A new General Store, trendy sandwich shop has opened up in the Virginia Highlands. It is called BELLY.
Having driven past it several times, I decided to go in today with my digital camera to survey the place.
The place is definitely Virginia Highlands chic: ethereal funk music playing; candles burning; spotted light on exposed brick. The employees all had decidedly funky haircuts: many with bleached blonde hair. The goods offered are eclectic–various types of dried-out chilis; vinegars; and unusual cookbooks (one, I think, was called “Crazy Chickens” with pictures of crazy chickens).
Everything there looked fresh and new. A cheese counter looked good enough to lick. I proceeded to lick it, only to have an employee inform me that the cheese counter was not for licking.
In any case, I was hungry and I wanted a sandwich. I read the sandwich menu carefully. Nothing stuck out at me as something I HAD to have, so I went with the panini because I don’t eat much panini in Atlanta. I chose the mozzarella, tomato and basil panini. I also ordered an orange cream soda.
What I didn’t like was that when he rung me up with a credit card, there was a line for tip. Why should I tip someone at a counter? He’s not a waiter. I have to carry my own food. Sometimes I’ll feel pressured and give a tip anyway. Today I felt vengeful, and left the line blank. The guy gave me a dirty look.
Soon, my sandwich came out and I saw it sitting up on the counter. I was sitting alone at the table. Was the guy going to bring it to me? Was he mad that I didn’t give him a tip?
I gave him a look that said: “Umm, I know that my sandwich is up there, why aren’t you giving it to me?
He feigned distraction.
I scudded my seat back noisily and stomped up to the counter, swooping the sandwich up myself.
“Sir, that’s not yours,” said the man nicely.
“Oh,” I said.
Soon, though, my sandwich appeared. Here is a picture:
It came with a devilled egg (a strange touch!) and a bunch of tiny pickles. I took a bite of the sandwich first:
The textures all went well together, but the sandwich suffered from a severe lack of flavor. Perhaps that is the bain of mozzarella sandwiches: they need something to perk them up or they fall flat. Mozzarella isn’t very flavorful in and of itself. It acts as a vehicle for other condiments: tomato sauce; vinegar; wasabi. (Ok, maybe not the last). And this sandwich just tasted like bready, gooey air.
Perhaps it was the pesto (a basil replacement, I suppose) that was the true criminal here. Pesto is a great opportunity for flavor. You can add garlic to it and salt. And I think it’s the latter that felt most absent. The pesto (and hence the sandwich) was underseasoned. So was the devilled egg. The only flavor I really got at lunch was from the pickles and the cream soda.
Yet, Belly seems promising. Eager to please. And I very well might have picked a loser: I’ve never really met a mozzarella panini sandwich that I liked. (Although, admittedly, I don’t think I’ve had very many). Surely, I’ll go back to soak in the aesthetic and try something new. And maybe next time I’ll tip the counter guy.