Sandwich Saviors

From Europa Food Market to Cafespresso, 8 1/2 and Fat Kid, the RVA sandwich scene is booming.

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Whether you’re being saved by a hero or diving into an old-school submarine, sandwiches of all sizes are flooding the local food scene.

We asked local food writers Robey Martin and James Ford to tell us about their favorite current sandwiches in Richmond. They dove right in.

Robey Martin:

Over at Europa Food Market, owners Simona and Sergey Fayvusovich preach that healthy means fresh. The Fayvusovichs’ market moved from deep in the South Side to Broad Street in July and has found a foothold in the near West End with weekly deliveries of New York Bagels, hard rolls and sesame semolina hoagie bread. I find myself migrating toward the Beretta 9mm, overflowing with tissue-like slices of prosciutto, lively sopressata salami and a generous smear of basil pesto mayonnaise. A colossal first bite, the sandwich is housed on a German Brotchen roll straddling the fence of soft and substantial.

The Beretta 9mm at Europa Food Market. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The Beretta 9mm at Europa Food Market.

A recent and sizable sandwich reveal is the Italian Stallion Hoagie with roasted turkey, provolone, tender marinated red bell peppers, sparky capicola, salami and a shock of red pepper and eggplant mayonnaise. Turkey and mayonnaise are not your typical mainstays on an Italian hoagie here, yet they perform. In addition to breakfast sandwiches (yes, there is Taylor ham), this sandwich shop/market carries an incredible assortment of European potato chips (without all those added preservatives), fresh bialys (might be the only place in Richmond to do so), and excellent pierogi.

Further into the West End, jammed into a small strip mall sits Cafespresso where owner Claudio Ragazzi has generated community. If I’m working from a coffee shop, this is the place. In the back, at almost any time of day, several gentlemen will be slightly perturbed at a laptop because their team isn’t doing its best. There’s no better backdrop for your work tedium, I assure you. In the front, focaccia sandwiches are flying out of a little makeshift kitchen area. I lean towards their Genovese with turkey, provolone and pesto. This panini is uncomplicated, sure, but mesmerizing due to the dumbfoundingly lissome focaccia made daily with sorcery, one might assume. The casual and cozy move? Work through a late lunch on Thursday to stay for the 4 p.m. aperitivo with approachable Italian wines and small snacks.

Though it’s hike from Richmond proper, I implore you to hit the road to Hopewell and Waves Sandwich Company for the cheesesteak. If size matters to you, you’ve found your place. Big wads of house-shaved steak is shoved next to grilled onions. The little room left is taken up with Cooper sharp cheddar. Barely holding the beef and cheese mass together is an Amoroso’s roll. Owners Michael Benton and Meredith Dean are uncompromising in their quality quest and have gathered a huge following since their Rojas Mexican days. They say that one out of every four sandwiches they sell is the cheesesteak now, selling out almost everyday. Dean is a fan but she does mention their Reuben sandwich being her favorite with stacked corned beef, melty Swiss, sauerkraut, and Italian dressing on toasted rye bread.

Europa Food Market is located at 5243 W. Broad St.

Cafespresso is at 1127 Gaskins Rd.

Waves Sandwich Company is at 224 N. Main St. suite 1a in Hopewell, Va.

James Ford:

Since losing Pop’s Market and their larger-than-life sandwiches a few years ago, I have been trying to find my replacement, go-to sandwich spot. Not just any sandwich can replace the viral Italian grinder’s flavor or size, which often lasts more than one meal.

Not to reduce the 8 ½ Church Hill [the original is still on Strawberry Street] to only a sandwich shop, managing owner Ryan Jones and crew are chopping up a killer lineup of heroes for lunch and dinner. With quality ingredients that stand on their own, these have become a staple in the Church Hill community. The crew is not only knocking out some stellar sandwiches but they’re still rocking out awesome pizza, pasta, classic entrees like lasagna, wine, and antipasti for you to grab for home.

With a chilled red in hand from Second Bottle half a block away, I have to grab a hero to compliment it. The easy sausage and peppers hero was the answer. Loaded with a mound of sweet bell peppers and a little tomato sauce, every bite of the robust Italian sausage is perfectly balanced.

Keep an eye out for their specials like the recent fried green tomato hero topped with ramps and kimchi. One special kept in rotation is fit for the pork gods: Rendered pork fat soaks through the paper wrapping to unveil the porchetta hero; handfuls of chopped pork belly, sautéed broccoletti, provolone, hot pepper relish, and garlic aioli fill the roll. Talk about flavor profiles with every ingredient countering each other; the bitterness of broccoletti juxtaposed with the rich fattiness of the pork, and the creamy garlic aioli and provolone line the loaf soaked with liquid gold, made complete with a bright, spicy pepper relish.

John Martin and Liz Clifford of Fat Kid Sandwiches, located in Hatch Local Food Hall. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • John Martin and Liz Clifford of Fat Kid Sandwiches, located in Hatch Local Food Hall.

Often, I like to find moments of joy in food, and that is exactly what Liz Clifford and Jon Martin are doing over at Hatch Local with Fat Kid Sandwiches. I have been drooling over these sandwiches ever since the fried mozzarella sticks chicken parm hit Instagram, before their residency. Soon to follow were many other sandwich creations that only sponsored clickbait ads would show, like the hot dogged banh mi and the tater tot-topped cheesesteak. It was madness, mesmerizing, and my innermost “fat kid” needed every single one.

Now that the owners are in their new spot in Hatch Local Food Hall with a grill, you no longer have to wait for steak-and-cheese pop-ups. You can find variations of classic sandwiches like the fried chicken salad sandwich or the half-pound Italian sub, and cheesesteaks that sometimes have fried jalapeño poppers in them. The moments of whimsy continue with offerings of mac-and-cheese-topped hotdogs, cereal rice crispy treats, and soft serve with sprinkles.

While the team knew the sandwiches would do well from early sales, they never thought there would be such a demand for cheesesteaks. Personally, I can’t get enough of them. Definitely not your typical Philly, but great chopped steak, peppers, onions, and cheese goes a long way. Let’s not forget their cheesesteak specials such as the Buffalo chicken cheesesteak; chopped chicken cooked on the grill with Frank’s RedHot buffalo wing sauce, topped with romaine dressed with their homemade ranch.

8 1/2 is located in Church Hill at 2709 E. Marshall St. and in the Fan at 401 Strawberry St.

Fat Kid Sandwiches is located in Hatch Local Food Hall at 400 Hull St.