As much as I try to keep up on restaurants' new and seasonal menus, often times I only discover the presence of something new only after I see a mention to it in the myriad of Internet sites where I read about food. Perhaps I'll see something mentioned on Facebook or Twitter. Many times I've discovered something interesting to check out when I read the weekly food column by Lisa Abraham at the Akron Beacon Dealer on Wednesdays.
On a recent Saturday, I was joined by fellow food blogger Kathy from Carano's Cucina and her friend, Lynn, at the Howe Meadow Farmer's Market. Afterward, we were looking for something filling and local and decided to check out the Golden Goose Restaurant in neighboring Cuyahoga Falls, OH. Now, I have written about my experiences at the Golden Goose before and have walked away quite impressed with the quality of not only the homemade diner-style food being served in the restaurants, but also the quality of the breads and pastries being made from scratch every day by pastry chef, Michael Bruno.
As we walked through the front door at around 10:30 AM, it was immediately apparent that they were still in the middle of a very busy breakfast service. As I checked the daily specials board, the first item I noticed was the brioche French Toast. Many restaurants use Texas Toast or challah for their French Toast. And, in fact, The Golden Goose regularly offers a French Toast made from challah on their menu. However, the thought of the more decadent and butter-laden brioche version made me give into my Pavlovian urges.
As we sat down at the table, I immediately pulled out my new smartphone (yes, sadly, the G1 has been replaced by the HTC Incredible, another Android phone) to update my Facebook and Twitter status. Unbeknownst to me, I would later get a comment from Chef Louis Prpich of the Chowder House Cafe reminding me that they, too, had brioche French Toast on their Sunday brunch menu as well. It's been a while since I did a "throwdown," but I thought that this was as good a chance as any to compare the two offerings.
After placing our order today at The Golden Goose, our server returned shortly afterward with our breakfast. Here was a shot of the French Toast:
Along with this platter of griddled goodness came a little stainless steel pitcher filled with warm syrup:
At $9.50, this was definitely more expensive than the challah French Toast listed on the menu. But with my first bite I could see where the extra cost came into play. The thickly cut brioche slices had been dipped into a standard egg batter and perfectly griddled. They were crispy on the exterior and creamy in the interior. The strawberries were fantastically ripe and lent both a sweetness and tartness to the dish. While butter was provided, I didn't find it necessary to add any. The warm syrup was a wonderful touch, but I was sad that it wasn't real maple syrup. I wasn't sure that this plate of food would fill me up, but it most certainly did.
As we went to the front of the restaurant to pay our checks, we ended up getting into a conversation with both Michael and his wife at the pastry case:
They had just put out some freshly baked Morning Glory muffins that really looked delicious:
Filled with all sorts of good-for-you ingredients like carrots, oats, and coconut, had I not already hit my sweet quotient for the day, I probably would've ended my meal with one of these.
Fast forward to a Sunday following my visit to The Golden Goose and you'll find me standing at the front door to The Chowder House, just a few short blocks away. When I walked through the front door, I was pleased to discover that a room directly ahead that had been previously unused in my last two visits had been opened up with additional seating installed. When I asked the hostess about it, she showed me around and indicated that they had needed to add the additional tables to handle the larger crowds. Good news, indeed.
As I had shown up shortly after the Sunday brunch began, I was actually the first patron of the day. The hostess handed me the brunch menu, which seemed almost superfluous given that I knew what I would be having.
Here was a shot of the menu:
Hah! This time I spied two items on the brioche French Toast that the Golden Goose's version lacked: warmed Ohio maple syrup and applewood smoked bacon.
Soon my server returned with a nice steaming mug of the decaf for which I had asked:
I often like to pair unsweetened bitter coffee with sweet foods. I like the combination of these two flavors. I went ahead and placed my order and within about ten minutes, this was what I received:
Instead of providing the maple syrup in a pitcher like the Golden Goose had done, the kitchen had used it to sauce the plate instead. I dipped my fork tines into the maple syrup and tasted it. The delicate sweetness of real maple syrup made me sigh with contentment. But something else made me sit up in my chair. The syrup wasn't warm, but room temperature. Quickly working through the possibilities, I touched the rim of my plate. Yep, room temperature as well. Perhaps the syrup had been warmed at one point, but by serving it on room temperature plates, the temperature of the syrup quickly reached equilibrium with the plate.
I also noticed that the slices of brioche used for the dish were thinner (but still a nice size) than the pieces used at the Golden Goose. Here was a side shot of the French Toast stack:
Overall I enjoyed the French Toast. I did think that the very center of the bread slice was just a tad dry, but a dip in the syrup quickly fixed that. The strawberries adorning the plate also were fresh and ripe and tasted delicious. The mascarpone "stuffing" didn't do a lot for me as I discovered when eating a small bit by itself. Essentially a combination of mascarpone and butter, it didn't feel as much like a filling as it did a slightly sweetened, cheesy piece of butter one would normally apply to a breakfast item of this type. The flavor of the mascarpone was present if you tried the compound butter by itself, but it got a little lost when eaten with the rest of the French Toast.
Finally, the applewood smoked bacon:
I always appreciate a nice contrast to something sweet; this side fit the bill perfectly. Nicely smoked and just salty enough without being overpowering, the bacon paired perfectly with the French Toast. Actually, I found myself dipping the bacon into the maple syrup before eating heavenly bite after bite. Having nearly finished every bite of this $9 brunch item, I indicated to my server that I was ready to pay the check.
So now that I've described my brioche French Toast experience at both places, which one do I consider to be the best? The problem I run into is that they both were quite good. Each also had an item or two that could be improved. I missed having actual maple syrup and a nice salty side with my meal at The Golden Goose. I missed having warm syrup and the mascarpone filling didn't quite hit the flavor button that I think the chef hoped it would. And since they were virtually equivalent in price ($0.50 difference), I can't use that to determine a large value difference.
In the end, I'll have to give the very slight upper hand to the Chowder House Cafe. The inclusion of the applewood smoked bacon and the use of real maple syrup adds just a bit more balance to the overall plate. That being said, I think you'd be happy with either dish. Also note that the version at the Golden Goose was a daily special and not always on the menu. Get it if they're offering it, but you can count on the Sunday brunch menu at the Chowder House to always have it available.