not be exactly "Yum, can't wait to eat that!" And let's be truthful here: Unless you are a student, generations of whom have flocked to Amy's Place on Main Street the way salmon instinctively swim upstream to spawn, you might wonder a bit when you first enter this legendary eatery.
The front window is frosted halfway up, with a jumble of items visible through the glass above that. The music is occasionally a bit shrill or heavy on the percussion. The servers are tattooed and pierced. The floor could use a wash; the light fixtures could use a dusting.
However, like the dish called Wet Shoes, which is not only delicious but borderline addictive, Amy's will surprise you. The workers could not possibly be more friendly or attentive. On the weekend evening when John and Pat joined us there for dinner, our server plunked a big pitcher of unsweetened iced tea onto our table after two of us ordered $2 glasses. The coffee ($1.25) was refilled many times. The bottle of Johnnie Ryan's ginger ale ($1.99) was superb.
On to the menu, which includes breakfast all day and plenty of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern flavors. Rather than being isolated to a second-class spot at the end of the menu, dishes made with vegetables, tofu and even the wheat-based meat substitute called seitan are the stars at Amy's Place. You might well order something that sounds delicious without even realizing that no animal parts or products are included.
We started with a conscious "Wet Shoes" comparison – vegetarian vs. meaty (each version $6.25). Both dishes are built on a base of curly fries. The meat one is covered with a savory chili, onions and grated, melty cheddar; the vegetarian version, which substitutes a serving of spicy lentils for the chili, adds grilled onions, chunks of green pepper and diced, fresh tomatoes.
These are not side dishes, but sizable plate-fillers. We found the meaty one to be slightly more delicious, but we could easily order the vegetarian version and be perfectly satisfied.
Then it was on to our main selections. Luckily, when I ordered the Lentil-Berry sandwich, our server asked, "Do you want the small version?" and I said yes. Because half the small version ($6.50) went home with us; the large ($8.25), which she seemed to indicate is twice the size, would have been too much.
Anyway, the Lentil-Berry, as any Amy's aficionado knows, is a serving of the house specialty of cooked lentils and wheat berries, topped with lettuce, tomato, provolone, hot sauce and house dressing, rolled in a soft flatbread. This creation has just the right mix of tastes, and the lettuce crunch accents the soft lentils. Though it's called a sandwich, it's a fork dish.
The mini-falafel sandwich ($4.99; $6.75 for the full) was excellent. The crunchy patties, made from ground fava beans and chickpeas, with chopped onions, parsley and spices, were light, non-greasy and delicious. The falafel patties were topped with tahini and house dressing, then rolled tightly in a pita with lettuce and tomatoes. The balance was nice, with the dressing not overwhelming the delicately fried falafel.
From the "Crew's Creations" part of the menu, we chose a James Special ($7.25), and our hat is off to you, James, wherever you are. Turkey, ham and swiss, topped with tomato, onions and Thousand Island dressing, was stacked between slices of wheat bread, which were then grilled. The ham, particularly, was nice, much better than the usual deli slices.
An American burger ($4.99) was a large beef patty on a soft, fresh roll, topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Like the falafel and James Special, this came with a handful of ridged potato chips, but we upgraded to fries. They turned out to be crinkle-cut fries that had been handled with care and were not greasy.
If you can't make it to Amy's Place, keep an eye out for the Amy's Truck, which serves more than 20 favorite dishes from the restaurant, including the falafel and Lentil-Berry sandwiches, as well as both kinds of Wet Shoes.
> RESTAURANT REVIEW
Review: 3 1/2 pennies (Out of 4)
Where: 3234 Main St. (832-6666)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.