Before I dive into this week's Cheap Eat$ adventure, I have to digress into the kind of day I was having before I went to the restaurant.
It was one of those days I probably should have just stayed in bed. I woke up late for class, was suffering from PMS, had trouble finding a place to park and lost one of my favorite key chains. Then I went and picked up my irreparable camera from the shop, picked up the film I left for developing only to see redeye all over the prints and began to get a headache.
I figured I just needed to go eat, but my Cheap Eat$ posse members were either nowhere to be found or too busy to join me. So I went alone.
Living on my own, I'm used to eating solo often, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, especially not at a restaurant. I could faintly hear the strains of "Alone Again, (Naturally)" playing in my head.
I was in serious need of comfort food, and thanks to Cheap Eat$ reader Elaine, I found just the place for it - Fred's Italian Corner Restaurant, where the food is cheap, fast and downright delicious.
Upon entering the restaurant, I noticed lunch orders were to be placed at the counter covered with wine bottles, which I found a relief (no having to explain to a waiter why I was alone, and hey, no need for a tip).
Seeing that just about every standard-issue Italian delicacy was offered, I had a difficult time choosing my meal. The man behind me in line suggested to "just get what you haven't had in a while."
So I did - an Italian Meatball Sandwich ($3.75), plus a tossed salad and Dr Pepper (me and those soft drinks). After selecting my can from the cooler, I sat and awaited my entree. I was practically followed by an employee bearing my salad.
I found the lettuce, carrots and cabbage in the small wooden bowl to be crispy and fresh, and the Italian dressing provided on the table added zing to the dish. Only a few bites into the salad, a loaf of soft, warm bread was presented to me in a plastic basket lined with an unfolded paper napkin.
When my sandwich arrived just moments later, I realized that the economy in equipment at Fred's may be one clue as to why the prices are so low. The sandwich and its accompanying potato chips and pepperoncinis were atop a paper plate, set on a red plastic plate holder. I admired the commitment to frugality.
I also admired the design of the sandwich - the meatballs were small enough not to fall out of the bread (the same thick kind brought to me minutes earlier), the cheese was stringy like the kind on pizza and the sauce was just the right shade of red, and there wasn't too much of it to soak through the bread.
I did, however, steer clear of the pepperoncinis - once was already enough times to make my eyes water for the sake of this column this semester.
Surrounded by walls covered with framed posters of Italy and newspaper reviews (I sat right under a 1987 Daily Cougar article), I felt like I was having dinner at a friend's home. The soft rock playing over the intercom helped soothe my frayed nerves, and soon my headache was gone. Amazing.
Like I said before, Fred's is fast - I had my entire meal within 10 minutes of ordering and was completely finished in about 30 minutes. Great for an already packed day.
My total cost was $4.98 (the salad and bread came with the meal). Most other Italian staples on the menu were in the $3 to $4 range, and you can always drink water, though I did find 65 cents to be a good deal for a soft drink. So head over to Fred's with friends or alone, especially if you need some comforting.
CHEAP EAT$ AT GLANCE
2278 W. Holcombe Blvd.
Monday through Thursday
9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5p.m. to 10:30 p.m.;
Saturday 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Cheap Eat$ searches for Houston's low-budget eateries. E-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.