Saturday, November 3, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #127 - The Heights aka I'll Melt With You

Sandwich: Breakfast Sandwich
Location: The Heights
Date: November 2, 2018
Cost: $7

The Heights is the latest restaurant from Underground Food Collective and helps combat what I'm just now realizing is a dearth of breakfast sandwich options on the near west side. Like many of my recent sandwich excursions this came in as a hot tip from an astute reader. I've not kept up with researching new restaurants and mostly rely on luck and lazy circumstance to guide my ship into the safe harbors of delicious breakfast comfort. (What?) Let's face it, Madison's restaurant scene isn't so big that I actually need to put much effort into discovering new sandwich options but I do appreciate it when readers let me know of developments.

I didn't realize how long it had been since I had the sandwich at Underground Butcher but it's been over 3 years. The Heights came along at just the right time, and I had rare weekday morning available to get over there. 

This might be the first decent photo of a menu to appear in this publication.

It pays to get the table near the huge window. Look at all that natural light! Is it petty of me to mention that I hate that plate? I don't like it at all. It doesn't fit with the rest of the aesthetic and I don't know why I care but I didn't let it break my concentration. 

When I say "Ooey", you say "Gooey". "OOEY!"

The Sandwich - Breakfast Sandwich is the only option on the menu, or is it? I did review a Croque Madame at Sardine in August of 2016 and it was one of the top sandwiches of that year, but I came for the traditional breakfast sandwich and that's what I ordered. No options are offered upon ordering. (Note the sandwich description on the menu photo above is accurate and varies slightly from the online menu.) My first impression of the sandwich was that it isn't particularly large but that's not always important. After I snapped my photos I angled the sandwich so I could cut it for the crucial cross-section shot. The brioche bun was still warm and it's spongy resistance held promise. As I drew the knife towards me I was not prepared for the explosion of yolk that for a fraction of a second I thought might traverse the edge of the plate. That would have been a travesty and I have to hand it to the plate - it did it's job and I shouldn't have judged it so harshly. The yolk was practically fluorescent and made me think (with no evidence) that the egg was super fresh and perhaps the chicken was out back clucking around in the alley by the dumpster. The salty soppressata hits you on the first bite and the creamy Hook's Triple Play balances it out. There is a touch of spice from the red pepper flakes in the soppressata but just enough to give it some character. The brioche bun is just about perfect - sturdy enough to withstand the sandwich innards but soft enough to mop up all that yolk.

The Result - 4.90 Unfortunate Plates out of 5 Unfortunate Plates. This sandwich practically melts in your mouth and it's flavor is much bigger than than the sandwich appears. It all blends wonderfully and while the flavors are strong they don't overwhelm. By the end of the sandwich I was still anticipating each bite and made sure to keep my brioche to yolk ratio in check so I wouldn't run out of either. 

If they would have let me smash the plate on the sidewalk I might have given this a perfect score. To be fair, I didn't ask if I could smash the plate.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #126 - What The Hell? aka Lab Failures

Sandwich: Chili Mac, Egg & Cheese
Date: 10/24/18

This experiment started as a chance to use my new NORPRO 666 non-stick egg cooking rings. A couple of quick notes about those cooking rings - why is their product number The Number of The Beast and if they are sold as "non-stick" why is the first instruction to coat them with non-stick cooking spray before use? I guess if you're cooking chicken eggs IN HELL they tend to stick on account of the extreme heat. How are you going to cook eggs on a medium to low temperature when you're in the lake that burns with fire and sulfer? These are problems that fall well outside the scope and mission of the lab. This is a modest operation we have here.

The non-stick egg rings were an attempt to ditch the Mason Jar lid method which I've documented and never been fully satisfied with mostly due to the hassle of washing egg out of the lid rim. While prepping for this I realized I had leftover chili mac and considered how I could add that to the sandwich. My immediate thought was that it would be an impractical mess but I went ahead with the idea because that's how it works around here. To realize the perfect sloppy sandwich you sometimes have to go too far and if that means going into the project with failure hovering in your peripheral vision, so be it.

Right off the bat I broke the yolk and put the ring in upside down. 

The cheese did melt a little more but not quite enough. 
The Sandwich - I already told you about the broken yolk and while I was messing with the English Muffin and chili mac (which was heating separately) I overcooked the egg a bit. The English Muffin wasn't quite toasted enough, the slice of American cheese didn't melt as much as I wanted and even though I assembled the sandwich and paused for a few photos the chili mac was still hot enough to burn the roof of my mouth. I didn't even attempt to cut the sandwich for the usual cross section photo and after two bites the sandwich was a predictable mess and I had a burnt hard palate, which was upsetting. 

The Result - The sandwich was OK but it had too much working against it and nobody thinks putting chili mac on an English Muffin is a good idea. It doesn't execute properly. I'll try to be more practical in the future or better yet, go to an actual restaurant. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #125 - A Lab Toss Off

Sandwich: Bacon, American Cheese, Soft Scramble Egg, Sourdough Bread
Date: 9/26/18

This lab sandwich was the result of serendipitous circumstances and dumb luck and coincidence which were as follows - I woke up at 5:00 am for no good reason and while making coffee realized I had bacon, eggs, American cheese slices and a loaf of cheap sourdough bread. These are the perfect items for constructing a diner-style breakfast sandwich.

The only thing that made this sandwich worthy of a lab report (that's debatable) is the sourdough bread. I don't usually have it on hand so I've not used it. The soft scramble eggs are also a newer process adopted by the lab but not worthy of reportage on their own.
Yeah, I could have buttered that bread to make it more like an actual diner sandwich but this was the healthier route to go.

That bacon isn't as well done as it appears. It's dark in the lab at 5:30 am before all the assistants and interns arrive with their nervous energy and ill-fitting lab coats and need for fluorescent lighting.
The Sandwich - I've pretty much covered that already. There isn't anything special to say about this but I do love how American cheese slices get all melty. There were 4 slices of bacon and 2 chicken eggs. That seems like crucial information. 

The Result - Simple. Tasty. Quick. Everything as expected. If you ordered this off a laminated tri-fold menu for $3.49 you'd be pleased with your choice especially if a lady with a beehive hairdo served it to you and called you "Hon" and had the pot of coffee in hand ready to warm up your cup. I don't want to tell you how to feel but I think you'd be very happy indeed and if you don't agree I'm not even sure why you're here but you should hang around anyway.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #124 - The Old Fashioned aka More Like A Lunchfast Sandwich

Sandwich: The Old Fashioned House Burger
Location: The Old Fashioned
Date: September 16, 2018
Cost: $9.95

I hadn't been to The Old Fashioned in quite some time and it had been even longer since I reviewed one of their sandwiches

There isn't anything fresh and new that needs to be said about The Old Fashioned. They continue to deliver excellent food, drinks and atmosphere even if I do think the Wiscocentric theme is a touch corny. It doesn't matter and it isn't half as annoying as anything related to Texas pride. (Oh relax, Texas.)

My Sunday evolved into lunch at The Old Fashioned prior to the Willy Street Fair so the opportunity to review a sandwich fell into my lap. While I looked over the menu I tried to find something that I wanted more than the house burger and I couldn't do it. I consciously tried to avoid this review and it couldn't be done. The Sandwich Gods had spoken.

Is referring to a burger with an egg on it as a "breakfast sandwich" a bit of a stretch? Probably, although there is precedent here - I had The Buzzy Sandwich with a burger patty on January 1. That particular burger patty was served on bread and consumed before Noon whereas this one was on a proper burger bun and eaten well after Noon. I don't care. One of these days I'm going to review breakfast tacos or a burrito and I'm not even going to pretend to apologize for it. Oh jeez, I just remembered my last review was a HOT DOG. Never mind. I should just delete this entire paragraph. 

SAKES ALIVE! She's a beauty! That yolk is on the move. So precarious. The bartender caught me taking this shot and said "How's everything looking?" which I think was his way of saying I'm a dickhead for taking photos of my food. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'm a professional and he probably spends more time on his hair than I've spent on this review but I still tipped him well even though I had to give him "the look" to get another beer which should never happen in a proper Wisconsin tavern. 

I used up all my caption material on the previous photo. #yolkpuddle

The Sandwich - The Old Fashioned House Burger:

No. 30
The Old Fashioned House Burger-grilled over a live fire and topped with fried onions, Bavaria’s hickory-smoked bacon, aged Cheddar, garlic sauce and a soft-cooked egg on a buttered and toasted roll…..$9.95

No options are offered. It's grilled over a "live fire" which only makes me think of Live Wire - a video that features live fire but no grilling. I ordered it medium-rare and it was a touch more done than that although that may have been for the better. This is a gooey burger. It's every bit as sloppy as I remember it but everything blends well and the most prominent flavor is the hickory-smoked bacon. The garlic sauce and cheddar cheese move to the background although they certainly contribute to the overall taste explosion. Everything combines so well I can't really deconstruct the individual components. It's just a fantastic hamburger sandwich. Every time. I ordered it with the greens on the side which I've said many times is my preferred side to a breakfast sandwich. These were no exception - zippy and tangy, just how I like them. 

The Result - 4.6 Hamburger Sandwiches out of 5 Hamburger Sandwiches. I docked it a tiny bit cause it doesn't really feel like a breakfast sandwich. Is that fair? Probably not. I don't care, I've already thrown the rules out with the bath water. I like my metaphors like I like my drinks - mixed. I'm just making things up now, a clear sign I need to wrap this up. It was a fantastic sandwich, I think that is obvious. 

Side note - I went to the Willy Street Fair after this and it was too hot and I tried to find a tie-dyed bandana to wipe sweat off my head and I couldn't find one!! What has happened to the east side? Is this what gentrification looks like? May as well pack it up and move to Middleton. 

Recap - The Whole Damn Year End Lists aka It Depends On What Your Definition of "Best" Is

I'd like to address a recurring situation - I meet somebody and the subject of this blog comes up, generally because I always wear a t-shirt that says "Ask Me About My Breakfast Sandwich Blog" or they see my bumper sticker that reads "Honk If You Like It Over Easy". This happens often. The inevitable first question is "Who has the best breakfast sandwich in Madison?" The correct answer to this is "It depends...", followed by a litany of scenarios and inquiries about their expectations. Nobody wants to hear that nonsense. They want to hear a passionate description of the sandwich I had at "Freddy's Sandwich Hut" so they can make a mental note and move on. That makes sense but that isn't what happens. What they generally get is me stammering and sputtering about while trying to recall some of the top ranking sandwiches which for some reason I cannot do when put on the spot. There is a reason for this though. There is a lot of grey area in noting the pleasures of a sandwich and as I've often said, the key to the reviews is in the descriptions and not necessarily the numbered ranking. The ranking is not intended to be like the final score of a base-ball game and yet I know I have to put a number on it so casual readers and those with a short attention span can get back to shrieking about the headlines of the day. Everybody's busy. Nobody has time to read. Did you know that they teach "Emoji" as a credited second language in California high schools? It's totally true, or will be soon. There's a reason the "Year End Lists" get the most clicks around these parts. The list for 2015 is by far the most popular, which makes sense - I ate the most sandwiches that year and this was all fresh and new. It was the Year of The Breakfast Sandwich. The world had never before seen a breakfast sandwich blog and everybody stopped by to check it out and pay their respects. Many clicks, some of which I'm told were Guy Fieri's assistants reading it to him. The list for 2016 isn't nearly as popular but has respectable numbers. There isn't much to be said about the response to the list for 2017 but "tepid" will suffice. This isn't fresh and new anymore and most people have gone back to their favorite porn sites.

But this was never about the clicks. It's about finding out if a sandwich can shape your perspective on the day and therefore set you up to achieve your goals. This has been answered unequivocally but the research continues because flavor and joy and sustenance matter.

So, to get back to my initial point, the oft-asked question "Who has the best breakfast sandwich in Madison?". I don't have your answer but I hope to guide you. Only you can walk the path of your day, the long and winding yellow brick road to your local sandwichery.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #123 - Not A Sandwich. Not A Sandwich. You're The Sandwich!

Sandwich: Grilled Bacon-Wrapped All Beef Kosher Hot Dog Breakfast Sandwich
Date: August 29, 2018

Sometimes you have to see an idea through to it's natural conclusion just to get it out of your head. That was the case here and it all started when I bought a package of Hebrew National Beef Franks and a carton of eggs on the same day. I looked into my shopping basket and saw them sitting side by side and it occurred to me that they should become intimate with each other, on a bun, and that I was the perfect person to facilitate that.

By the time I executed the plan I had decided to wrap the hot dogs in bacon to make them more breakfasty. The absurdity of wrapping kosher franks in bacon didn't strike me until I was in the act and while there were no rabbi's present I am an ordained minister and I decided that I needed to absolve these franks of their sins. Therefore, I gave them a penance of trial of fire, a temporal punishment of sorts, and sentenced them to purgatory, which in this case was my belly.

And so the lab moved outside for this experiment - at least partly. Never barbecue indoors. It says it right on the bag of Kingsford Charcoal. (Did you know you can review Kingsford briquets on their web site and give them a 1-5 star ranking? "Angelgrillin" gave them one star - "Have to constantly relight. Have to run out multiple times. Keep pering out window". You know how she gets when she has to keep pering out the window? She doesn't like it but she's an angel for Christ's sake so she'll just leave a one star review on the internet and move on.)

Once I decided the dogs were going to be bacon wrapped it really came down to what else was going to be added.
This photo should be on the United States Citizenship test - "Write a 3 paragraph story or poem describing how this makes you feel. 200 word minimum. Attach additional sheets of paper as needed."

The Sandwich - Grilled Bacon-Wrapped All Beef Kosher Hot Dog Breakfast Sandwich. So you've wrapped the dogs in bacon and grilled them. Now what? You have to have cheese and I had slices of American cheese which seemed perfect for this project. Grated sharp cheddar would have worked as well. I should have toasted the buns a bit but I got caught up in making sure I had time to cook the chicken eggs before the dogs got cold.

Speaking of eggs, there is no way these would have worked with a runny yolk. Of course not. Hilarious? Probably. I opted for the practicality of scrambled eggs. When I started contemplating toppings I considered chopped onions but I thought that might get overpowering. Relish? Hell no. I was leaning towards simplicity but had to consider condiments. Mustard didn't seem right with eggs and ketchup struck me as even more preposterous if not downright blasphemous. Hot sauce was the only choice and I selected a homemade blend given to me by a friend. 
I admit that just looks like a stupid mess. 
The Result - Mistakes were made but this was a success never the less. Even if its a sandwich I never revisit these were some mighty tasty dogs. Honestly, the eggs kind of got in the way and tried to fall out with every bite. I also overcooked them a bit - I like my scrambled eggs on the soft side but I went too far. The buns should have been toasted and I thought maybe if the dogs nestled into the buns straight off the grill they would melt the cheese a bit but that didn't happen. None of this detracted from the smokey deliciousness that popped from every bite but I knew I could have done better. It's not easy being a visionary. You think Alexander Graham Bell just woke up one morning and built a HD television? That's not how it works.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #122 - Casetta Kitchen aka Delicious Clickbait

Sandwich: Porchetta Egg Sandwich
Location: Casetta Kitchen
Date: July 21, 2018
Cost: $9

Back in May I came across this Food Network article which claims to list the best breakfast sandwich in each state. The Food Network is big on these state by state lists and it gets a little ridiculous - 50 States of Hot Dogs? I guess so, but I'll save you the clicks and spoil the surprise - Wisconsin's entry is a bratwurst, which isn't a hot dog. 50 States of Brunch? I was prepared to be annoyed by that list but I'm going to save you clicks again and tell you their choice for Wisconsin is Graze and they start it off with an order of cheese curds and I can't argue with that. Having said that, a brunch list is about as cheeky as the concept of brunch itself, which is to say, plenty.

As for the breakfast sandwich list I have all the usual complaints about these types of things. How much actual research was done to compile this list? What metrics were used because she sure as shit didn't come here and try more than a precious few of this states offerings. Maybe The Food Network has a Network of Nibblers™ spread all across the nation and they're feeding their info to a writer in Brooklyn who is pretending to know what is going on here in flyover country. If that's the case WHY THE FUCK WASN'T I CONSULTED? I'm sorry. I'm not angry. I'm somewhat upset (very) and a bit disappointed (unfathomably). I just love breakfast sandwiches so much and I hate to see a list which hastily proclaims a sandwich the best in the entire state and callously ignores the rest of the sandwiches, who, perhaps it goes without saying, have feelings too. It's irresponsible and obvious clickbait and boy oh boy did I fall for it cause here we are.

But here is the truth as I know it - the more we learn about sandwiches, the less we know about sandwiches. If one truly has the knowledge of the best sandwich in the state they can show that that have done they research and back it up with with a litany of facts and footnotes and flavor profiles. They did none of this. So we're left with clicks. Clickbait, precisely. That's probably what people want to read anyway, and in most cases, they just want to look at a photo. Nobody really wants to read an exhaustive study on breakfast sandwich offerings in Arkansas, or Wisconsin. There isn't compelling demand for say 100+ reviews of breakfast sandwiches primarily based around a single metropolitan area. I can prove it. My point is that just because the market will accept and even reward watered down proclamations paired with a juicy photo doesn't mean the statement is any less irresponsible. Still, I wish I had the time to introduce myself to each and every sandwich on that list.

I did finally find the time to introduce myself to the sandwich they chose to represent Wisconsin. Casetta Kitchen wasn't on my radar until I read the clickbait article although I think they've been around for a couple of years. They are primarily a breakfast and lunch spot aimed at the downtown business crowd and while they have a few options for breakfast sandwiches during the week the Porchetta is only available on Saturday.

You have options.

That irresistible yolk. I couldn't handle it, I just had to...


It's making a strong case for itself. 
The Sandwich - Porchetta. No options are offered. They don't tell you they are going to cook the egg perfectly to your liking without even asking how you like it. They don't tell you that when your sandwich appears the top bun will be cockneyed off at a rakish angle and when you see the yolk it will appear to you as a nipple appears to a hungry baby. That would, admittedly, be a weird thing to put on a menu. It's weird enough to put it here. The provolone cheese is a good choice for this sandwich as it adds a touch of creamy consistency while taking a backseat to the porchetta and giardiniera. The first bite gave me me a Fraboni's porketta sandwich flashback to the days when I worked near the Monona Drive location and ate it with regularity. The meat has a similar herby, smokey, dense flavor but this sandwich is completely different after that. The giardiniera comes on strong here and gets a bit aggressive in my opinion. That's really my only complaint with this sandwich. The kaiser bun is perfect. Perfect. It's soft and malleable but dense enough to hold everything together and mop up the runny yolk. I should have asked them where they are from.

The Results - 4.71 Delicious Clickbaits out of 5 Delicious Clickbaits. This is an excellent sandwich. Best in the state? That's something that every diner needs to decide for themselves. It's a personal decision between the eater and their taste buds and whichever Sandwich God they choose to worship. My only issue is with the giardiniera - it overpowers the meat and that's a real problem due to the uniqueness of this sandwich. Nobody in the area offers a sandwich like this but the porchetta flavor gets walloped over the head by the spicy mix shortly after it hits the pallet and detracts from the porchetta being the star of this show. I'm exaggerating a bit for emphasis, but not much. I'm more critical of great sandwiches and I don't think that's unfair. I just want it to be the best in the state, regardless of what The Food Network thinks. Do you think they really care about us? They do not. They won't even read this. They're probably too busy working on their 50 States of Bone Marrow or 50 States of Raclette or some other bullshit. 

Unrelated to my sandwich I will mention that I had a bite of the Ham & Cheddar and that sandwich is also fantastic. You would do well to peel off from the Farmers Market some Saturday morning and get yourself a real nice sandwich at Casetta Kitchen. I'll also mention the coffee was excellent. I think he said it was a light roast of an Ethiopian blend from a roaster in Stevens Point. I'm not completely sure about that and it doesn't matter cause this isn't a coffee blog.