The institutional dining scene isn’t generally what comes to mind when searching for killer biscuits. I recently found myself on a few 24 hour cycles at Duke Regional Hospital (formerly Durham Regional), and came to find that their lower level cafeteria, in addition to an impressively diverse collection of vending machines (anyone who knows me, know I love coffee vending machines in particular), they also happened to have a breakfast buffet featuring biscuits!
After going two nights with no sleep, and riding an emotional rollercoaster, this breakfast/biscuit combo looked magical.
As the aromas wafted up from the tray, and I took my first bite, I thought: crusty but soft outside, a bready inside? Wait a second! This is a roll masquerading as a biscuit!
Whatever, it hit the spot…moving on, the bacon was the least soggy institutional bacon I’ve ever had, crisp, flavorful and not greasy. The eggs were a little watery, and it may be the lack of sleep (its definitely the lack of sleep) but this crusty biscuit/roll thing really complimented the other parts, and may be the best biscuit I’ve ever had (ok, not really, but blissful delirium that comes with new parenthood has that effect).
A big thank you to Duke Regional for offering some thoughtful iterations of comfort food in an environment where people need comfort!
Weaver Street Market is a community owned grocery store (co-op) with locations in Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Carrboro North Carolina. They offer a wide selection of the types of foods one would expect to find at such a business, lots of healthy, earth-friendly, general hippy wares and goods. They have a vibrant community of supporters, and do a lot of good in the area in the form of food donations for those in need, supporting local farms, and hosting outdoor events. Their community of supporters is really what sets them apart in my opinion. There’s always a colorful cast of characters lounging about in the shared space of the Carrboro location, sharing wine, laughing, dancing, and doing general hippy stuff (I saw a hacky-sack once, and I thought those were all but extinct). One character is particularly interesting, the wife and I have named him “The Bun: Mayor of Weaver”. This is on account of the fact that he is not only always there, but always engaged socially with others, generally holding court whilst wearing fancy clothes, and also his hair is kept in a bun.
Do not take this jovial description as implying that The Bun: Mayor of Weaver is a soft man, only capable of merriment, no no no, he is a strong ruler. One time I bore witness to his wrath in the adjacent Bank of America parking lot where someone was not watching where they were going, and almost struck him. He let fly with words so powerfully delivered, that fear was deeply instilled in the offender, who fled in shame, with nary an apology. I just stood there and gave The Bun: Mayor of Weaver a knowing nod, this was his turf, and he would suffer no foolishness.
I don’t really shop at Weaver St. except to grab food from their ready-made section and sit outside in their common area, but it’s nice place, and they also do an amazing breakfast buffet, where they happen to make their own biscuits! You can see where this is headed…
On this trip I was privy to a golden brown buttermilk biscuit that was big, yet perfectly shaped…unnervingly symmetrical. I thought it might be a bit burnt, but nope, still flaky on the outside, a little dry and crumbly on the inside (but it is a buffet, so c’mon now), LOADED with high-quality/thick bacon, really good flavorful cheddar, not a ton of egg, but that’s ok, this is a strong choice for only $2.99.
I forgot a measuring device, but take a look at this thing next to a quarter…it’s no behemoth, but it’s no slouch. I’d go as far to say it represents one of the best bang for your buck biscuits in the triangle region.
Bonus points for great coffee, and the fact that their breakfast buffet has migas. So there it is, Weaver Street Market – great place all around.
Hardee’s breakfast will always have a special place in my heart, in no small part because of their California Raisin figurine campaign from the late 80’s. I loved those little guys. As a child I was told that you could only get them from Hardee’s at breakfast time, and only if you ordered a cinnamon-raisin biscuit. This may or may not have actually been the case, it may have been a way of preventing me from asking if we could stop at Hardee’s every time we passed one. Needless to say, as a 7-8 year old, getting yourself to fast food in time for breakfast (let alone procuring money to purchase anything with) is a daunting task, so in my mind, I was S.O.L. Whether or not the breakfast bit was true, my parents somehow managed to collect me a fine lineup of California Raisin’s, or as I called them “raisin men”.
Given my predisposition for bending to nostalgia, I recently took an excited visit to a Hardee’s for breakfast only to sadly find that unlike the McDonalds biscuit review, sometimes you can never go home. With garish signage imploring me to “eat like you mean it”, promises of “new thick cut bacon”, and the continued existence of ::gasp:: the fabled cinnamon-raisin biscuit, I was entranced by the Hardees siren song.
I decided that I was going to go big. I opted for the chicken, egg, and bacon biscuit with swiss cheese. It looked gargantuan, it promised “thick cut bacon”, it had a novel cheese, it called to me in a way that I hadn’t realized was possible from a sandwich. I was moved by its visage, inspired to achieve greatness. So inspired was I that, that caution was thrown to the wind, and a cinnamon-raisin biscuit was added to my order as well! If was going to consume a caloric intake more appropriate for a 48 hour period in one sitting anyways, why skimp?
My first impressions were that the chicken biscuit was enormous, and that the biscuit looked a little wimpy/broken up. Measuring in at 5″ wide (tip to tip on the NJ shaped piece of chicken) and a smushed 2″ tall, this was one serious sandwich.
Unfortunately, the chicken turned out to be way too over-breaded (even for fast food fried chicken), too salty, and too greasy. The bacon was sad, pathetic, burnt up bits, and absolutely not the stuff represented in the pictures. There was a lot of egg, so that was cool, and the novelty of swiss cheese instead of the standard American or cheddar was cool. Tragically, not even the biscuit itself was good. It was a greasy, crumbly, overcooked mess. Biscuiteers, I must confess that I didn’t even finish it. It was that bad.
I ran to my cinnamon-raisin, icing covered biscuit hoping for some redemption…alas, it also did not live up to my expectations. It was probably 3.5″ wide, and not too tall (1.5-2″).
It was really soft, almost cake-like in texture…like Duncan Hines box cake (which I love…chocolate cake with white icing and a little bit of red crystalized sugar sprinkled on top for color and added texture…so gooood). It had a TON of icing on it, but only like two sad little raisins hidden in it. It was too sweet for my liking, but went alright with a nice black coffee.
Thanks to the excessive icing here, and the excessive salt from prior I do believe that there was a possibility that my blood pressure was now through the roof, AND I had just developed diabetes. In the end, to Hardees I say: I’ll start “eating like I mean it” when you start making food like you mean it. Maybe I’ll try a different location down the line…maybe.
This was a let-down. At least I’ll always have the raisin men…actually, no I wont, I dont know what happened to them. I hope that they’re in a box somewhere to be discovered down the road.
Rise Biscuits & Donuts is a North Carolina chain of breakfast eateries with locations in Durham, Morrisville, Carrboro, and Raleigh, and new locations opening in Charlotte and Wilmington soon. Their website proclaims their vision of serving great food at an affordable price point, made with premium quality ingredients by people who care. I had been hearing about Rise for some time, usually with fervent adoration, and the insistence of “you haaaave to try it.” Based on this, I decided that a rainy Spring morning would be ideal for visiting. My logic was that the rain would drive away the lines usually seen out front (also it was the wife’s birthday and she wanted to go, so there it was). I was wrong.
Before we go any further, I have to admit that I was approaching Rise with healthy skepticism. The hype was just too much, from too many people, I felt like everyone was just convincing one another that this was some kind of artisanal donut/biscuit thing and if you didn’t say how great it was, you just didn’t get it. There was just no way it could be as amazing as everyone was saying. I was wrong again.
Upon entering, I first observed a donut + biscuit = heart shaped art thing and thought “how true it is…”, but then I noticed the line…and the lack of places to sit. The Rise disciples will not be deterred by weather, will be out in droves always, and will eat standing up. Upon approaching the counter there was a glass case full of awesome looking donuts and pastries (the apple fritter is as big as my head, and I have a noggin). The girl behind the counter had the disposition of a wet paper bag and couldn’t be bothered to smile, or really say anything. At this point I thought, “yup, here we go…all aboard the artisanal, too cool to care hype train”, but then a funny thing happened. The price was totally reasonable, not an inflated artisanal price, but a reasonable, normal price for a bacon egg and cheese biscuit (it was like $3 and change, I don’t remember exactly). I happily walked over to waiting area.
While waiting, you can peep through a little hole in the wall and watch the kitchen staff buzzing around like manic worker bees, assembling, frying, baking, and running orders. I’m sure kids love this type of stuff, but I felt bad for the people working. I wouldn’t want to be constantly watched at work, but they seemed not to notice.
A much friendlier seeming man brought the orders out, and when I heard him call my name I proceeded forth to claim my biscuity prize. It came in a Rise branded bag, wrapped in Rise branded paper, and was an impressive specimen upon unwrapping. I forgot my little tape measure, so I used a quarter for referencing size as seen in the pics below. It was of noble stature, not gargantuan, but not small (it was a little shorter than I had envisioned). The golden yellow biscuit contained a single fried egg, some great thick cut bacon, and a slice of cheese. I have to say that the best part of this biscuit was the bacon. It was very flavorful, and its smoky character really compliments the buttery (but not greasy) Rise biscuit. The biscuit itself was an absolute champ, it didn’t crumble away, held together like you would hope, and had an impossibly light but substantial texture. I think the buttery flavor sans greasy texture is accomplished through a bit of extra flour, I noticed that it had a bit of a floury thing going on. I kind of inhaled it honestly, so the truly unique floury undertones went somewhat unappreciated until the end of the experience, but it was good.
I’d like to revisit and try some of pastries next time…Rise, you are as good as the hype.
Tune in next time when I begin part one of what will be a summer long run of beer reviews from the Bull Durham Beer Company from their ballpark brewery!
I recently spent a couple of nights out in the wild, wonderful wilderness of West Virginia, and let me tell you, it made some distinct impressions. First off, when you get really out there in the mountains and your phone displays “no service” for probably the first time ever, you start to feel a little like Matt Damon in The Martian. Not the parts where he’s working to survive, like the first parts, where he’s still all “well this sucks.”
Once that subsides, and you figure out how to get your bearings, things calm down until you have to stop at the only gas station you’ve seen for an hour of driving. It’s immediately evident that you are less Matt Damon in The Martian, and more Luke Skywalker in the Cantina scene from A New Hope. The people…they stare…hard. All you can do is smile back, be friendly, and hope to not get captured while eyeing the nearest escape points.
Truth be told, everyone I talked to was totally cool once they got done sizing me up and decided I weren’t no revenue man comin’ fer the shine proceeds. The main take away from that particular stop was that people in rural West Virginia (as opposed to more developed areas, like say Morgantown) don’t believe in sugar free ANYTHING. They’ve got energy drinks you’ve never heard of, in sizes that would stop a horse’s heart…but no sugar free anything. It’s weird. Also, lip sores in full blossom were on display in these parts, and the cashier definitely licked her thumb to count out change. So that happened, and so did a frantic hand sanitizer bath once back to the vehicle.
Once the site was reached (I drove through a river!), and camp was made, I partook in a practice only previously seen on adventure/survival reality shows. I drank charcoal water…yum. You see, I was getting over a legit, “sick from both ends” bug, and although the worst had passed the day prior, lingering queasiness was impeding my spirits from rising. Observing this, White Stag Trading Company’s very own Mike (http://www.whitestagtrading.com/), and partner in crime-for-life Kevin debated the amount to prepare, but agreed that I should drink the slurry. So we burnt a stick, scraped off the charcoal bits, and down the hatch it went. It didn’t taste like anything, and had a sandy texture, it was actually unremarkable in every sense, but it got my gut right and left my teeth black…already I was assimilating to mountain ways.
Kevin had brought some Bisquick, and stated his intentions to make some biscuits using the recipe from the box on day two of the trip (add milk, cook). This task would require a spoon/spatula, and since none were available, he impressively fashioned one from some wood.
Once the giant dough ball was made, it was hit with a weeee bit of garlic salt, broken up into biscuity shaped balls, and placed in a Dutch oven (go ahead and laugh, I am). The Dutch oven (still giggling?) had been used for some bacon earlier in the day, so a wee bit of flavor was meant to be included in this now highly anticipated batch of biscuits.
These things came out amazing. Maybe it was the fact that I had only eaten MRE’s at this point in the trip, but the kind of burnt crunchy outside, and hot bready inside was amazing. It was like a ball of that bread restaurants sometimes bring out, it even tasted buttery despite their being no butter (and the garlic salt was ever so subtly in the background). I am now a born-again believer in bisquick, and feel ashamed for having neglected it for so long in favor of the tube kind of grocery store biscuits.
Join me next time, when I return to civilization and continue discussing things of no consequence.
Fiction Kitchen is an all-vegetarian restaurant in Raleigh, NC, offering a brunch that brings out dedicated followers who start lining up out front 40 minutes before opening. It’s a nice place, but certainly not formal. That being said, it is somewhat more upscale than what I would normally consider a spot for a biscuit, but the wife (who is vegetarian), and I were celebrating our anniversary on this particular weekend, so why not be a fancy lad on a fine Spring morning?
When we were circling the block to park, I took the crowd as a good sign, but was a little nervous that we might be left outside indefinitely once we finally got to the line. About 10 minutes before opening, the hostess came out and informed the uninitiated of the admission process, and assured us all not to fret. Obviously the staff at FK deal with these lines regularly, and have a system in place to make sure everyone has a smooth experience. It was really impressive. Once inside, I didn’t even bother to peruse the menu, I saw what I needed to see. Biscuits. Done.
Dense, small, vegan biscuits containing a mock fried chicken vegan protein, and looking more like biscuit-bites than some of the monster biscuits you’ll find in the region were brought out very quickly. They’re about 1.5″ tall, and 1.5″ wide. Bigger than Chik-Fil-A’s chicken minis, but notably not “standard” biscuit size. They’re a little dry and sort of crumbly, which makes me think that their small size is a matter of necessity. This could be a result of whatever unique vegan ingredients used, but it prevents a disaster on your plate, and it works.
I ate one plain with a fork and a knife not only for manner’s sake, but to pace myself because it was really good and I wanted to enjoy it and not just inhale the thing. The density of the biscuit was a good indicator of its substance, and although the plate looked a little lean, it was really all I needed. The mock chicken was good, nice and crispy on the outside, chewy but not rubbery, with the right amount of seasoning to give it a good fried chicken flavor. For my second one, I hit the biscuit itself with some blackberry jam, and the protein with some hot sauce. Hot damn, this is where it was at. I could eat a dozen of these little guys like this. All the same attributes as above but with the added dynamic of sweet, smoky, and hot made for a great biscuit.
I’m not really into the Sunday brunch scene. I find it cumbersome when I’m usually hung up on cramming in some work before the week begins, and I’m not a vegetarian, but for what it is, Fiction Kitchen’s brunch would be a do-again in my book on account of great staff, unique food, and the fact that the wife loves it.
This morning’s biscuit is one that should be familiar to millions. From beneath the golden arches, where consistency is the business model, breakfast biscuit lovers the world over stuck in a tight spot know they can rely on the McDonalds bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. With the new “breakfast all day” menu at Mickey Dees, depending on your region, you can even get one at night (some regions are McMuffins only for the all day deal). The particular location for this biscuit is one of those recently remodeled within the last 5-10 year McDonald’s that kind of feel like a Starbucks. Let me be clear, when I say remodeled, I mean they tore the whole damn thing down, and put up a brand new burger spot….that looks like a Starbucks. Gone are the gaudy red/yellow seat cushions of yesteryear, and ephemera with cartoon characters everywhere. These newer structures are sleek, with digital signage, weird little fireplaces, and a clean “modern” feel. It’s weird, and I don’t really eat at McDonalds ever these days, but I still feel a little nostalgic for the way things were whenever I step into a “new” McDonalds.
Before we move on to the main topic at hand I should disclose that I, like many young Americans, once held a position of employment in Ray Kroc’s empire. I worked at a McDonalds in a Walmart as the guy who put the sandwiches together. It was a special circle of hell reserved for those with weird schedules. I could complain more, but really, they accommodated my high school sports practice schedule, I was only there for three months, and I gained a weird appreciation for how controlled and consistent the Ronald McDonald way of food production was. That being said…on to the bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit!
Coming in at 2″ tall by 3″ wide, it’s not the behemoth that some other places offer.
Well done, with some crispy bits but not burnt, and oddly even a little chewy, the McBiscuit has great structure, and holds together without feeling like a brick. This texture makes you feel like you’re eating something substantive, but a look at the dimensions and a reflection on the ingredients will make you think otherwise, like maybe there should be more…more biscuit, more bacon, more something (I suspect this has led patrons to double down on their selections more than once). The biscuit itself is not so much buttery as greasy, almost like a French fry. This isn’t to say that it’s bad, on the contrary, it is surprisingly good. The McDonalds biscuit represents the assembly line perfection of a traditionally “home-style” food. Add in a little bacon, a decent sized egg, and a slice of American cheese and you’ve got a classic.
From a financial standpoint, there are far more sensible purchases from the McValue menu that will net you more food for your buck. They know what they’ve got, and the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese is the Cadillac of the lineup, priced as such at $3 and change.
In their own way, the McDonald’s folks have managed to create a staple item that serves as biscuit 101 for kids, a nationally certified hangover helper for reckless youth, a quick breakfast for people on their way to work, and a symbol to rally around for the elderly (seriously, older people love hanging out at McDonalds in the AM). The McDonalds bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit is the ol’ faithful of the biscuit world. It might not be that exciting, but it is reliable, comfortable, and manages near perfection in its meeting of expectations. How many times you had a bad McBiscuit? My guess is at most once, but a more likely answer is never. Get off yer high horse you haters, and embrace the McBiscuit, it’s a viable option.
Until next time, when I unveil the worst beer I have ever had.
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is a place of legend. Only open from 6:00am (7:00am on Sundays) until 2:30pm, this is definitely not a late-night drunken diner, this is a proper breakfast spot. Famous long before its appearance in 2013’s Johnny Knoxville romp Bad Grandpa (though the publicity didn’t hurt), SBK’s morning magic has been happening in a diminutive structure akin to a shack along E. Franklin St for decades (with its founding location actually being in Louisburg NC). Although they advertise as drive through only, I have witnessed people walk up to the little door on the side and order. This doors bears a sign that says “limit 3 people at a time”, and I suspect that this method of transaction is for SBK VIPs in the know only. We entry-level biscuiteers queue up in our cars along the length of E Franklin, sometimes with the line blocking a lane of traffic for a quarter mile, all the way to Estes Dr. It’s one of those things that when first observed, signals to the uninitiated that if people are willing to do that, it must be worth it…and it is.
For the sake of this discussion, the heart attack in a bag that I chose was the “Bad Grampa” (note the alternate spelling from the film title – prior to the movie it was called something else entirely, but you know, gotta capitalize!). This monster of questionable morning decisions consists of three pieces of bacon, an egg, an amazing hand breaded fried chicken breast, and a thick cut slice of cheddar cheese, all sandwiched within the goodness of a large Sunrise biscuit. This could easily feed two reasonable adults, or one glutton, and all of this is yours is for a mere $7.40 after tax. There are more menu options that some might describe as sensible, but why even pursue that line of thought. Presented in a plain white paper bag, on this occasion I was also gifted hash browns which are usually reserved for the combo – bonus, everything’s coming up Milhouse!
Getting down to brass tax, let us closer examine the experience this thing brings to your face:
After being wrapped up and squished in the bag, the beast comes in at a little under 3” tall, and between 3.5 to 4” wide. This range highlights the fact that since the biscuits are made from scratch there are some discrepancies from piece to piece in diameter, no assembly line here. It’s also worth noting that this meal in sandwich form has got some serious heft to it.
I’m quite sure I could pitch this thing like a brick through a window. The biscuit itself is impressive in that it is has a fluffy, buttery texture that belies its structural integrity. It’s not a crumbly mess, yet not an overly doughy ball. This holy-grail recipe is said on the SBK website to have originated with proprietors grandmother, who birthed seventeen children and lived to almost 100. The underside of the biscuit has a subtle crunch to it, but is not burnt, and has a texture bolstered by the crunch of the fried chicken. The aroma as it nears your face is a combination of smoky, buttery bakery goodness, and that famous Sunday smell of someone frying chicken. The flavors that match the aroma all cut through on first bite, and in my opinion are complimented by a little hot sauce. The cheese is almost unnecessary with the amount of flavors going on here, but not unwelcome. About halfway through you’ll start to wonder what you have done, and if you can finish. The answer to this of course is that you have supported a locally owned business, taken part in a long standing local tradition, given yourself an unparalleled biscuit experience, and yes…you will finish, because you won’t be able to help yourself. Upon consumption you’ll proudly tell everyone that will listen of what you have done.
I know that this is a biscuit focused entry, and I could end here, but I really really really want to point that SBK also offers a kale and vegetable sandwich. Yes. You read that right, a kale and vegetable sandwich. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND GOES TO SBK AND ORDERS THE KALE SANDWICH?! My brother-in-law, that’s who. It was a sad day when after we waited in line for probably 20 minutes while I espoused all the aforementioned traits of this culinary adventure that upon reaching the ordering intercom, he blurts “I want the kale sandwich! On wheat!” When the orders came, and he saw the mistake he had made, I offered a trade. He began acknowledging his awful choice, and I believe considered my offer, but much to his credit he owned his mistake and begrudgingly ate his choice, lying in the bed of leafy greens he had made. To that end, I must publicly thank him for taking in this affront to the biscuit overlords, because without him I wouldn’t be able to let the world know that SBK makes a kale offering for even the most discerning of tastes. So when you want some SBK and someone says “there’s nothing there for me” you can answer with resounding authority that SBK has something for everyone.
Come back on Wed. and read about a special St. Patrick’s Day treat you can get yourself.