Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Common Market - Plaza Midwood & South End

If I haven't made it clear, I really, really, really like breakfast food. Because they serve breakfast every day of the week, every once in a while, I'll get on an intense Common Market kick. There's one close to my house, there's another one close to my office, and all around, it's a convenient place to grab a sandwich, a bottle of wine, some beer, or some random knickknacks (like the awesome "World Wine Wheel" I picked up last week). The also serve breakfast on weekdays, so its a win-win for my eggs and bacon-loving self.

Did I buy this at 8:00 AM?
Yes.
Am I shameful?
Not a bit.
Because both locations are so convenient, I don't really feel loyalty to either one. On my way into work last Monday, I started thinking about the pros and cons of each location -the breakfast menus are a little different, but is the quality, service, and variety better in South End or Plaza Midwood? I definitely prefer the bar and patio areas at the South End location, but occasionally the deli lets me down (and since I'm a big fatty, that's clearly the most important part of my experience). On a recent experience, my breakfast sandwich was topped with the most burnt scrambled egg patty I have ever laid eyes on –the patty itself had been incinerated to a brown, dried-out, rubbery, armpit-scented blob. I ended up picking the egg off my sandwich and just ate the sausage and bagel parts, but I was super annoyed… I'd ordered virtually the same sandwich the day before and it was just fine. What does a girl need to do to get a little consistency out of her deli?! Either be good or be terrible, South End Common Market, but stop toying with my emotions. I feel like I've had similar issues in Plaza Midwood, so I decided that there was only one legitimate way to determine which place is truly better: the Ultimate Common Market Breakfast Challenge (or UCMBC for short)! With a little help from BFTB, I visited both Common Markets and ordered eight different breakfast meals over the course of a week and a half-ish. After eating what I believed to be an almost representative sample of both Common Markets' options, I was able to reach a verdict.

Meal 1: Loaded Grits - South End
The other morning (it was actually the day I ordered the charred-to-a-crisp disappointment that I referenced above), I was waiting for my sandwich to be prepped at the South End deli when I saw another guy pick up his order. It was the most delicious-looking container of loaded grits I'd ever seen. Nothing like that was listed on the menu so I immediately started drilling the deli guy with questions about this man's mystery order. It turns out that Common Market will top your grits with just about anything they have on the menu. Who knew?! For the first meal of the UCMBC, I ordered pimento cheese grits with bacon, turkey sausage (double meat Mondays, anybody?), tomatoes, and jalapeños. I was really hungry and assumed this would be a quick-to-prepare meal, but I guess they decided to stone grind the grits themselves in the back of the kitchen, because it was almost a full twenty minutes before I could pick up my order.

Unfortunately, my loaded grits combo was a better idea in my head than it was in an executed state. From past experience, I know that the Plaza Midwood tops their grits with pimento cheese while South End mixes the pimento cheese into their grits. It doesn't sound like it would make much of a difference, but for some reason, I am convinced that the Plaza Midwood method tastes better. I guess the pimento cheese just seems like a waste when it's all melted and mixed in... at that point, you might as well just get regular cheddar (and it would be $.75 cheaper too). The turkey sausage was the best part. I'm convinced that Common Market has the best turkey sausage on the planet. Seriously, it is out of this world delicious. Normally, turkey sausage lets me down because it's either underseasoned or super weird in texture. This tastes and feels just like regular sausage, without the excess grease. The bacon was a little floppy once it was mixed into the grits, and the jalapenos weren't a good choice. I love jalapeños, but these guys tasted like they came from a can and some weird pickle-y juice had made its way into my grits, giving the whole thing an artificial taste. 

Overall, this was a decent way to start the UCMBC, but it wasn't a complete winner of an order, especially considering how long I had to wait for it to be prepared. Before I had reached the bottom of my bowl, I was already dreaming of what I would order the next day.

Meal 2: Later Hater - Plaza Midwood
On the second day of the UCMBC, I was in a bit of a hurry so I called the deli near my house to place my order on my way to work. I opted to get a Plaza Midwood exclusive, the Later Hater. This sandwich consists of eggs, your choice of protein (I selected bacon), baby spinach, pimento cheese (I was still on that kick, clearly...), and tomato on your choice of carb (I opted to get toasted sourdough bread). They let me know that my order would be ready in ten minutes but unfortunately the Plaza Midwood deli, just like its South End counterpart, was a little pokey and I had to wait an extra ten minutes before my sandwich was ready. Honestly, I think that's a little ridiculous. There was only one other person waiting for food and I don't understand what part of this pretty basic sandwich took twenty minutes to get together.

While I was excited to actually get food, it wasn't a good sandwich. The baby spinach/pimento cheese blend was savory and a little sweet -definitely the best part of the sandwich. The bacon itself was a little too thin for my taste, but I did like that it was cooked flat so it stayed neatly inside the sandwich. Although the bread was toasted, it was still somehow a little floppy, which was not a good combo with the wet tomato and pimento cheese. The egg was also cold, leading me to believe it had been sitting around for a while before being put on my sandwich. On day two of the UCMBC, I started thinking this challenge was a bad decision... was I really going to have to subject myself to six more lame breakfasts?!

Meal 3: The J Wrap - South End
For the third day of the UCMBC, BFTB joined me at the South End Common Market. He ordered The J Wrap, which consists of eggs, protein (he chose turkey sausage), pepper jack cheese, "black bean ‘n corn goodness" in a wrap (he went with whole wheat). Breakfast was almost over, so we called ahead and surprisingly, our food was wrapped up and waiting for us on the deli counter when we arrived fifteen minutes later.

The J Wrap was the best of the breakfasts so far. The turkey sausage was superb, per usual, but I was really blown away by the seasoned black bean/corn blend. Even though it was a little mushy, the blend was perfectly salty and provided some interesting flavor to what would have otherwise been a relatively standard breakfast choice. The pepper jack cheese, especially when combined with a drizzle of Sriracha, gave the wrap a good amount of heat. I can see why this is BFTB's go-to order when he visits the South End Common Market and I made a mental note to pick up one for myself in the future.

Meal 4: The B-Fast Sammy - South End
On the same morning that BFTB ordered the J-Wrap, I ordered the B-Fast Sammy, which consists of a carb (I went with a toasted asiago bagel), one egg, a protein (turkey sausage, duh), and cheese (cream cheese). I'm a sucker for cream cheese on an egg sandwich, and I think Common Market did good work with this guy. At this point  I probably don't need to expound on my passionate feelings for their turkey sausage, but I will say that when eaten with the tangy, warm, gooey cream cheese, it was especially good. I was also a big fan of my decision to add tomato. It was sliced to the perfect thickness such that it added a little bit of crunch and juiciness, but didn't take over the sandwich. The bagel was really good, but it was barely toasted. It was cool to the touch and the texture was mushy, when I was really craving a bit of crusty crunchiness. This seems to be a common theme in Common Market's toasting abilities, so in the future, I'm going to ask if "well done" is an option (or I'll just break into Common Market and reset the wiring on all their toasters in the middle of night). Regardless, the flavor of the bagel was sharp, a little peppery, and distinctively asiago-y, which was perfect in combination with the cream cheese and savory turkey sausage. Apparently the bagels all come from Poppy's Bagels & More on Providence Road, so I'll definitely need to check that place out in the near future (especially if they know how to properly warm their bagels).

Meal 5: Breakfast Capri Sandwich - Plaza Midwood
For my fifth UCMBC meal, I went to the Plaza Midwood Common Market and ordered the Breakfast Capri on a croissant. The sandwich consists of eggs, sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, protein (pork sausage), baby spinach, and red onions. 

Honestly, I really wanted to order turkey sausage on this sandwich, but felt like I wasn't giving the other protein options a legitimate chance, so I went with the real deal. I'm excited to report that the swine in question did not die in vain. While I still think that the turkey sausage is my favorite of the protein options, the pork sausage is also really tasty. I'm a bit of a goat cheese fanatic and on this sandwich, it didn't disappoint. Squished between the sausage and egg, it was tangy, soft, and almost melty. I also really enjoyed both the sundried tomatoes, which were surprisingly sweet, and the baby spinach. As with Later Hater I ate for the second meal, the spinach was perfectly wilted, giving the sandwich a little bit of crunch but distinctively spinach-y. I had never ordered a grilled croissant from Common Market before, but it's definitely something I'll have to do again. It was crunchy on the outside (which was much appreciated, especially in comparison to the mushier sandwiches I'd had earlier in the challenge) but still flaky, buttery, and rich. At this point, this was the best meal of the challenge, but I still held out hope for a little more competition in the subsequent meals!

Meal 6: You Are Special Omelette - South End
For my final South End meal, even though I wasn't really in an eggy mood (I wonder why with all these breakfast sandwiches I've been eating...), I decided to order the You Are Special Omelette since omelettes are not available at the Plaza Midwood location. This particular omelette contains a protein (ham), cheese (cheddar), tomato, baby spinach, and red onion. 

I've never ordered an omelette from Common Market before (much less one prepared to-go), so I really didn't know what it would look like, but I opened up the foil pouch and discovered that it was... ugly. It reminded me of the part in The Little Prince where the man draws a snake that's eaten an elephant; it was a lumpy, amorphous blob that was frightening close to exploding. The eggy exterior looked a little dried out and its excessively yellow hue made me concerned, but after poking it open with my plastic fork, I was happy to see it was stuffed with steaming veggies. The ham pieces cut to the same thickness as the deli meat that goes in their sandwiches (actually, I'm sure it's the same cold cuts), which seemed a little lame. The biggest issue was that the ham was grossly limp and floppy in its warmed state and I ended up picking a lot of it out. Once again, however, the spinach was freaking awesome. I've officially decided that both Common Market locations produce the best spinach on the planet, so it'll probably be making a regular appearance on my future orders. Overall, the omelette was alright, but definitely not anything to write home about. I doused the whole thing in Texas Pete and without it, the omelette would definitely have tasted underseasoned. This probably won't be a re-order, but I'm glad I at least gave it a shot. 


Meal 7: A Create Your Own Sandwich - Plaza Midwood
On the morning I ate meal 7, I woke up craving a Mary's Grubby Bubby from Owen's Bagel & Deli. However, I couldn't cheat on Common Market (especially since I was so close to wrapping up the challenge!) so I decided to create my own Grubby Bubby-esque sandwich. I called ahead and ordered an egg, turkey sausage (not on a Grubby Bubby, but if you can't tell, I'm pretty obsessed with the stuff...), muenster, avocado, and tomato sandwich on a pressed everything bagel. 

I'm excited to report that this ended up being my favorite meal of the UCMBC. First of all, pressing the sandwich (rather than just toasting the bread) is officially the better cooking technique. The bagel was delightfully crispy and the ingredients were warm and neatly within their carbohydrate confines. The combo of ingredients was a great decision. Obviously the turkey sausage was delicious, and the muenster was nice and melty around the egg. The star, however, was the avocado. I never think to order avocado at breakfast, but it is officially one of my new favorite sandwich toppings. It was creamy and delicious, especially because it had gotten a little melty through the pressing process. All in all, the sandwich was outstanding and I'm definitely going to order it again in the future!

Meal 8: The Dragon Slayer - Plaza Midwood
For the last UCMBC meal, BFTB and I headed up to Plaza Midwood to snag some breakfast before going on a long bike ride (during which I completely wiped out on a curb somewhere near South Park Mall and did some serious damage to my right knee... ugh). I ate a Breakfast Capri which I'd already reviewed, but BFTB ordered the Dragon Slayer on a wheat wrap. This sandwich consisted of egg, choice of protein (turkey sausage), pepper-jack, onion, and three types of peppers: red, green, and jalapeño.

I'm happy to report that the Dragon Slayer was a good ending to the challenge! The sandwich packed a surprising amount of heat and just one bite made me break a little sweat. I like spicy things, so this was definitely a good thing in my book (and a great thing to capsaicin-loving BFTB). The veggies were crispy and a good complement to the herbaceous turkey sausage and spicy pepper-jack cheese. While I'm not a huge fan of CM's wraps (I think they taste a little spongy, BFTB really likes them. Whether it's on a wrap or not, I'd certainly order the Dragon Slayer again and it's become BFTB's go-to order. 

The Verdict: First, this was the most obscene amount of breakfast sandwiches I've ever made myself eat.... Even though I spaced the challenge out over a few weeks, I felt like I was constantly eating a freaking sandwich. Regardless, the UCMBC was a success because I was able to reach a verdict! With the exception of the lackluster Later Hater sandwich I ate for Meal 2, the Common Market in Plaza Midwood consistently blew the South End location out of the water. All in all, I think the South End location can be a little sloppy and the items are executed with less care than those produced over in Plaza Midwood. I also think the people working in Plaza Midwood are friendlier, which goes a long way in helping me start out a crazy workday on the right foot. While I'm sure I'll continue to visit both locations, for breakfast, the Plaza Midwood CM gets an 8/10 and the South End CM gets a 6/10.
  
The Common Market South End on Urbanspoon  The Common Market on Urbanspoon

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