So, I'm standing around in front of the counter at Royal Roast Beef, you know the place; it's got the big sign at 752 Bennington Street in East Boston. You get off the Blue Line at Orient Heights, cross the tracks, turn left and walk about three blocks. It's just across from Constitution Beach. I'm cooling my heels with a few bricklayers, two cops, a priest from the Madonna Shrine up the hill, and a gaggle of teenagers happy that school's out for Columbus Day. We're all having lunch. The ladies and gentlemen behind the counter are taking orders, frying potatoes and slicing beef like they were born to do it. They also prepare occasional seafood plates, clam rolls, hot and cold subs, and the like with equal aplomb.
I turn to one of the bricklayers and ask as nonchalantly as possible, "So, uh, what do you think about Kelly's?" I am, or course, referring to the flagship Kelly's Roast Beef at 410 Revere Beach Blvd. in Revere, not the satellites in Saugus, Natick, Danvers or Medford.
The bricklayer goes out the front door and spits into an empty parking space. When he steps back inside he says, "Don't say that name to me. If I weren't smelling that Royal roast beef right now, I would lose my appetite."
One of the ladies behind the counter corrects me, "Don't you be starting trouble in here, mister. There's nothing wrong with Kelly's but we don't like to mention the competition within these walls. It gets the customer's agitated."
One of the other bricklayers eyes me suspiciously and asks, "You're not a Kelly's man, are you?" I assure him I am not. Though I like to take the Blue Line, I prefer to get off at Orient Heights rather than ride to the end of line for my roast beef. "That's good," he says.
One of the teenagers pipes up. She says, "Kelly's that's a f***ing gyp! They charge $5.75 for a small and $6.75 for a large. Know where that extra dollar goes? Right to their fancy website!" Her companions darkly mutter in agreement. One of them cracks his knuckles as he glares at me.
The counter lady says to me, "See what you've done? Everyone is welcome here. Kelly's is okay. They've got the best roast beef sandwich at Revere Beach. We don't have any beef with them here. We've got the best sandwich at Constitution Beach." As she says this an airplane screams overhead having just taken off from Logan nearby.
The priest interjects, "Revere isn't Boston. Let's just be thankful Royal is here, where we live." He winks at me. "It is the better sandwich," he gently admonishes.
For the record, a small sandwich at Royal (Junior) costs $3.25. A regular is $3.99. A large (Super, served on an onion roll) is $4.99. The sandwiches come in three sizes for any appetite and Royal Roast Beef does not have a web site.
The two cops got their orders first. They sat in the corner booth and each devoured a Super with relish.