Saturday, March 16, 2019

Breakfast Sandwich #132 - Gotham Bagels aka Time To Revisit The Classics

Sandwich: Spicy Italian Sausage, Egg & Cheddar
Location: Gotham Bagels
Date: March 9, 2019
Cost: $6.25?

This trip to Gotham was an impulsive Saturday morning decision and it turns out I hadn't had a breakfast sandwich there since October of 2015. That's just silly. I know I loved that sandwich and perhaps it's a clear indication that it's time to circle back around to some of the Top 25 Breakfast Sandwiches of all time to see if they're still changing lives. 

It arrives wrapped and snug in it's paper cocoon.

I didn't take a photo of it unwrapped but you know what an everything bagel looks like, right? Besides, look at that tantalizing sandwich! If it could talk it would say something like "Hello, I'm here to make everything wonderful".
The Sandwich - Spicy Italian Sausage, Egg & Cheddar. It's not listed on their online menu and I didn't take a photo of the menu so I'm not sure of the price. I remember it was 6 something.

No options are offered when you order other than you select the type of bagel you want. I went all in with the everything bagel (the "doughnut with sprinkles" for adults). This is going to sound crazy but I ordered it to go. I didn't know it would be wrapped in two layers of paper, perfect for transport, and it also didn't occur to me that if you're going to get a breakfast sandwich "to go", a hearty bagel is the perfect vehicle for it. A biscuit? No way is a decent biscuit going to handle a journey of more than a few feet. It's unfair to ask a biscuit to do that - you might as well ask your cat to wash the windows. Most of the time you can't even get a biscuit from your plate to your mouth without some type of crumbling incident. I'm getting off into the weeds here, I don't want to sound like I hate biscuits.

The sandwich was a thing of beauty when unwrapped. Perfectly sliced with a little melty cheese sneaking out the edges it forced me to pause and absorb it's visage. The bagel really shines here, dense enough to keep everything in check but not too doughy or heavy. In fact, the egg could have been yolkier and this would have still held up. I wish the egg HAD been yolkier but the sandwich wasn't lacking the ooze factor, I'm just saying it wouldn't have hurt if it was. The sausage is the real star of the show though - they says it's spicy and it really is. Not a little bit spicy but with some real kick. I'll often add hot sauce to my breakfast sandwich if it's available but this is easily the spiciest breakfast sandwich I've gotten straight out of the kitchen. How refreshing. The cheddar cheese and egg balance and compliment the heat a bit and the whole thing comes together quite perfectly.

The Result - 4.8 Revisitations out of 5 Revisitations. I don't know why it took me so long to get back to Gotham. Looking back at my review from October of 2015 I wrote that I'd definitely be back to try the Spicy Italian Sausage Sandwich. I was not consciously aware of that on this day but maybe it lingered somewhere in my mind for over 3 years. This sandwich earned a spot in the All Time Top 25 and I think it really is an indication that I need to roll through some of the top sandwich locations again. You know, for research.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Top 25 Breakfast Sandwiches Of All Time

Seeking a quality breakfast sandwich but don't have time to compare all the "Best of the year" lists and use the search function? Does sifting through reviews only to constantly come across Reports From The Lab send you into fits of rage? This post is for you! I've compiled the top rated sandwiches and created a Best of All Time list.

**Obligatory Disclaimer**
I have stated this numerous times over the years but this is the ideal place to repeat it - these rankings are based not only on the sandwich itself but on my overall experience of the day. I stand by my ratings of the sandwiches, however, it would be wise of you to at least skim the full review of a sandwich prior to visiting an establishment so you get an idea of what I was talking about. I'm behooving you look beyond the rating to gather a full understanding of the sandwich you seek. Consider yourself behooved. You Won't Get Behooved Again.

5.00 - Xoco
4.99 - Sardine
4.91 - Bloom Bake Shop
4.90 - The Heights
4.90 - Bradbury's (Crepe)
4.80 - Porter
4.80 - Gotham Bagels
4.75 - Johnson Public House
4.71 - Crema Cafe
4.71 - Casetta Kitchen
4.70 - Crema Cafe
4.70 - La Taguara (Breakfast Arepa)
4.70 - Kingston Cafe
4.69 - Underground Butcher
4.69 - Off Broadway
4.67 - Graze
4.62 - Mint Mark
4.61 - Stella Blu Cafe (Panini)
4.60 - The Old Fashioned
4.58 - Gotham Bagels
4.57 - Tavernakaya (Buns)
4.50 - Players
4.50 - 4 & 20
4.48 - Stalzy's
4.44 - Short Stack

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This list is up to date as of February 10, 2019. It may be updated as new sandwiches find their way into the Hall of Fame but that will likely happen sporadically. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Whole Damn 2018 Year End List

As I started to compile my statistics and reports for this list I consulted my 2017 Year End List and noticed some of the same trends continued for 2018. Notably - overall sandwich consumption was down and the ratio of lab sandwiches is on the rise.

[Go ahead and skip the next two paragraphs if you're in a hurry or have a short attention span or hate lab sandwiches. They aren't the paragraphs you want but they may be the paragraphs you need.]

I still see the value in reporting on lab sandwiches even though they are frequently dismissed by readers when I'm out in the field discussing sandwiches. Without sounding too harsh I find those dismissals to be short-sighted and selfish. I understand readers want quick and easily digested information that can inform their daily life. (editors note - market research has determined that they want pictures and a rating and a single sentence review, AND THAT'S IT!) That information is here, at your fingertips, available whenever the notion strikes you. It is a tool and a weapon, at your disposal, that you are assumed to wield wisely. With this simple blog I feel I can confidently state that breakfast sandwich consumers in the Madison area are the single most informed breakfast sandwich eaters in the entire country. Perhaps the world. Perhaps the entire universe. That statement seems preposterous but I see no evidence to the contrary. (I haven't looked.)

My point is that there is a trove of information beyond the easily digestible review and that lab sandwiches can still inform your sandwich consumption. It is hoped that they will inspire you to create your own sandwiches when you aren't flitting about in the cliquey brunch circles that have developed in every major metropolitan market. At some point you will want to construct a breakfast sandwich in your own kitchen and if just a single morsel of my research helps with that than it has been worth it. I'd also like to point out that if you make breakfast sandwiches at home you can really take advantage of the "bottomless mimosa" fad that has swept the country. I'm not talking about "all you can drink" mimosas, I'm talking about drinking mimosas with your pants off.

Anyway, let's look back at 2018.

Breakfast sandwich consumption continues to trend downward while the quality of sandwiches consumed trended upwards:

2015 - 49
2016 - 31
2017 - 28 (42% lab sandwiches)
2018 - 22 (57% lab sandwiches)

Sandwich Rankings 2018
4.90 - The Heights
4.70 - Crema Cafe
4.62 - Mint Mark
4.48 - Stalzy's
3.12 - Lazy Jane's
2.19 - Kwik Trip

There were a lot of repeat visits in 2018 although often it was to review a different sandwich. Crema Cafe, Stalzy's, Player's, Cafe Hollander, Tip Top, Lazy Jane's and Kwik Trip had all been visited previously.

The average ranking for 2018 was 3.93 versus 3.18 of 2017. That number is skewed by the embarrassingly high number of visits to fast food vendors in 2017. I hope to keep those visits to a minimum in 2019 and beyond.

For further evidence that this blog continues to be a leader in the industry look no further than the Lab Report of June 20, 2018 - The Big MacMuffin. In this experiment we attempted to create a breakfast sandwich version of the iconic Big Mac Sandwich. While the experiment wasn't 100% successful it did yield positive results and on October 24 McDonald's announced their new "Triple Breakfast Stacks". These aren't specifically their breakfast version of the Big Mac but its close enough for me to feel that I should be getting residuals or at least a cushy role at McDonald's headquarters. Ancillary Vice-President of Breakfast Menu Diversification is the title I would like, thank you. First order of business is to get the crew in the test kitchen working on a bacon flavored milkshake. My attorney will be handling discussions from this point.

The Big MacMuffin was likely the most ambitious lab creation of the year but the most ridiculous experiment was probably the bacon-wrapped kosher franks. There was a sad attempt to use leftover chili-mac in a sandwich and it surprised nobody that leftover Honey-Baked Ham makes for a delicious breakfast sandwich.

Looking ahead I don't see a lot of change for 2019. We are well into the year and there are some new establishments that I have yet to visit. There are probably a few new joints that I don't even know about yet that will be discovered along the way. I can think of a few spots that are due for a repeat visit and there are places such as Crema Cafe that occasionally offer weekend sandwich specials that I hope to try. The Lab will continue to function in it's stated role and complaints from outside the organization will be ignored. 

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Friday, February 1, 2019

Breakfast Sandwich #131 - Kingdom Restaurant aka We're Not In Philly Anymore

Sandwich: Hangover Sandwich
Location: Kingdom Restaurant
Date: January 19, 2019
Cost: $8.49

Kingdom Restaurant used to be located in a gas station on East Washington Avenue and have relocated to the Northside Town Center. That gas station was a magnet for shit heads so I don't blame them for finding a new spot

With the recent openings of Beef Butter BBQ, Bierock and now Kingdom, the North side has a few more food options. This has been long overdue.

I came across Kingdom by accident when I dropped some clothes off for alterations next door. I stopped in to see the menu and learned they had opened the previous day. Any sensible person would go right to the African section of the menu, that's what they're known for, but the "Hangover Sandwich" caught my eye (as did the chicken wings) and I knew that was probably a breakfast sandwich. My pants were to be ready for pickup the following Saturday so I made a plan to find out what this Hangover Sandwich was all about.

While I wasn't planning on arriving with a hangover, I also hadn't planned for several inches of snow necessitating two solid hours of snow blowing and shoveling on Saturday morning. This is to say that by the time I got to Kingdom I had picked up my freshly tailored slacks and I had a hearty appetite.

This may be one of my better menu photos which means nothing. I didn't ask if they'll throw a chicken egg on top of those gizzards to make a nice little breakfast plate. 

That's a hunka-hunka of a sandwich right there. Jeepers. 
The Sandwich - Hangover Sandwich. There isn't a description listed on the menu so I asked the guy at the counter who told me it's "a Philly cheesesteak with an egg on it". Oddly, that is the next item listed on the menu so either the layout of their menu is goofy or there is some confusion about what this sandwich is. It doesn't matter, I ordered it. There are no options available and it's part of the "Combo" menu which means it comes with fries and a drink, neither of which I wanted. That's a loaded plate for breakfast, although in this case I was beyond hungry and it was actually Noon by the time I got there, so I'm pushing the definition of breakfast here.

Disclaimer - I have never been to Philadelphia. I've never eaten a real Philly Cheesesteak and I don't have an opinion on the Geno's versus Pat's rivalry. This fills me with a deep shame that I'm unable to articulate in this space but please forgive me and know that one day I will go to Philadelphia, if only to eat cheesesteak sandwiches. There used to be a place called Big Red's here in Madison that served a tasty cheesesteak but they closed several years ago. 

Anyway, the sandwich. You can see it's an impressive pile of sandwich if a bit messy. The egg is sorta fried and plopped in there. They don't ask if you want the sandwich "wit" (with onions) and the cheese is Cheez Whiz. Perhaps if you specify you can get it without onions or peppers and another kind of cheese. The steak was tender and not grisly, which honestly I thought might be the case. It's a messy sandwich for sure, and actually could have been a bit messier with a little more cheese. The bread was sturdy enough to keep everything together while not being too dense. Everybody will tell you the key to the Philly cheesesteaks is the Amoroso's bread but sadly I can't weigh in on that. It seems the more I write about sandwiches the less I know about sandwiches.

The fries were OK but unnecessary. If not for the shoveling I may have avoided them altogether but I ate about half of them. 

The Result - 3.99 Harold Carmichaels out of 5 Harold Carmichaels. This rating might be a bit generous. On one hand this isn't at all what you expect when you think of a breakfast sandwich. On the other hand, it's a solid sandwich and if you know what you're getting it might fit the bill perfectly. I'll gave them points for creativity, I don't think anybody else around here is serving a breakfast sandwich like this. Overall, the sandwich wasn't quite as flavorful as I thought it would be - maybe that means it needs more grease and salt, which is probably a stupid thing to complain about, but I call it as I taste it. I do know that from what I remember of the Big Red's cheesesteaks I used to get, this wasn't as tasty, egg or not. It's probably not fair to compare a sandwich from fuzzy memories of 5 years ago but I'm doing it anyway. Packaging it as a "Combo" meal didn't work for me, it doesn't need those fries and I rarely want a soda. Serving it ala carte for $5.95 makes more sense to me. How does it fair against a hangover? I didn't find out, that's for your research team to dig into. I run a tight ship over here and have no time for the ramblings of bleary-eyed slackers. 

Kingdom seems like it's still finding it's footing in a restaurant space rather than as a takeout joint. Small things like not having water and ketchup out so patrons can help themselves lessen the experience. I'm hoping they can tighten it up and get enough traffic to stay open. I want to go back to try the chicken wings, fufu and benachin. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Breakfast Sandwich #130 - Kwik Trip aka Squishilicious

Sandwich: Bacon, Egg & Cheese Croissant
Location: Kwik Trip, Buckeye Rd., Madison
Date: January 13, 2019
Cost: $2.69

This was my third documented stop at Kwik Trip and it was unplanned. The first visit (#94) was a surprise stop in the Fox River Valley and the next (#114) was a bit more deliberate. 

This was another off-the-cuff sandwich - I had errands to run on Sunday morning and needed something to shush my belly for a couple of hours. The Buckeye Road Kwik Trip was on the route and since I only had time for a grab 'n go type sandwich it fit the bill.

I didn't remember what I had reviewed previously and didn't bother to look it up. I only knew I wanted bacon and that would guide my choice.

Same POP signage and price point as 2017 (although that was a Sausage, Egg & Cheese Croissant).

This isn't a bad photo considering I was holding it in my hand in the car. 
The Sandwich - Bacon, Egg & Cheese Croissant. Although I feel a croissant is not the ideal vehicle for a breakfast sandwich my only goal was to have bacon and this was the option available. There are no surprises with this sandwich - the egg isn't runny, the cheese is a slice of American, there isn't enough bacon - it's exactly what you'd expect it to be. It was a bit squishier than anticipated. The soft croissant set the tone and even the bacon didn't offer much resistance. I felt like I could have smooshed the entire sandwich into a golfball-sized cud and spent the rest of the morning driving around town with a wad of salty flavor in my cheek, Holstein style. I did not do that. I did, however, eat the entire sandwich in about a minute. The hunger had taken over at this point and I wasn't thinking clearly.

The Result - 3.68 Squishilicious out of 5 Squishilicious. This sandwich was alright especially considering the price. I'm rating this based on my reaction at the time and the level of my hunger really swings the odds in the favor of the sandwich. I think a stale graham cracker with a schmear of lard might have come in with a 2.7 rating. I will say that I was still hungry after eating this but I think that says more about my condition than the size of the sandwich. After eating this I had to head across town and while driving I hatched the plan to double-dip and have ANOTHER breakfast sandwich, this time at Chik-fil-A. That plan was abandoned when I realized it was Sunday and Chik-fil-A is closed on Sundays in an effort to combat the obesity problem we face in this country. Just kidding, they don't care about your health, they just want you to go to church. You can pray for your health while you are there. 

Now that I've finished here I went back to see what I rated the previous Kwik Trip sandwiches. 

#94 - 2.69. I also commented on the squishiness.
#114 - 2.19. I didn't bother to read the review but that's a poor score. 

I guess the takeaway here is to be really hungry when you pick one of these up. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #129 - Cafe Hollander aka Saucy Soliloquies

Sandwich: Dutch Cowboy
Location: Cafe Hollander
Date: December 2, 2018
Cost: $12.95

I previously visited Cafe Hollander in October of 2015 and at that time my sandwich wasn't quite what I was looking for. I hadn't realized that three years had passed since my last visit but I felt the need to go someplace I don't normally go AND I had a gift card that needed spending. 

That earlier trip was on a Friday morning and this was a Sunday so I'm not sure if the menu has changed or if there is a different menu for weekend brunch. It's probably a brunch menu. I wasn't going to get the same sandwich anyway and this offered four choices in the "Handhelds" section. The Pretzel Breakfast Sammy has the same name as my sandwich of 2015 but they have modified it a bit - the Black Forest Ham is now Local Badger Ham (presumably not made from the thigh and buttocks of actual badgers) and they've removed the hollandaise. Could it be that they read my review of sandwich #41 and took my sauce-whining to heart and modified this sandwich? Doubtful. I'm pretty much not-a-big-deal but I'm going to take credit for this anyway. 

I was tempted by the "Walking Sausage"

You can see some of the "Twisted Brunch Frites" trying to photo bomb the sandwich.
The Sandwich - Dutch Cowboy. It was the six-pepper steak and smoked gouda that sold me. That sounded like a tasty combo. All the sandwiches come with scrambled eggs which isn't particularly creative (although scrambled eggs CAN be made with love, they often are not) and they don't offer any choices when you order. I hadn't really thought about the fire-roasted guacamole or the Noord sauce (whatever that is) when I ordered, but it turns out I should have given them consideration as they took over the sandwich. The six-pepper steak wasn't as outgoing and flavorful as I had hoped and the smoke gouda also got lost in the oozy-sauciness of the guac-Noord combo. The bun was soft and squishy but somehow kept everything together. I decided not to cut it in half for the standard cross section photo - something told me that wouldn't go well. 

The Result - 3.33 Saucy Soliloquies out of 5 Saucy Soliloquies. At the risk of going down the same path I went down in 2015, this sandwich got lost in the sauce and never really let the steak and cheese strut their stuff. It wasn't as much of a situation as the hollandaise hell-scape* I experienced previously, but it was still an issue. On it's own the steak was still on the mild side but it didn't stand a chance with everything else going on here. Still, this wasn't a bad sandwich but it did not meet the expectations I had put upon it and had just a bit too much of a creamy disposition. You know, I haven't complained about price for awhile but at $12.95 this is a little pricey, even if you factor in the Twisted Brunch Frites which are fun and kinda tasty but ultimately superfluous. I'm not a guy who respects potatoes in the morning unless they are perfect hashbrowns, so take that for what it's worth. 

I don't mean to sound too harsh here, I think I have higher expectations given how beautiful this space is. Maybe all that natural light gave me a false sense of security. I've only been here twice, both times for breakfast, so perhaps I need to try it for lunch or dinner. I have no idea what they are known for here, if anything. I should probably just use the rest of this gift card on beer which does appear to be their calling card. Once again I did not try one of their bloody marys although they sound fantastic. I believe they had one that had a bit of whiskey or something in it, I can't remember. I saw a few being delivered to others, and they looked enticing, but I was still drunk from church and decided to hold off. 

*It wasn't really a hellscape but I couldn't resist the alliteration, so here we are.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Breakfast Sandwich #128 - Low Effort Lab Work

Sandwich: Sausage & Walnut Dressing, Egg & Cheese
Date: 11/27/18

You may recall last year I did some research on a Thanksgiving leftover breakfast sandwich and was rather pleased with the results. At that time I lamented the fact that it's not easy to acquire a turkey egg which would really put the bow on this sandwich. I mentioned starting my search earlier so I would be able to make a sandwich with a turkey egg this year.

That didn't happen.

In fact, no research whatsoever went in to this sandwich. It's not all that different from last years model other than I nixed the turkey on this one. I also swapped the American cheese for a medium cheddar. That change was made out of necessity, not a desire to sift & winnow for sandwich truths.
You can't quite see it here but the egg is overcooked.  There would be no runny yolk on this day. Look how nice and melty that cheese is though. 
The Sandwich - I've pretty much covered that already. If there is anything you take away from this review, indeed if there was any reason at all to write this review, it's that you should make this Sausage & Walnut Dressing next Thanksgiving or tomorrow. It's fantastic and works well on a sandwich even if you overcook the egg. 

I suppose there is another nugget of knowledge here - leftovers make for good breakfast sandwiches. Don't let the The Man tell you your breakfast sandwich can only be made with sausage or bacon. Next year maybe I'll make turkey tetrazzini with my Thanksgiving leftovers and then I'll make a breakfast sandwich using those leftovers and I'll throw a massive turkey egg on it and we'll have turkey yolk and spaghetti spilling out all over the place. It's not a bad plan but I probably won't remember to do it.