In a town saturated with amazing brunch spots (Lazy Jane's, Marigold Kitchen, etc.), the new Short Stack Eats doesn't compete. Its three largest advantages are 24 hour service (Thursday through Sunday), its location on the corner of West Johnson and State Street, and its pancakes.
However, on a wintry Saturday morning, the food left me cold, disappointed, and confused. I ordered the blind special, a short stack, and a cup of coffee. My dining companions ordered Cajun biscuits and gravy, bacon, a breakfast trio, and a Bloody Mary.
For my first cup of coffee at the self service station I had the Velvet Hammer, which is a great brew, but there was no cream at our table and they only have a single small carafe of cream at the coffee station which was empty. For my second cup the restaurant had run out of Velvet Hammer so I tried their cinnamon hazelnut flavored coffee instead. It was highly flavored, which I personally don't like in coffee. With the restaurant fully-staffed and only half full of patrons, it could have run a little more smoothly.
I love the idea of the blind special! If you ask what the special is, it costs $12.95 but if you order it in the blind it costs only $6.50. You weed out picky and non-adventurous eaters and you could make interesting, off the beaten path food for a self selected audience. This is something that would really excite me as a chef or as an eater! What did I get for my blind special?
Short stack went with ham, cheddar cheese, and barely "caramelized" onions pretty much the most boring and common things one can put in a quesadilla, and this one was not even prepared well. Caramelized onions take a long time to make well. It can take 30 minutes to an hour on a stove top with constant care or many more hours in the oven. Caramelized onions are a beautiful thing, the long, slow cooking sweetens them and adds delicious sweet and smoky flavors. They are a real treat to eat. However, these were barely cooked, still crunchy, and nearly flavorless. They hadn't been salted when they were cooked, and remained bland in the quesadilla. The ham was not browned, and the cheddar was nothing special.
The rosemary potatoes served with the quesadilla were dry, bland, and old. The rosemary had long since given up its fresh flavor and turned desiccated, brown, and filled with unpleasant resinous flavors. They had a lightly-browned crust, which ended up more dried out then crunchy. Clearly they had been sitting barely warm on a griddle for a long time. And whoever cooked them skimped on oil for the cooking.
Very disappointing. None of us finished our potatoes.
The Bloody Mary was also disappointing and left half-full on the table after three people tried to like it. It wasn't spicy and tasted overwhelmingly of pickle juice. I'm hoping this was a snafu or the result of a new bartender screwing up the proportions and not Short Stack's standard Bloody Mary, but be warned...
One of my companions ordered the Cajun Biscuits and Gravy.
As you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of biscuits and gravy. Sausage sawmill gravy is one of the wonders of the world, and a pillowy, moist biscuit gets me every time. Here the biscuit is good, on the small side but with a wonderful crispy texture on the outside. The gravy is creamy and flavorful, though the Cajun spice doesn't come through very much. It's an all-around solid dish but nothing to shout about, which makes it nearly the best thing to eat at Short Stack Eats. And the presentation of this dish could have been nicer.
As the name Short Stack Eats implies, the BEST things to eat here are the pancakes.
I got the buttermilk pancake short stack, the simplest and most basic of pancakes. I really think this is a great canary in the coal mine for a pancake place. Short Stack Eats did not disappoint: the pancakes were moist, tender, and absolutely delicious. I would happily return for these great pancakes and try the many others on their menu, even if I would leave out the rest of the meal.
Overall I was disappointed. But there were some bright spots. I would love to see Short Stack Eats work on some of its basics a little more and keep those pancakes coming!
Rating: O O Two pancakes
Short Stack Eats
301 West Johnson St.
Madison, WI — 53703
Thursday at 7 am
Sunday at 11 pm
(yes, the whole time!)