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Loaf & Kettle 

Enter the Healey Building off downtown's bustling Broad Street around noon on any given weekday and you might be surprised to find savvy downtown business people and cost-conscious students not just streaming past one another but lining up together. What is it that attracts them both? Value priced, gourmet lunch offerings dished up daily at the Loaf & Kettle.

With warm yellow walls starkly contrasting against the gray vaulted ceiling of the Healey's lobby, this charming cafe is hardly larger than its cheerful red walk-up counter, whose facade greets you with a glittery starburst of inlaid spoons. Due to the confines of the space, the line to order often swells through the table-lined lobby.

Simmer Down: Soups are a signature delight at Loaf & Kettle. A bowl of their crab, corn and spinach chowder ($4.75 for a medium) helps make the worst day at work little more than a distant memory as you sip on the sweet and salty concoction, thick with tender chunks of crabmeat and nibbley bits of corn. One or two additional soups are offered each day, including vegetable selections such as a creamy mushroom bisque that blends the subtle differences between portabella, crimini and other fungi varieties into one earthy pleasure.

Fruits (And Veggies) of Your Labors: Those who eschew the pleasure of hot soup in the summer will find two to three salad options ($3.25 for a small) on hand. The addictive fruit concasse is available almost daily and features juicy slices of seasonal fruit mixed with an herb marinade. Pasta salads are tender and change on a daily basis, with a recent selection featuring crunchy slivers of fresh bell peppers and plump grape tomatoes bound together in a garlicky dressing.

Soup-n-sammy central: Kettle kombos fill bellies without emptying pockets -- soup, half-sandwich and drink totals $7.48. The chicken Caesar salad sandwich ($5.25) would ordinarily pale in comparison to the other choices given its basic blend of chicken salad and Caesar dressing. However, a cool layer of creamy avocado dressing and supple roasted red peppers give the sandwich an unusual twist. The tanginess of cranberry chutney highlights the mild seasoning on the blackened turkey breast ($5.75) and provides a sweet contrast to the vegetables on the vegetarian deluxe ($4.95). A true standout is the sausage and shrimp salad sandwich ($5.95) with red onions and celery, which has the body of a Philly cheese steak and the soul of a savory gumbo.

Just Desserts: Loaf & Kettle really only offers one dessert, but it alone is worth the trip: homemade bread pudding ($2.50). Bread flavors switch seasonally and include strawberry-pecan, fresh peach and blueberry. During one recent trip, the flavor of the day was banana-pecan -- a gooey blend of the pillowy bread and banana rounds topped with buttery caramel sauce. Pair it with an espresso and it's all you need to get through the rest of the day.

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