Review: Velvet Hippo brings delightful sandwiches to Avondale Estates

You'll probably see the number of customers growing at the all-outdoors Velvet Hippo as the weather improves. Courtesy of the Velvet Hippo

Credit: The Velvet Hippo

Credit: The Velvet Hippo

You'll probably see the number of customers growing at the all-outdoors Velvet Hippo as the weather improves. Courtesy of the Velvet Hippo

The Velvet Hippo is a fabulous case study in doing more with less.

The new sandwich shop in Avondale Estates is the brainchild of Jamie and Aaron Russell, the married couple who run Poor Hendrix in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood. Because they remain dedicated to their original restaurant, the Velvet Hippo is not meant to be a full-service, sit-down dinner spot. Instead, it offers simplicity and speed, which makes the sophisticated flavors of the sandwiches even more impressive.

The short menu, which will change several times a year, includes some solid cold-weather options. The creamy curried carrot soup, which has warm spices and a silky texture, provided a cozy feeling — an especially impressive feat for a vegetarian and gluten-free dish.

The cocktail menu also has a classic hot toddy that was bracingly strong, with straightforward flavors from bourbon, lemon and cinnamon.

The sandwich menu typically will include five or more options, with occasional seasonal specials. During Atlanta’s recent cold snap, the Velvet Hippo served a wonderfully gooey turkey meatball sub that was as hearty and filling as you might have hoped.

The Velvet Hippo's Vietnamese-style fish sandwich is served on a soft, round bun but has the classic flavors of a banh mi. Courtesy of the Velvet Hippo

Credit: The Velvet Hippo

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Credit: The Velvet Hippo

Because the Velvet Hippo is not tied to any specific cuisine, the sandwiches offer a nice variety of flavor profiles. The Mediterranean pita, which can be made with chicken or beets, evoked the region’s classic flavors with fresh vegetables and a tart paprika vinaigrette. The vegan version of the pita was made with precisely diced beets that showed the cooks take their technique seriously.

The flavors in the Vietnamese-style fish sandwich really sang. The sandwich’s fried catfish filet had a thin, even coating and a beautifully clean, flaky interior, and it was served on a soft, round bun. The pickled carrots, fresh cucumber and herbs gave it the flavor of a banh mi, and chile peppers added a kick.

The turkey, pepperoni and provolone hoagie also was satisfying.

The Velvet Hippo's Mediterranean pita can be made with chicken or beets and includes fresh vegetables and a tart paprika vinaigrette. Henri Hollis/henri.hollis@ajc.com

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

The Moroccan lamb burger was served on the same type of bun as the fish sandwich, but somehow managed to be even messier. The seeded buns were soft and absorbent — excellent if eaten immediately, but they might not survive a longer trip in a takeout box. However, on the Velvet Hippo’s cute patio, the lamb burger was a ton of fun to eat. It was redolent of North African spices and topped with rich, caramelized onions. The same paprika vinaigrette used in the pita helped balance the richness, along with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and pickles.

Just be sure to grab plenty of napkins ahead of time.

Outside of the sandwiches, the menu offers the sides you want from a sandwich shop, while managing to add creative twists that don’t detract (unlike, for example, restaurants that try to make their own ketchup). Smoky sweet potatoes added depth to the hummus, and the chicken nuggets were made with hunks of dark meat, and were richer and juicier than versions made with all-white meat.

The bloody mary is one of the Velvet Hippo's excellent house cocktails. Courtesy of the Velvet Hippo

Credit: The Velvet Hippo

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Credit: The Velvet Hippo

The Velvet Hippo is not glamorous. The building that houses the restaurant’s kitchen is only about 400 square feet, Aaron Russell said, and there is no indoor seating. If you visit during the day, expect to see employees ferrying ingredients back and forth from the standalone walk-in fridge, located about 30 feet from the kitchen.

Customers place their orders at a window facing the parking lot, where they receive a table number; staff members deliver the food to your table. Additional orders can be placed and picked up at a second window under the covered dining area, which has about 15 seats. While the service is minimal, the staff is incredibly friendly and professional. They also bus the tables, instead of asking customers to do it themselves, which helps the experience and keeps the space cleaner.

The Velvet Hippo is unpretentious, reliable, inexpensive and, most importantly, the food is delicious. As the weather improves, it’s easy to imagine the shop drawing lots of customers; go now while you still can find a parking spot.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s dining critics conduct reviews anonymously. Reservations are not made in their name, nor do they provide restaurants with advance notice about their visits. Our critics always make multiple visits, sample the full range of the menu and pay for all of their meals. AJC dining critics wait at least one month after a new restaurant has opened before visiting.

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