I can easily imagine my less-adventurous friends entering WAN Convenience for the first time, glancing around, and turning on their heels to flee. This easily overlooked Mission Hill storefront might gently be called “modest”: cracked linoleum floors, a cigarette and phone-card counter, shelves meagerly arrayed with a few dusty groceries, self-service coolers stocked with HFCS-sweetened American soft drinks, a six-seat counter with mismatched chairs. Those with better chowhound instincts might focus instead on the front deli case filled with good-quality cold cuts, the tantalizing aromas wafting from the tiny griddle, and the regular presence of crowds lining up for subs.
For subs ($7) are what WAN is all about, and they are doozies: just more than a foot long, served on loaves of excellent French bread, and generously filled with fresh ingredients in combinations from the everyday to the unusual. The hugely popular Bizzy Bone piles excellent chicken salad (big chunks of breast meat with a tiny bit of mayo) with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard. The Bob Marley is another favorite: sliced roast turkey breast with BLT and mayo. I believe the Hush (no ingredients specified) varies with the chef’s whims: on one visit, it included chicken salad, roast beef, smoked turkey, romaine, onions, banana peppers, and Russian dressing — odd and delicious. A roast-beef sub “my way” is bursting with thin-sliced, rare prime rib topped with romaine, chopped tomatoes, julienned white onions, American cheese, mayo, and barbecue sauce. (The chef favors multiple dressings, making some sandwiches messy; stacks of paper napkins are helpfully provided.) Beyond subs, there’s an assortment of typical mass-market chips, nuts, and other snack foods (75 cents–$2), plus Jamaican patties ($1.50), warm turnovers of flaky, turmeric-tinged pie crust filled with greasy, spicy minced beef.
Drink options beyond the American junk include a few imports like good ginger beer ($2) and champagne soda ($2). In addition to the hefty, value-priced subs, I suspect what keeps the customers coming back in is Mr. WAN himself, chef/owner Winston “Al” Niles, whose steady stream of genial patter in a courtly Jamaican accent lends the joint an inimitable charm. Like many independent restaurants in the Caribbean, his pace of preparation is not assembly-line brisk, nor does he always open or close on the dot. Regardless, or perhaps because of this, WAN feels like a quirky little treasure, an island oasis of leisurely sub-making excellence in an ocean of cookie-cutter chain-outlet mediocrity.
WAN Convenience Store & Deli, located at 1508 Tremont Street, in Boston, is open Monday–Saturday, 7 am–9 pm. Call 617.445.4268.