Regular readers know I am a huge fan of sandwiches, and one of my favorites for the last two years has been Bad As’s Sandwich (http://badasssandwiches.com/), located on Primrose and Robinson in the hip, foodie-friendly “Milk District” neighborhood east of downtown Orlando. Chef John Collazo is a “sandwich artist” in the truest, purest sense — a culinary visionary who is constantly creating memorable sandwiches, combining ingredients both familiar and exotic. He even bakes his own French rolls, which are soft, but lightly grilled for a perfect crispiness in each bite.
All sandwiches come with house-made kettle chips, or tater tots, chicharrones (pork rinds), or canaritos (sweet plantains) for a slight upcharge. They also offer soups, salads, smaller sandwiches at evening happy hours, and breakfast sandwiches, which I have not been lucky enough to try yet.
Chef John, his lovely wife and partner Jamilza, and their entire staff are always so friendly and welcoming. This is one of the places in Orlando I feel like a “regular,” which is something I always wanted to be, ever since I was a little kid, going with my dad to Chinese restaurants across the Miami suburbs where everybody knew his name.
In addition to the standard sandwich menu, Chef John regularly rolls out weekly specials: creative, exotic sandwiches that are simply too good to last. As great as the regular offerings are, these specials are usually what brings me back. They often run out early in the day, but luckily for me, Bad As’s isn’t too far from work. When I receive word of the weekly specials by following them on Facebook, I’ll often rush over there to catch one while I can.
I went back this past Friday for their weekly special, the ConDorito, with Dorito-crusted herbed chicken, crispy fried jalapenos, house-made cheese sauce (they call it “cheese goo”), shredded lettuce, salsa fresca, and fresh crema. Like so many of the specials, it was an explosion of different flavors, textures, and colors. This was a sandwich that really deserved to be eaten in the restaurant, but I brought it back to work and then wolfed down half of it before remembering to take a picture. And it wasn’t even a good picture.
Chef John is a civic-minded mensch who does what he can for his community. Over the last two weeks, for every ConDorito special sold, Bad As’s Sandwich promised to donate $5 to Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen disaster relief organization to help the Bahamas relief effort, after the islands were decimated by Hurricane Dorian. He doesn’t have to do that — or anything — but it’s a noble thing to do. Even though I would have wanted to try a Dorito-crusted chicken sandwich regardless, I was thrilled that part of what I paid was going toward a worthy charitable cause.
And they delivered a donation of $700 on September 15th, the day I finally finished writing about Bad As’s. I’ve been working on this review for the better part of 2019, since they keep rolling out new special sandwiches I wanted to write about, but today was a significant day to publish this piece. See this post from the Bad As’s Sandwich Facebook page.
One of my favorite special sandwiches they served in 2018 was the Polpetta, with house-made meatballs in roasted tomato sauce, fried mozzarella (they had me at fried mozzarella!), prosciutto (everything is better wrapped in prosciutto), and fresh baby arugula. Good God, Lemon! Does it get any better than that? Somehow, YES!
Last year, they offered the Poseidon sandwich, with generous chunks of chilled Alaskan king crab and Fuji apple slaw, slathered with spicy gochujang mayo, and topped with beautiful chili threads. It was another one of their numerous creative special sandwiches that only stick around for a week, so I was thrilled to try one while I could. It came with fresh, house-made chicharrones (pork rinds), a delicious snack that is great for low-carb dieters when they’re craving salty, crunchy chips or crackers. Since then, they have put out a similar Poseidon 2.0 sandwich with lobster, like the most badass lobstah roll ever. (I prefer crab to lobster.)
Speaking of pork rinds, sometimes we get lucky and the special sandwiches get added to the permanent menu. This happened in March of this year with the Ya-Mon, a sandwich with jerk chicken, gouda cheese, sweet plantains (one of my food weaknesses), pork rinds, jalapeno pesto, mango jam, and jerk lime mayo. If you missed out on it before, now it’s here to stay.
Another beloved special that was recently added to the menu is the Django, a sandwich that featured house-made sliced ribeye, smoked gouda pimento cheese (YESSSS!), caramelized onions (the best thing you can do to onions), piquillo peppers, and honey horseradish on charred bread. “These are a few of my favorite things!” And (possibly) named after one of my Top Five favorite guitarists, too! Sorry I didn’t get a good photo of this one, folks. I figured I could include the blurry pic I snapped when I enjoyed a Django sandwich back in 2018, but didn’t want anyone to lose their appetites.
My absolute favorite Bad As’s sandwich is yet another limited-time special. It has made a few comebacks since I listed it one of my Top Five Favorite Dishes of 2017 in Orlando Weekly, one of my proudest moments. It’s the Capone, an unique and unparalleled Italian sandwich with pepperoni, serrano ham, chorizo cantimpalo (like a cross between pepperoni and salami), capocollo, soppressata, aged provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, Thai basil manchego aioli (MAMA MIA!), and spicy vinaigrette to tie it all together — everything a growing boy needs.
It’s a beautiful marvel of a sandwich, and it warms my heart whenever they bring it back. That said, you can order the Capone hot or cold, and I go for cold every time. Italian sandwiches with cured meats and vegetables never taste the same to me hot — the meats get crispy and greasy, and the lettuce and tomatoes get slimy. If you’ve only ever had pepperoni turned into crunchy little grease-bowls on a pizza, try it cold in a sandwich some time. Ideally THIS sandwich. Your life will never be the same.
Close-up on those fresh, crispy kettle chips:
I ordered this particular Capone earlier this year, on an uncharacteristically chilly winter day in Orlando, so I decided to get some soup with it. Bad As’s is well-known for their creamy tomato bisque, so I tried that for the first time and was not disappointed. It came with delicious fresh croutons that unfortunately got soggy in the soup by the time I brought my takeout order back to work, as well as chunks of gouda cheese that created a delightfully-unexpected chewy contrast.
And vegetarians shouldn’t despair, because one of the regular sandwiches is the HHH (Happy Healthy Humans), with a trio of roasted vegetables: zucchini, cauliflower, and mushrooms, plus lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions, crispy chips, fontina cheese, and sun-dried tomato aioli. When I picked up my ConDorito sandwich the other day, I brought back the HHH for one of my co-workers, only she requested that they substitute saffron aioli for the sun-dried tomato aioli, and they were kind enough to oblige. She loved it so much, she was doing “jazz hands.” I can’t eat mushrooms, but I have no doubt I would have loved it too, if I order one sans ‘shrooms.
Bad As’s isn’t quite three years old yet, but I hope it lasts forever. Chef John, Jamilza, and his badass-but-welcoming crew are definitely running one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando. In fact, with the presence of Bad As’s Sandwich, Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market, Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, Beefy King, and even Se7en Bites, Orlando’s hip, happening Milk District should strongly consider rebranding itself as the Sandwich District.