2020 was a rough year, but the year didn’t completely stop many of our city’s bold restaurateurs. So we’re entering 2021 with some culinary bright points: Preston’s making a home in the North Market, Parable Coffee, Afra Grill, Basic Biscuits, Emmett’s Cafe, Winston’s.
And one my favorites to kick off in 2020, an unexpected walk-up sandwich stand in the Arena District.
Wario’s Beef & Pork – yes, it takes its name from Wario, enemy of Mario – opened in the old Arena Sandwich Co. spot on Nationwide, right across from the arena. There’s been a sandwich stand there for a few years; it’s a simple walk-up window (as of this writing, with a new awning bearing their name) with a sizable patio.
Wario’s is the creation of chef Stephan Madias. I’m familiar with him from his time cooking at Ethyl & Tank, The Market Italian Village, and most recently The Crest. On my breakfast tours we used to spot him out front of The Crest tending his smoker.
He quietly opened Wario’s early last October, but they’ve been successful enough that they sell out regularly. The menu has been rotating slightly each week, so keep an eye on social media to see what they’re offering.
After a couple visits, we can see that they’re settling in to some favorites. On our last stop they had five sandwiches – the steak, chicken cutlet, roasted pork, cold cut, and falafel – plus two versions of their house spuds.
At first glance, you might notice that the prices are higher than, say, Subway or Jersey Mike’s, but these places don’t hold a candle to the quality of ingredients and the huge portions. One sandwich could easily be split between two people and still leave them stuffed.
First things first: The Steak sandwich leads the menu, at least in my mind. Perhaps because the previous two tenants of the Wario’s space fronted Philly cheesesteaks.
The Steak features shaved rib-eye, onion, and a house-made cheese whiz. We’ve always ordered it “Wario’s way,” which adds more cheese whiz, provolone, and white American cheese.
I’m no expert on true Philly cheesesteaks, but this knocks anything I’ve had out of the park. It’s everything you could want in a sandwich, and the rolls from Matija Breads just make it all the better.
There’s also the monster chicken cutlet: a tender cutlet layered over and over with broccoli rabe, picante provolone, tomato butter, and Wario sauce on that delightful Matija bread. It’s so large you can’t get your mouth around it.
Again, I’m no sandwich expert, and through Wario’s chef Stephan introduced us to the roasted pork sandwich, a Philadelphia classic that marries roasted pork shoulder with picante provolone, broccoli rabe, and a side of pork jus. It’s another winner, although the broccoli rabe is more bitter than I expected.
Aside from the Steak, my other favorite from the menu is the Cold Cut. I love me a good cold cut sandwich, and this one takes a seeded Matija roll and layers rosemary ham, soppressata, and hot coppa with shaved lettuce, onion, Wario sauce, and a delightful, crisp, colorful, zesty house-made giardiniera.
I mean… just look at it!
And don’t don’t don’t let the Wario’s spuds pass you by. They’re a must for any order. Crispy roasted potatoes smashed and generously seasoned with herbs, parmesan, and a side of Wario’s sauce.
Chef is also doing occasional specials, like this amazing breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese, house-made bacon, broccoli rabe, tomato butter.
Wario’s is a run, don’t walk situation. It’s a terrific new addition, and one I hope becomes an institution in our city.