The much-anticipated Villians Wicked Heroes sandwich shop will open for business at 11 a.m. on Friday in the space that formerly housed Little Azio in Midtown. We caught up with owner Alex Brounstein, the brains behind Grindhouse Killer Burgers, to find out what his new Villains operation is all about. (Check out Villains' menu after the jump. Updated hours: Mon., 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.)
So Villains is partly a riff on the hero sandwich. Can you flesh out the concept for us? Where does this dark side come into play?
In terms of the name? Here's the basic idea: Heroes are always kind of like, I don't know, just kind of cheesy. They usually have kinda lame outfits ... Villains are a little more fun. The point was that you'd probably want to hang out with the villains more than the heroes, so we based it on that. I mean, we've all got a little bit of villain in us ...
How did you decide on Villains' Midtown location?
For a long time we were looking on Edgewood, which I thought would have been cool because the streetcar is going right by it, but they tore that street up pretty good. I don't know if you've been up and down Edgewood lately, but it's a mess. So I'm kind of glad that we didn't end up there, even though I live over there and I'm definitely a believer in that part of town.
There's a lot of foot traffic in Midtown ...
That's why we ended up in Midtown even though I feel like our brand isn't quite "Midtown-y," I think we're probably, maybe, going to bring a little bit of grunge to the area. A little bit of humor, a little bit of attitude, but still trying to take care of the customer.
Tell me about the space.
It's definitely more than just a sandwich shop. I mean, we've got a full bar. It's, I think, 13 seats inside. We've got a garage door. It's kind of semicircular bar, so at the middle of the outside part is actually the outside wall. When the garage door comes up it kind of connects right to Peachtree St. We opened that up because basically it feels like the whole restaurant is out on the patio. It's great.
And you have partners, right?
Jason McClure is one of my partners, Jared Lee is the other one, they're both chefs. One came from working with Richard Blais over at Home, and then Flip and then HD for Jared, opening that up.
How did you three hook up?
I met Jared, went into HD a few times here and there. It was a little awkward because originally he was from FLIP and I'm from Grindhouse, and I don't know, I guess we're supposed to be rivals or something, but I didn't really care. So we got to be friendly and I ran into him at the Earl one night at a concert ...
Ooh, what band?
Jared and I ran into each other at a Replacements cover band show at the Earl. His girlfriend had dragged him there I think.
We had already met each other prior to that, but that's when the sandwich conversation happened. And we got to talking, kind of drunk talking, about our plans.
And you decided on sandwiches?
I come from up North, New Jersey, where there's a sub shop on every corner. And it's not like Subway, it's some local place that gets good Italian bread made fresh locally and meatball subs and Italian subs and roast pork sandwiches and things like that. That's really what we're aiming for. Our sandwiches are going to be pretty substantial. They're probably 8-inch subs. We've got a custom sub roll, which I think is the best in town. Finding the bread was the hardest part.
I would think the hardest part would be coming up with only 15 villains, out of all the villains ever, to name subs after.
I would say it was harder to narrow it down to 15 sandwiches because we had 20 more ideas for sandwiches that we really wanted to do.
Fair enough. Tell me more about this magical bread.
It's really important because you don't want it to overwhelm the sandwich. I hate those baguettes that you get where you bite it and everything shoots out the back, you know? So we found a lot of different places in town, but lot of them weren't crunchy on the outside, and coming from up North, that's really important. You've gotta have a little bit of crunch on the outside and have it feel soft and airy inside. Finally we found a guy, this German baker out of Lawrenceville and he's doing our custom sub roll.
Does this German baker guy have a name?
You can actually get his bread at Patak's, you know the sausage factory or chalet I think it's called out in Austell? Patak's sells his products. Anybody who hasn't gone there should go there. It's just like these old Eastern European women, they're just slicing up meat and handing you subs. There's like a million kinds of sausages in there, there's a lot of fresh meat, it's a really cool place.
But they've got this baker named Raso who bakes for them, and he also bakes for the Buford Highway Farmers Market in the German section. It took a while to explain what I wanted. There was a language barrier. I had to get somebody to translate for a couple of the meetings. But I knew once we got it that that was gonna be what set us apart.
What qualities were you looking for in your bread?
What I was looking for was really just what I was used to up North, but it's just not down here. The crunch is the thing that prevents it from turning into total sogginess, but then also you need it soft on the inside so it's not spongy, or shoots stuff out the end or cuts the roof of your mouth. But this bread's perfect and it just worked on a lot of different things.
OK, so let's get back to the actual villains.
We named all the subs after actual villains and they're all based on actual, real-life sandwiches, mostly international. The Mum Ra is our take on the gyro. Mum Ra is the evil skeleton dude from "Thundercats." It's in a pita, it's made with lamb. The Clubber Lang is our Italian beef. Clubber Lang is from Rocky II. He's from Chicago, he's the guy who Rocky boxes, who Mr. T plays.
And how much will these wicked subs set you back?
Basically they range from $8-$11. We have one dry-aged ribeye sandwich that's a little more expensive, but it's really like the best steak sandwich I've ever had. Then we've got what we call Henchmen, which are our "healthier" sides: a little cup of cherry tomato and charred tofu salad, a soba noodle and kale salad, we're gonna have some sort of soup, some other stuff as well. And then for a dollar, you can just get it topped with ... we've got these things called Disco Volante. Basically they're pinwheels, almost like chicharrones but they're made with puffed wheat, and you fry them and we've got this special spice mixture and for a dollar that'll get thrown onto a sandwich.
But the idea is that for $11, you're gonna get really full. It's not like you're gonna have to order a second sandwich, you'll probably take some home, honestly. You're definitely not going to leave hungry.
Hours of operation?
To start: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight. In a couple months we'll reassess. We'll just have to see. It's really, it's set up like a bar, so we could end up with a good drinking crowd just because Midtown doesn't have a lot of patios. Editor's note: Hours of operation have changed since publication and are as follows: Mon., 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
So you're opening in two days. How are you feeling?
Compared to the last time around when I did this at Grindhouse, I feel much more confident, much more relaxed. I don't really consider Grindhouse to be really gourmet or fancy, it's just a good burger. But here it's just a whole different environment for me and Jason and Jared being my partners and just knowing that the best food is coming out of the kitchen and I don't even have to worry, makes my life infinitely easier.
We've had a really fun time building this place. I'm actually more proud of this place in terms of how it came out and what it looks like than Grindhouse. I think the design is gonna blow people away.
Speaking of (interior) design ...
We wanted it to feel like an abandoned subway station or something, kind of like an evil lair, but more like a subway that got left. There's graffiti and subway tiles on the wall. Then as you go to the left it turns into more of a true evil lair. It's got these glowing red lights and sort of an evil booth, like a VIP booth that holds 8 people, it goes up really high and you can't really see what's going on in there, it looks awesome. Everything is covered in metal and rivets. One of the walls will have this giant chalk mural that's going to be this crazy blueprint of evil plots and bombs and evil devices and things like that.
It's definitely a theme. We tried to make it not-cheesy. The goal was to make it really feel like a lair and not just throw up some pictures of villains on the wall. I think you really feel like you're in a movie or something when you walk in here. It's that awesome.
An evil lair that feels like an abandoned subway station with diabolical plots scrawled on the wall? Basically what you're saying is that Midtown-ers have no idea what's about to hit them ...
I don't think they do. I think between the food and the atmosphere and the fact that we've got this outdoor bar, I'm really looking forward to people coming and trying it and seeing what their reaction is. I think we're definitely set up to kick Midtown's butt a little bit. I live over in Inman Park/Old Fourth Ward and there are just not a lot of places like that around here, so we're trying to give a little bit of that vibe to Midtown.
What kind of crowd do you expect at Villains?
We just want people who like to drink, like good food, and just want to have a good time. There's nothing pretentious about what's going on in this place at all. These are great chefs in the kitchen, but they're not forcing anything on anybody. It's a very approachable menu and I think there's something for everybody on there whether you're a foodie or you just want a really good turkey sandwich.
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Soon to be shuttered. We ate there last night and the review is spot on!
Morels are already gone. Stop teasing us :).
As long as I'm alive I'm'a live ill-egal