How many Boston restaurants can you name that have been in business for 47 years — with the same staff? That's the remarkable achievement of Chuck & Ann's, a tiny sub shop in Southie that was bought from its original, namesake owners in 1962 by a just-married couple who have run it continually ever since. It operates on "construction hours," catering to contractors, utility workers, MBTA employees, and other folks on the early shift who need inexpensive, portable meals. The menu is simple and to the point, mainly subs and sandwiches on your choice of a soft bulkie roll or French, Syrian, and (occasionally) whole-wheat bread.
Sandwiches are $5.25–$5.50 for a small, $5.75–$6 for a large. The standard menu focuses on deli meats: American cold cuts, Italian cold cuts, ham, salami, and cheese in exactly one variety (white American). For hot sandwiches, there's pastrami (lean), steak (thin-sliced and generously laid on), and meatballs (regrettably not made in-house). Egg salad and tuna salad can be ordered on bread, or added to the iceberg-lettuce-heavy garden salad ($6) for an extra 50 cents. Hand-lettered signs indicate the smattering of specials: BLT, turkey, chicken salad, crab salad, and the only bank-breaker on the menu, a turkey club that clocks in at a whopping $6.50.
The paneling is faded, and there's only enough standing room at the counter for a few people; most customers carry out to eat in their vehicles or at job sites. This little store isn't likely to make anyone's best-of-Boston or roadside-food must-visit lists. But I'm going to remember Chuck & Ann's for two things: its unswervingly sweet and friendly service, and one special sandwich of sardines ($5.50), a rarity that vividly transports me back to when I was a pre-schooler. I'd sneak down to the kitchen at 2 am to find my dad making one with mustard and onions; we'd share it in silence lest we wake Mom, who disapproved of late-night snacks. That sardine sandwich might be my version of Proust's madeleines: it epitomizes the old-time simplicity and wholesomeness of this place, qualities that help explain how it has stayed in business for half a century.
Chuck & Ann's, located at 284 Dorchester Avenue in South Boston, is open Monday–Friday, 6 am–3 pm. Call 617.269.6462.