Flashback Lunch 

Grab a vanilla Coke at Paragon Pharmacy and you'll be blasted back to the '50s.

Weathered, dark edges ring the spacious room and furnishings, and customers can sidle up to tall wooden swivel stools with finish-worn patches. Seated behind a long wooden counter the color of some of the pharmacy's rich fountain treats, you can see history ooze from every crack in the scuffed floor tiles.

Your eyes might also focus on a heavy wooden "Pharmacy" sign at the back of the room. Surrounding it are old wooden bookshelves of pills, toiletries, and other medical and household items that line the back and sidewalls.

Quietude prevails, and like the food, provides a satisfying alternative to the "dazzle me" attitude of many contemporary eateries. Conversations among a few regulars, the whir of antique ceiling fans and refrigerators, and the occasional sizzle of the grill provide the only background noise.

The menu — a short list of about 10 simple cold or grilled items, mostly sandwiches — hangs on the wall behind the counter. Prices range from a $1 hot dog to a $3.25 club sandwich. While the offerings may be few, the portion sizes and quality hark back to the ideals of the era immortalized in the decor. You'll get your money's worth.

The sandwiches are delicious in their simplicity. I sampled the chicken salad on white toast ($1.95), half expecting to receive something tired and mushy. Instead, I discovered chunks of tender white and dark chicken coated in rich mayonnaise, topped with fresh lettuce and tomato, and piled generously between two slices of warm white toast. As an added bonus, I found a crisp pickle wedge nestled beside it.

The pharmacy's extensive beverage menu, including numerous flavored coffees ($1.65) and fountain sodas (75 cents), also deserves an honorable mention. A 16-ounce cup of bubbly blackberry will make you question why you ever pay almost twice as much for cola from a can or bottle.

Paragon Pharmacy is one of Richmond's hidden treasures. If you don't slow down and take a close look, you could miss it. But when you find it, you'll never forget it. The employees will attest to that.

"I used to come here when I was a little girl," the woman working behind the counter told me on my way out. "I've been here for 25 years." S

Paragon Pharmacy ($)

801 W. Cary St.

644-3651 or 643-3797

Lunch: Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.


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