The Oak Park Special: roast beef, avocado, and cheddar, plus veggies
I was just looking for a quick lunch on Labor Day, and found myself standing in a neighborhood market in Oak Park, the mostly residential neighborhood off highway 94 next to Chollas Creek.
5409 Redwood Street, San Diego
In the back of the shop, past the requisite selections of snack chips, sugary cereals, fortified wines, and Arizona iced teas, there sit a fresh produce stand, a meat counter stocked with beef cuts and poultry, and a deli counter with enough enticing sandwiches on the menu I was struggling to decide.
Along with the deli counter, the meat and produce at Louie's Marketplace prevent Oak Park from being a food desert.
“You can’t go wrong!” a regular customer assured me, while ordering a club sandwich for himself, “I usually get the cheesesteak, but they’re all so good!” He meant it so much, he told me twice. Another regular passing through echoed the sentiment.
Louie’s Marketplace offers cold sandwiches such as pastrami or Italian sub, and hot sandwiches including a meatball sub and one topped by curried beef stew — though that one may take a little longer to prepare, as it’s made from scratch.
Or so explains the friendly owner of the shop, working alongside one of his sons on this national day off. This isn’t Louie, who apparently sold the market years back, but a man named Latif Georges. I finally order the Oak Park special — roast beef with avocado and cheddar — and he earnestly got to work making what does turn out to be a terrific sandwich; slicing the beef, heating a fresh roll, and coming out from behind the counter to pick out a tomato, avocado, onion, and bell pepper from that produce stand, quickly slicing them up for my sub.
As I would later discover, Mr. Georges received a bit of local news coverage a few years back for installing these items, part of a local effort among small markets to bring the option of fresh produce and meats to a neighborhood previously designated a food desert. I learned it’s not the only holiday he comes to work: the past couple Thanksgivings, he’s organized a service event to feed as many as 200 people a holiday meal in front of his shop.
As he meticulously wrapped my sandwich in plastic to keep it clean and fresh for my ride home, I remember thinking this is a guy who takes pride in his business, and making sure those who enter his shop feel welcome and leave satisfied. Turns out, he takes pride in this neighborhood, and doing wonderful things for it.
It’s more inspiration than I’d expected; after all, I’d just come looking for a sandwich. And for $6.99 I got a good one with plenty of crunch, thanks to the vegetable toppings, warmth from the toasty roll, standard deli meat and cheese. Thanks to an ordering mechanism on the Louie’s Marketplace web site, it’s easy to order ahead and pick up on the fly. But I might do better to hang out a minute and learn from example how to be a positive influence.