By Mercer Reed
On a warm Saturday evening in January, I walked into a new, modern-looking restaurant on the corner of 5th and Grace Streets called Secret Sandwich Society. When the hostess informed me that the wait would be around 40-45 minutes, I dropped my head and began to walk out. However, she immediately gained my attention back when telling me that the bar table seats were first come, first served. I scouted out the people dining at the bar, and when I found two unoccupied seats for me and my father, John Reed, I claimed them as fast as I could.
Our waiter and bartender, Chris, looked quite busy, fulfilling the requests of many customers. The menu contained many cleverly-named items, such as salads named after former First Ladies and burgers cleverly named after Secret Service nicknames of the members of former presidents’ families.
At first glance, the menu did not seem to have a wide variety of foods. I wondered why it was deemed a sandwich restaurant, as I did not see any sandwiches other than burgers on the menu. But when I flipped the menu to the reverse side, I was greeted with an eye-opening variety of handcrafted sandwiches. Each sandwich was named after past presidents of the United States (plus the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill). One choice that caught my eye was the Kennedy, modeled after a Cuban sandwich, as John F. Kennedy was president during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Another sandwich choice was the Lincoln, the make-your-own sandwich, subtitled “Express your freedom of choice.” I ordered the Kennedy, and my father ordered the Eisenhower, a rendition of the classic Italian sandwich, possibly named after Eisenhower because, as an Allied powers commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower fought Italy during World War II. The available side dishes included the standard option of chips, or, for an extra fee, pimento cheese fries, loaded cheese fries, a small Martha’s salad, or various soups. I decided to have the loaded fries for an extra $3, while my father stuck with the standard chips.
Chris was very tentative, as he would top off our drinks whenever necessary. While waiting for our meal, we paid attention to the atmosphere of the restaurant, classic rock hits playing through the speakers, intriguing tile floors in designated sections of the restaurant, and spacious seating for those seated at tables.
When I heard a clicking noise and the sound of a blowtorch, I turned my attention back to the bar and saw that Chris was burning a flat slab of wood until it turned red-hot and embers appeared. He then placed a glass on top of the embers and let the glass fill with concentrated smoke. He quickly flipped the glass over, put a large ice cube in the glass, and filled it with bourbon. Next, Chris burned a piece of wood that almost looked like a straw and placed the stick in the drink. He served this to the people seated a few seats down, and I was later told that this intriguing alcoholic beverage was infused with smoke for added flavor, cleverly named the “Smoked.”
When our food arrived, it was served with various house-made condiments, such as ketchup, pickles, and pimento cheese. The Kennedy came on a reversed bun that was inside out in order to represent the turmoil of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I learned that the bread used to make each of the sandwiches comes from Tribeca Bakery, contributing to the gourmet sandwich experience. The loaded fries came topped with creamy pimento cheese, crispy crumbled bacon, and chopped jalapeños.
For $10.50, the size of the sandwich a bit smaller than I had desired, but it was delicious. Each individual ingredient played its own important role in the overall taste of the delectable sandwich. The fries had a bit of a spicy kick to them due to the jalapeños, but they complemented the pimento cheese quite well. Our total for the meal came out to be $29.50 before tax, rather expensive for two, given what you would expect from a casual lunch downtown, but it was well worth it.
Secret Sandwich Society has been in Richmond since November 2016 and is a great place to be in a modern restaurant atmosphere in downtown Richmond for a casual lunch. With only one other restaurant location in Fayetteville, West Virginia, this small chain restaurant has been fairly unknown in the Richmond community but is well worth the visit.
All photos by Mercer Reed.