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Your Lunch, Launched: Michael Voltaggio Opening Casual Sandwich Shop ink.sack

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Fans of Chef Michael Voltaggio have been chomping at the bit for his restaurant ink. to open for months, and with red tape holding up the works month after month, there's finally some good news: ink. will open in September. But until then, if you're hungry for some of the Top Chef season 6 winner's playful eats, get in line...and order a sandwich at his unexpected endeavor: ink.sack, a casual, affordable sandwich shop a couple of doors down from ink. The bonus: It opens Thursday, August 11th.

Surprised? I was too, as were all of us who innocently showed up to take a tour of ink.'s interior last night, only to learn we were about to taste-drive the seven sandwiches, compressed spiced fruits, housemade potato chips, and ice cream sandwiches on the menu that doesn't have an item on it over $6.

ink.sack is school lunch like your mama never packed you. The sandwiches are made with meats prepared in-house (down the block at ink., since ink.sack has no kitchen), and topped with flavors and ingredients found in only the grown up of lunch boxes, and served on bread made fresh by a local baker.

That bread is soft and chewy, the perfect foil for ingredient combos like cold fried chicken slices, house made ranch-cheese (centrifuge is involved), and Gindo's fiery Spice of Life sauce ($4). My two favorites are the C.L.T. (Chicken Liver Mousse, Curried Chicken Skin, Lettuce, Tomato) and the Beef Tongue "Reuben" (Appenzeller Cheese, Kraut, and Russian Dressing), both of which are $5.

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The priciest item on the menu is a $6 sandwich that features imported meats, and is named--with permission--for a great chef and Voltaggio mentor, The Jose Andres, aka "The Spanish Godfather" (Serrano Ham, Chorizo, Lomo, Manchego). It is salty, soulful and complex, with its brightly colored layers of flavors. Chef Andres would be proud, indeed.

On the side, you can order up packets of compressed, spicy fruits, street cart-style, like the zingy watermelon with sriracha and lime ($3), or the sweet-cool "Street Fruit" melange of pineapple, jicama, mango, melon, chile and lemon ($4). And you'll want to pair up your sandwich--or sandwiches, since the small sizes and prices are meant to encourage getting an assortment, not austerity!--with a sack of chips spiced with either salt, pepper and vinegar or Old Bay seasoning (aka the Maryland Crab Chips, a nod to Voltaggio's home state). For dessert, don't you dare skip ordering one of the two kickass ice cream sandwiches on the menu: Peanut Butter and Jelly, and my favorite, the Mexican Chocolate Chip and Horchata.

As maybe expected from Voltaggio, who earned himself a sort of "bad boy" chef rep, ink.sack is rife with a sort of "under the bleachers" school vibe, from the binder covered in stickers that holds the menu printed on lined loose-leaf to the black lunch bags with your name scrawled on it in silver to the chalked street art that is growing on the walls. What is not expected, in addition to the fact that ink.sack exists at all, is that this is Voltaggio at his most affordable and approachable for the casual day-to-day diner.

It's standing room only inside the small storefront, and service will only run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. When ink. does open, Voltaggio jokes you'll likely find him jogging the block back and forth between the two restaurants. Since Voltaggio is the kind of chef who throws himself heart and soul into the kitchen and his food, he's promised he will be the kind of chef-owner who does thing hands-on. He's so into his food and his projects that he is, indeed, inked up with tattoos, like the shiny new ink.sack "exploding lunch bag" designed by some friends that is healing on his left arm, like the location itself, it's just a few paces from where his ink reads "ink." in honor of his soon-to-be fine dining restaurant.

But don't think "ink." is a direct interpretation of his tats; Voltaggio explained that "ink." is a play on the short form of "incorporated," signaling this is his home-base business venture, and that he plans on being in this spot for a while. ink.sack is the carry out, lunch bag, easygoing alt option.

If you plan on being at ink., hold on until next month. But ink. sack opens Thursday, and will be open Wednesdays-Sundays thereafter. Your lunch has been launched, kids.