Saturday, January 27, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #110 - Crema Cafe aka Color Palettes For Your Mouth

Sandwich: Ham and Jam
Location: Crema Cafe
Date: January 21, 2018
Cost: $8.50

It had been well over two years (and 90 sandwiches) since my last official visit to Crema Cafe. Given my love of the smoked gouda grits and The Gobbler sandwich there is no reasonable explanation for this gap in my attendance. During that time I've choked down at least two dozen sub-par fast food sandwiches, all in the name of the Sandwich Sciences.

On my previous visit I had their standard Breakfast Sandwich and it was everything you'd hope for in a breakfast sandwich. They occasionally have breakfast sandwich specials on the weekends which is reason enough to be on their email list but I'm often not able to make it there to try their creations. The War Pig is/was one of those specials but I'm not sure if they still offer it. If not, you can get it at Off Broadway Drafthouse.

My point is that I had completely forgotten that they have another breakfast sandwich offering that I had intended to try. In fact, I didn't realize it until I was standing in line looking at the menu. Such is the nature of my planning for this blog which sometimes resembles Pac-Man - random left and right turns, gobbling whatever is in the path.

The fact that I remembered to snap a photo of the menu is a win.

The sandwich arrives already sliced so rather than a photo of it whole we have two angles of the diagonal dissection. 

The sandwich insisted that it's left side is it's "good side".
The Sandwich - Ham and Jam Sandwich. No variations are offered upon ordering. The first thing you notice when this is delivered is that it is a handsome sandwich. It's been carefully assembled and the color palette of pinks, greens, yellows, tan and white is very inviting. It's said that "We eat first with our eyes" and while that sounds unbelievably pretentious the phrase apparently dates back to Apicius in the 1st century AD. These days Apicius would have 1 million Instagram followers which would have proven his point. Another gem from that link - "It has been suggested that trichromatic colour vision may originally have developed in primates as an adaptation that facilitated the selection of more energy-rich (and likely red) fruits from in-amongst the dark green forest canopy". I can't wait to drop that line at a dinner party and then listen for somebody to mutter "what an asshole" under their breath. Anyway, the tomato jam and the goat cheese are the predominant flavors here. The egg is fried with no runny yolk so the cheese and jam carry the load on the viscosity front. This sandwich could actually stand to be messier and the bread is hearty enough to handle it. The red onion was more subtle than expected as was the saltiness of the ham. The greens add a bit of crispness and nutrition in addition to expanding the color palette.

The Result - 4.11 Eyeball Mouths out of 5 Eyeball Mouths. So, what's the "411" on this sandwich? It's an excellent sandwich unlike any other in this area and I appreciate an inventive breakfast sandwich.  Ultimately though, this sandwich doesn't quite hit the mark with me. It's a bit sweeter than anticipated and I kept thinking of little tweaks that I would have made to improve it for my tastes. More tomato jam, a bit less goat cheese, a runny egg. My dining companion suggested replacing the greens with arugula and I do think that would be good. I wondered if a light dollop of hot sauce would be good on this. I suspect you'd have to find just the right hot sauce to blend with the unique flavors going on here, and then you'd be in business. I'm well aware that I'm nit-picking but it's because I'm judging Crema Cafe against it's own high standards. Have you had The Gobbler? It's one of the best sandwiches in Madison. In the end, I think it's perfectly acceptable to realize the excellence of a sandwich while also noting that it may not be perfectly aimed at your tastebuds. For me, that's what is happening here. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Whole Damn 2017 Year End List

Looking back at the breakfast sandwiches of 2017 there are two clear trends - Non-Sandwich Breakfast Sandwiches and Sandwiches From The Lab.

It is no surprise that several non-sandwiches made the list. I was planning to explore more non-sandwich territory for the sake of breakfast diversity and to deliver informative and compelling content. At least the first part happened.

Lab Sandwiches play an important role in expanding our perception of the possibilities that lie outside our homes. When we step into a restaurant we may be looking for the familiar or we may be looking to be surprised and amazed. Lab Sandwiches can refine our appreciation for a simple bacon, egg and cheese and they can push our expectations of what a breakfast sandwich can be. The Lab exists for these reasons. Also, some days it's just nice to make a delicious sandwich in your own kitchen. This continues to not be a cooking blog. 

Another statistic that is a bit alarming is that my breakfast sandwich consumption is trending downward:

2015 - 49
2016 - 31
2017 - 28

At this rate in about 9 years I'll only have one sandwich worth writing about. 

Looking at these trends, let's break down the year in two sections.

Sandwiches (and Non-Sandwiches) In The Wild
4.80 - Porter
4.70 - La Taguara (Breakfast Arepa)
4.61 - Stella Blu Cafe (Panini)
4.57 - Tavernakaya (Buns)
4.50 - Players
3.965 - Dobhan
3.85 - Field Table
3.18 - Ian's Pizza (Breakfast Pizza)
3.09 - McDonalds
3.00 - Norske Nook (Lefse Wrap)
2.79 - Ian's Pizza (Breakfast Pizza)
2.75 - Starbucks
2.69 - Kwik Trip
2.60 - McDonalds
2.00 - Panera
1.89 - Bob Evans
1.43 - McDonalds

The average rating in 2017 was 3.18, a drastic drop from 2016 (4.02) and 2015 (3.59). I chalk this up to a much higher percentage of fast food and processed food sandwiches. Sadly, this means I ate a lot of bad sandwiches in 2017 although perhaps the Lab Sandwiches would balance this out if they were rated. 

Lab Sandwiches
Experimentation was the unstated (and perhaps redundant) theme in the lab in 2017 with several ingredients getting a close look under the Sandwichscope. Thanksgiving leftovers, pimento cheese, mac 'n cheese and summer sausage all proved to be viable sandwich ingredients. There was also a lot of quality ham to work with last year. Both Neuske's and Honeybaked Ham provided the basis for tasty explorations. We also did our first work with farm fresh eggs in 2017. I still do not want to own any chickens and this still isn't a cooking blog. 

So now what? 2018 is off to a strong start. I think (hope?) I'm pretty much done with fast food sandwiches and although I compiled all of those into a single post I did go back to McDonalds one more time after that. There are some new spots in Madison I want to visit as well as some previously reviewed locations that have additional offerings I should take a look at. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #109 - Players Sports Bar aka Perfect Timing

Sandwich: The Buzzy Sandwich with Burger Patty
Location: Players Sports Bar & Grill
Date: January 1, 2018
Cost: $8.25

You probably already know that a Buzzy Sandwich at Players Sports Bar was Sandwich #1 and that's how this whole thing got started and now three full calendar years later we're still here eating breakfast sandwiches. Praise Cheeses!

It seemed appropriate that I get back to my roots and go to Players on New Years Day to have a Buzzy Sandwich and reflect on auld sandwiches and look forward to new sandwiches and developments for 2018. I have a few ideas but I have more ideas than time and honestly I don't think many of you give a rats ass if I expand this thing anyway.

The visit to Players wasn't just idle nostalgia though - at some point over the past three years they started offering The Buzzy with a burger patty rather than sausage and I had not yet reviewed that. I have been back to Players since the introductory sandwich, Sandwich #69 (when sausage was still available), and Sandwich #100 (burger patty now available), but I had not had the burger patty. This is to say that there was research to do.
Might as well start the year with a terrible photo. I have a reputation to uphold.

Aerial view. I only cared about the sandwich so I just went with the chips but the chips are stupid. Look at that toast though. Beautiful.

Breakfast Sandwich Medium Rare.
The Sandwich - Buzzy Sandwich with Burger Patty. They ask you how you would like the burger cooked but that's the only variable. I'm sure they would switch out the cheese if requested but I'm good with the American. Normally I would say this egg was cooked more than I like but with the gooey American cheese and medium rare patty it balanced out. The Texas Toast was done perfectly and held all this together, it always seems like the ideal vehicle for this sandwich. This is a serious sandwich, the burger patty has considerably more heft than bacon and I was glad I was eating this as lunch rather than breakfast.

Everything about being at Players on New Years Day felt right. The sandwich was delicious and I think starting the year where Sandwich #1 launched this foolish endeavor was the right call. I was sated and happy and that's when I realized that Mr. Buzzy himself had arrived and was standing behind me. Mr. Buzzy is the namesake for The Buzzy Sandwich and the closest thing to royalty you might find at Players. Read about Sandwich #100 for the background on this situation. This was clearly a sign from beyond our known reality and I took the opportunity to introduce myself. I asked him which version of The Buzzy is his favorite and he said they're all good. I pictured him as a bacon man but I can understand him not wanting to play favorites with his sandwich. Everybody knows that parents with multiple children have a favorite child but they'll never admit it. I think that was the case here and that's acceptable from where I stand. There were many more questions I wanted to ask but somebody was surrendering their bar stool so he could sit down and I didn't want to be the guy who kept asking dumb questions when all he really wanted was a cold beer.

The Result - 4.18 Signs From The Sandwich Dimension out of 5 Signs From The Sandwich Dimension. All said, this is a very good sandwich but it doesn't feel like a breakfast sandwich. It feels like a burger with an egg on it (which it is). It was a bit too much for me even though I ate it at about 1:00 pm so it can't count as breakfast. Truth be told it was actually breakfast and lunch for me but it certainly wasn't "brunch" because nobody talks about "brunch" at Players. Next time (January 1, 2019?) I'll get the bacon, just how I imagine Mr. Buzzy would.

As I got up to leave and was putting my jacket on Mr. Buzzy turned from his barstool and said "keep eating those sandwiches" and gave me a fist bump. It's going to be a good year. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich(es) #108A & 108B - Tales Of Leftover Ham

Sandwich(es): Ham, Cheese(s), Spinach
Date: 12/30/17

Woe to be a reader longing for tales of sandwiches at local eating huts while I speak of lab sandwiches yet again.

I already knew this would happen and said as much in review #107. Any self respecting sandwich artiste with leftover Honeybaked Ham would have done the same and I will not apologize. As if the leftover ham were not enough I found myself sitting next to a Thomas' English Muffin truck while waiting at a stoplight and took that as a clear sign that I needed Nooks & Crannies in my life. Astute readers will note that recent experiments have been built upon Bays English Muffins but the lab is about R&D and you can't ignore clear signs such as seeing a semi truck trailer with a giant photo of a muffin on it. These things don't just happen by accident. (Well, honestly, I drive past a large industrial baking facility several times a week so seeing a muffin truck isn't particularly novel and yet it still excites me.)

There were already chicken eggs in the fridge so the only decisions to make were types of cheese, style of egg, and accoutrements. Those variables are important in sandwich experimentation and cannot be taken lightly and therefore it was clear that two cheeses were needed for two separate sandwiches. Have ham, will sandwich.
108A - Sharp Cheddar Cheese

108B - Muenster

108B on left, 108A on right. Leftover hash browns in foreground. Cheap-ass rice cooker in background.
The Sandwich(es) - The variables were muenster and sharp cheddar cheese. Baby swiss just barely missed the cut. Sorry Baby, we'll get you next time. You can see that the eggs were not done in the typical fashion - no puck-cooking, no runny yolks. These were scrambled with spinach. There may be a different name for scrambling in this fashion but they came out somewhat like a frittata. I don't know what the difference is, if any. (A dash of quick research reveals that adding the spinach before cooking makes it a frittata, at least that is my understanding and I don't care to delve into it much further at this time.) These were simple sandwiches. A liberal dash of Cholula green pepper sauce was the only other ingredient.

The Result(s) - I liked the change up in egg preparation. It held together firmly and yet didn't need any additional viscosity and I didn't even miss the runny yolk, which is saying something. The cheeses were melted perfectly and I don't need to tell you about Honeybaked Ham, do I? I hope not. Adding the spinach gave these a healthy angle that has been missing from the lab recently. I don't think the Nooks & Crannies changed anything but I was already a fan of both Bays and Thomas' and will not play favorites unless one of them decides to start sponsoring this blog. Just kidding, I have fucking integrity, which is why they both should sponsor this blog. Speaking of sponsorships, maybe I need to get some new hot sauce, I don't see any of those sweet Cholula pesos rolling in and I've been talking about that stuff for well over a year. My marketing team sucks. 

Overall, I gave the edge to the sharp cheddar sandwich, the cheddary bite went well with the ham but the muenster had a nice creamy quality to it. Personal preference plays a key roll here. I'm not going to ramble on about these sandwiches - they were both mighty fine and the end result is that you should get yourself some quality ham and make a breakfast sandwich, or two. 

This isn't a cooking blog. What is this, a lifestyle blog? I think it might be.