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January 19, 2011

The Taste Bud: The circle of foodie life

Don’t you hate it when you decide to go to a restaurant, and then you arrive to find it’s no longer open? That’s a crave-kill that can deflate even the most resilient of foodies.

Sadly, in our current economic climate, such closings are always possible, especially with smaller, niche locations. My beloved Taste of Jamaica went under (I’ll never get over it), Lonnie’s in the Highlands disappeared, the Swan Dive closed its doors back in October, and my recent stop at Omar Fast Food Restaurant on Preston Street yielded the same results.

Yep, Omar is no more.

But sometimes hope springs from empty storefronts; after all, the Swan Dive’s demise begat the up-and-coming Hammerheads. Meanwhile, Lonnie’s has given way to a new beer mecca and eatery called the Holy Grale.

So when my friend Kirk and I set out recently to enjoy some reasonably priced Pakistani fare, we stumbled into what I would consider a happy accident in the face of disappointment, in the form of a Philly cheese chicken sandwich that made my taste buds quite happy.

Turns out, Omar Fast Food closed, and the building is in the process of transforming into Preston Street Fish and Chicken, according to new owner Sonny Ghazawi, whose family owns a number of Dino’s restaurant/convenience stores around town. The new incarnation of the corner spot at 1272 S. Preston St. will feature chicken wings, fried fish, burgers and, of course, Philly sandwiches.

Ghazawi says he plans to turn the place into a restaurant/convenience store hybrid similar to Dino’s, but apparently with more emphasis on the food. Right now, the inside is bare, the menu is limited, but he says steam tables are on the way, along with fresh vegetables to go with the chicken and fish.

The new owner’s serious demeanor (Ghazawi is all business) is good news for the food he serves. Patrons will be able to get a decent amount of food for a low price — check out the 15 whole fried chicken wings for $7.99 as evidence. (They looked delicious, by the way.)

You’ll also be able to get a catfish sandwich for $2.49, or a small order of chicken gizzards for $1.89. Ocean perch and cod also will be on the menu, alongside chicken sandwiches, chicken legs and chicken tenders. Frozen lemonade (with plenty of extra flavors) can be had for just a buck when you purchase a meal, and you can call in orders in advance at 636-1310 to save time.

Kirk and I got sandwich meal deals for $6.99 apiece, which included a side and a drink. Kirk went for the double cheeseburger and fries. Ghazawi was working the store alone, so we waited a few minutes for our orders, but we weren’t disappointed. We each got a mountain of hot, crispy shoestring French fries to go with our ample sandwiches, as well as a pair of Mexi-Cokes to wash it all down. (Fountain drinks are also available.)

Kirk’s burger was enormous. He said it was charbroiled and solid, if not spectacular. The sheer size of the thing, though, was impressive. It looked difficult for Kirk to even get a good grip on — “It keeps sliding away from me,” he said between bites. (For the record, the bottomless pit that is Kirk’s stomach couldn’t even hold all the food. This could be a first.)

My sandwich was piled with ridiculous amounts of marinated chicken breast, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese, all chopped and blended together perfectly on a hoagie bun and topped with mayo. I took one bite, and half of the contents spilled into my Styrofoam container, forcing me to ask Ghazawi for a fork so I could finish off the remains.

Ghazawi’s recipe for the marinade isn’t complicated — just Worcestershire with some garlic, pepper and other seasonings — but it did the trick; that was one tasty sandwich. He admitted when I spoke to him afterward that the Philly cheesesteak and Philly cheese chicken are probably the highlights of his menu.

So, yeah, we were disappointed that Omar Fast Food had gone the way of the dinosaur, but every end signals a new beginning, and Preston Street Fish and Chicken is beginning to taste pretty good.