The Great Recession has given Atlanta foodies plenty to lament. As many of us tighten our purse strings, the first restaurants to feel the pinch are understandably on the higher end of the spectrum, and we have witnessed the near disappearance of fine dining in Atlanta.
But there is a silver lining in all of this: While there may be fewer white tablecloths in town, we haven’t stopped eating out, and restaurateurs have to be more creative to compete for our everyday dining dollar.
One such byproduct of the new economy is Victory Sandwich Bar, tucked away on a side street in the heart of Inman Park. One part deli and one part pub, with a healthy dash of hipster, Victory offers something that few other restaurants in town can — a place to get affordable, creative sandwiches and a full bar serving up an impressive collection of cocktails.
Going for the retro-industrial look, the inside consists of plywood tables and steel park benches, walls of painted cinder block and reclaimed wood, and cement floors. A worn leather punching bag hangs by the bar right down from the pingpong table, and a projector screens “classics” against the wall of the dining room, such as Adam West’s campy “Batman“ or Sly Stallone’s riveting character drama “Cobra.”
If you are hankering for a gut-busting meal, Victory may not be what you are looking for. The menu is small, consisting of nine to 10 simple yet creative sandwiches served with potato chips and a handful of regularly rotating sides.
The focus remains more on quality than portion size. Each sandwich amounts to roughly half of a serving, so most will want to spring for two. Three sandwiches in a sitting is feasible for heavier eaters.
Slow-cooked meat, though only sparsely featured, is a strong point for Victory. The Castro ($4), a take on a classic Cuban sandwich, highlights Victory’s tender smoked pork accented by Fontina cheese, ham and yellow mustard. Equally as satisfying is the Beast on Yeast ($4), a warm pile of juicy pot roast cut with sharp horseradish crème. All Victory’s meats are smoked or roasted in house and in limited supply, so don’t be surprised if you miss either of these late at night.
I do a double take when the New Bomb Turk hits my table. Rather than the deli-style sliced meat that I expected, I peel back the ciabatta bun to find generous hunks of smoked turkey. Though the avocado spread brings little in the way of flavor, the peppery arugula, light coat of Baconnaise and ample serving of meat makes for a delicious turkey sandwich.
After sampling every sandwich on the menu, I found myself enjoying all but the special, the Unibrow ($5). On paper, the flavor combinations — roasted lamb, fast-pickled onions and tzatziki sauce — sounded like a home run. But I found myself chewing through inches of bread only to find a few paper-thin shavings of under seasoned lamb. Three of us ordered this sandwich, and all agreed that the fillings took a back seat to the bun.
The idea was good but proved improperly balanced in execution.
While the skimpy protein portion undid the Unibrow, the light serving of anchovies on the Victory at Sea ($4) packs just the right amount of salty, fishy punch. The acidity of the lemon mayo tempers the pungent fish nicely, making this a light and refreshing spin on a Caesar salad sandwich.
After lunch, Victory switches from counter service to full service for dinner. The menu doesn’t change, but it gives you a good excuse to start your meal with an appetizer and one of Victory’s impressively well-crafted cocktails. The hummus ($6) changes daily, so you may not get as lucky as I did with the delicious spicy black-eyed pea and jalapeno. Bourbon fans shouldn’t pass on the chance to sip on a Paper Plane ($7), a refreshing mix of Maker’s Mark, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, Aperol, amaro and ginger ale. And no trip to Victory is complete without a round of Jack and Coke slushies ($4).
Victory Sandwich Bar adds something to Atlanta’s dining scene that isn’t easy for most restaurants to accomplish: character. It is places like this — small, affordable and unique locally owned restaurants — that accent and enhance a neighborhood.
Every major culinary city needs a few fine-dining feathers for its cap, but it is the sandwich shops, delis and diners that make up the everyday experience of our food culture. lnman Park is lucky to have them.VICTORY SANDWICH BAR