You could describe Moogy's as a sub shop. But that would be sort of like calling the Mona Lisa a painting or Shakespeare a writer. You wouldn't be wrong, but you wouldn't quite capture its essence. Because how many sub shops do you know that sell banana-cheese omelets and grilled triple-decker peanut butter, banana, and marshmallow-Fluff sandwiches? Or give menu items names like Jolly Green Giant, Fully Monty, and Cow Meets Egg?
Or keep a pet fish named Vern who lives in a tank in the dining room? Or have chess/checker boards built into their tabletops? Or boast a library of nostalgia-inducing games, including Battleship, Yahtzee, Boggle, and Connect Four, available for playing? Or make bone-shaped dog treats flavored with "pea-mutt" butter?
This merry madness is the work of Philip and Scott Shaffer, 33-year-old identical twins who grew up in Philadelphia and intended to sell mostly Philly cheesesteak sandwiches when they opened Moogy's in the mid-1990s. But the restaurant evolved in a haywire fashion. "Moogy," for example, is a dog's name the Shaffers once heard being yelled in a park. The games were added because "if people are going to wait for their food, we didn't want them to look at the ceilings," Phil explained. Vern, the fish, was orphaned when a former employee moved and left him behind, so the Shaffers adopted him; although they refer to the arrangement as "long-term baby-sitting."
Even the twisted names started innocently, with a few sandwiches named after local schools and neighborhoods. Then employees and customers began suggesting increasingly off-the-wall monikers, like the Dirty Birdy, a chicken sandwich with broccoli and mozzarella. It got its name because it's made with teriyaki sauce, which gives it a muddy look. The C3PO is a tasty combination of chicken, chili, and cheese (the three Cs), peppers (the P), and onions (the O). The Mother/Child Reunion, a chicken cutlet sub with bacon, egg, and cheese is one of my favorites. The Popeye, a deliciously salty spinach, feta, and mushroom omelet, is easy to remember for anyone who knows cartoons (think bulging biceps).
So who eats at a place like this? By Phil's estimate, customers were "95 percent" Boston College students until last year, when Moogy's (which is roughly between Brighton Center and Cleveland Circle) clinched a beer and wine license and suddenly began drawing lots of couples with young children. Why? Because it had become a rare restaurant where moms and dads can savor a Harpoon draft or Corona while their kids play Candyland and munch on $2 grilled-cheese sandwiches and $3 honey-dipped corndogs, which are really, really bad for you, but taste really, really good.
It's no grungy student hangout, either. The decor is slightly psychedelic (witness www.moogys.com, which features a tie-dyed insignia inspired by the Grateful Dead), but it also has hardwood floors, pressed tin ceilings, tall wooden booths with stained glass dividers, and great, eclectic music.
Moogy's serves a long list of sandwiches, burgers, salads, meaty chicken wings (the sweet honey-barbecue wings are especially good), and fries. The food is very cheap, with most menu items between $2 and $8. There are Western, buffalo, and Reuben burgers, although the prefrozen patties are subpar. There are pizza, crab, and chive fries (the latter, sprinkled with Hidden Valley Ranch powder, are addictive). There are celery sticks with peanut butter, PB&J sandwiches, and the Slamba Jamba ($4.65), the above-mentioned triple-decker, which is fabulous. Really. Just be braced for an intense sugar high, courtesy of the explosively sweet Fluff.
Sandwiches are a mixed bag, but I love the all-day breakfasts. That banana-and-American-cheese omelet, the legacy of a former Brazilian cook, is the Whacha-ma-callit ($4.65), and it's unexpectedly good, probably because of the unique sweet-salty interplay. The Love Child ($6.15), a powdered sugar-dusted French toast sandwich with ham, turkey, and Swiss, was another surprise hit, even though the pairing of meat and sugar sounded off-putting. Somehow it works, with flying colors. And I adore the fluffy pancakes ($4.95-$5.95) made with cinnamon, blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips, peanut-butter chips, or a banana-chocolate chip-blueberry trio called "Rude Awakening" that's dominated by the chocolate (which is fine by me).
Too bad, though, about the prefrozen hash browns, which are basically bland potato chunks. The same lousy potatoes are used in the Grateful Hash ($5) topped with ham, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomato, and melted Cheez Whiz. Like Spam, it's good for a few laughs but tastes pretty awful. Dessert is limited to chocolate-chip and M&M cookies; they're purchased wholesale and taste like it. Definitely not worth the calories.
The homemade dog treats (four for $1.50), called Shelby Shaffer's Wafers, are named after Phil and Scott's beloved late black lab, and are, in Phil's words, "an ode to her." To taste-test them, I turned to two Australian shepherds with refined palates. In an e-mail, their owner had this to report: "Duffy polished off her peamutt bone in a wink. Her exact words were, `Snarf. Snarf, snarf, chomp, chew . . . burp!' Chloe took a bit longer to make up her mind, but she agreed on the snarf, snarf, and the chomp."
Couldn't have said it better myself.
All Cheap Eats reviews may be retrieved from Boston.com at ae.boston.com/dining Luciano's 561 Cambridge St., East Cambridge. 617-441-8222. Take the olive oil and garlic that infuses Portuguese food, the starchy root vegetables and beans of West Africa, and add a little island flair, and you get the hearty but vibrant fare served at this Cape Verdean restaurant. The generous daily lunch buffet, which includes a few Brazilian dishes as well, is the way to go. If you go a la carte, don't miss the succulent grilled octopus. (2/26/04, D.T.)
Taiwan Cafe 34 Oxford St., Boston. 617-426-8181. Everyone's favorite Chinatown restaurant really delivers: You get the sense that an army of chefs must be manning the woks here because the food comes to the table so quickly, so hot, and so beautifully made. Try pan-fried dumplings, sauteed clams with basil, salt-and-pepper shrimp, home-style braised eggplant, and sauteed spinach. (2/19/04, S.J.)
Tiki Room 1 Lansdowne St., Boston. 617-351-2580. This kitschy island-themed room is built around a large, rectangular bar, tropical drinks and pu-pu platters. It's a social experience as much as anything, but the food is good, too. While watching re-runs of "Gilligan's Island," share an assortment of Asian pu-pu offerings, or a platter built around veggies, or carbs. The room is a bit dark, but the fake tiki flames and lanterns lend a certain warmth. (2/12/04, B.E.)