“How is it that cops seem to know the best cheap-eats places?”, I ask my old friend John, a 14-year police veteran. “It’s simple, MC,” he says. “Police officers know most places in town pretty well. When you respond to restaurant break-ins, you get to see how clean the kitchens are. Cops only get 30 minutes for meals, we don’t make a lot of money, and we have to keep fit, so we look for fast, cheap, and healthy. And it’s our job to engage with the neighborhood, so most of us prefer mom-and-pop outfits to chains.”
This explains why I often see cops dining at Billy’s Sub Shop, even though the D4 station house moved some years ago from across the street to Harrison Avenue, nearly a mile away. With its counter service, laminate booths, plastic tableware, and cafeteria trays, Billy’s is short on frills, but the food is cheap, tasty, and fresh. I regularly drop by for soft-scrambled eggs with toast and griddle-crusted home fries ($3.50), plus bacon, ham, or sausage ($1.75), or my preference, an off-menu side of grilled gyros strips ($2.75). The French toast ($4.25) is decent, the pancakes ($4.25) huge and very good, the coffee ($1.30/small; $1.50/medium; $1.70/large) excellent. Billy’s may not have the hurly-burly of Mike’s City Diner or old-time charm of Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, but unlike those places, you can reliably finish a hot breakfast here in under 20 minutes or take one away in 10.
Huge portions of classic Greek-American sub-shop fare are served at lunch: enormous gyros sandwiches ($5.75) and plates ($8.75) with fine tzatziki; bountiful Greek salads with house-made dressing and soft pita ($4.50/small; $5.50/large); and a variety of long-as-your-forearm subs like steak ($6) and Italian cold cuts ($5.75). Quarter-pound hamburgers ($3) and huge sides of respectable French fries and onion rings ($2.25/small; $3.50/large) are also available. Occasional specials include a mountain of American chop suey with a side salad ($7.95).
The ever-present husband-and-wife owners breezily chat with regular customers when it’s slow, but sternly keep the lines moving at peak periods, which is just how Boston’s finest like it. If you know anything about dining on the cheap, that nod from the BPD should be all the endorsement you need.
Billy’s Sub Shop, located at 57 Berkeley Street, in Boston, is open Monday through Friday, from 6 am to 4 pm; on Saturday, from 7 am to 4 pm; and on Sunday, from 7 am to 2 pm. Call 617.426.1822.