Bad As's Sandwich: Wicked Bad
Handhelds stacked with meaty goodness are the main attraction at John Collazo’s Bad As’s Sandwich.
The “IRA” features corned beef, pastrami, Havarti cheese, sauerkraut and homemade Thousand Island dressing.
It’s a rare occurrence when you can walk into the Milk District’s handheld food haven, Bad As’s Sandwich, and not see John Collazo behind the counter or in the kitchen. The 40-year-old owner/chef works seven days week, using house-cured sausage, house-made dressings and condiments, and fresh roasted turkey, pork, corned beef and pastrami to build some noteworthy handheld delights.
Collazo isn’t shy with spices or ingredients. His bold flavor combinations include the signature Bad As’s sandwich’s stack of well-seasoned beef, pork, chicken and Havarti cheese with pickled onions and a hearty roasted garlic aioli. A frequent special, the Capone, is a mouthwatering Italian collection of mortadella, capocollo, ham, chorizo, Fontina cheese and basil-manchego aioli.
Collazo has an itinerate chef’s resume. Originally from Puerto Rico, he studied at the Restaurant School of Philadelphia, consulted in NYC for hospitality company Restaurant Associates, then it was on to stints in New England and Miami. His history in Orlando includes the kitchens of Raga, Kasa and Saffran. In 2014 he hand-built his Bad As’s food “truck” (“the smallest trailer in Orlando”) and hit the streets, earning a reputation for handcrafted sandwiches at events and the Food Truck Bazaar. “[Bazaar producer] Mark Baratelli had a lot to do with our success,” Collazo says.
Bad As’s’ road days ended in 2016 as he transitioned into the hallowed “brick and mortar” realm. His secret: credit cards. “I applied for every card you can think of.” He nods toward the counter. “Those bar stools over there … Amazon was our best friend.”
Aside from specials that appear and disappear on a whim, the menu runs between $9 and $14. Servings are large—and multi-napkin juicy. My one complaint: the bread. Some specialty items are baked in the kitchen, but there’s no room for full-service bread, and, sorry to say, the packaged hoagie rolls suffer, especially if taken home. Allowing space for more bread baking is a great argument for expansion.
The location gained fame as the first home of Trina Gregory-Propst’s Se7en Bites, and before that was the location of the fabled Sandwich King. And yet, according to Collazo, he is the first occupant at this address. “In the Orange County records this was officially 203½ Primrose. We had to get the place rezoned to 207.”
The menu started with 10 sandwiches; now there are around 80 “in the vault,” and Collazo is beginning to delve into tastes from his homeland, including a salt-cured beef rib version of Puerto Rican bacalao, traditionally made with dried cod. The beef is braised for 10 days and served with roasted parsnip puree (the Bam Bam). American Ninja combines tamarind-lacquered pork belly and Granny Smith apple slaw on charred bread. “For breakfast I bake a traditional Mallorca bread—took me three years to perfect.” The slightly sweet cross between a croissant and a Hawaiian roll is a quick bite with coffee, or as made into one of the six sandwiches served from 7 to 11 a.m.The shop has been transformed to Collazo’s specs—and his image. Floors, walls and counters were redone, and a wall removed to open the kitchen. The famous “Let us fill your pie hole” mural outside (which Gregory-Propst fought the city to retain) has been replaced by a sandwich-devouring fellow who looks quite familiar. “That’s my alter ego, Bad,” Collazo says. “My 15 year-old nephew drew it; there’s even a copy of my tattoo on his arm.”
The place on Primrose is just a sandwich shop, after all. But it’s enough to make John Collazo’s “bad as’s” dream come true, and court a growing throng of satisfied customers.