Battle of the Bologna Biscuits in Memphis

In my home growing up, I fondly remember making sandwiches to take with me for lunch at school. Common cold cuts on my sandwiches included ham, roast beef or turkey, but I really loved Cotto salami, liverwurst, and bologna.  As an adult, I really have not eaten much bologna. As a processed meat, bologna attracts a lot of criticism which I won’t repeat here. This post is about the joys of bologna. I was — after all -— raised on this jingle:

I revisited bologna as an adult a little over a year ago when I enjoyed a smoked bologna epiphany at Helen’s Bar-B-Que in Brownsville, Tennessee on a sandwich with pulled pork which I recall with deep reverence and jubilation. The experience left me wanting more.

About a month ago, I tried a smoked bologna biscuit called the P Love’s at the new Sunrise Cafe in Victorian Village. The owners of Central BBQ bring their expertise for smoking meats to several dishes on their breakfast and lunch menus. The P Love’s biscuit comes with smoked bologna, an egg fried over easy, and melted American cheese. Processed meat and cheese just seem right for each other — a marriage within the social confines of culinary class. This second experience of smoked bologna triggered my memory of Helen’s and a mental note of grilled bologna as an option for biscuit sandwiches at Bryant’s Breakfast on Summer Avenue.

After posting about bologna biscuit sandwiches at Sunrise and Bryant’s on Facebook, I found it necessary to test the taste of their respective expressions. My gastronaut partner in crime, Kim Gullett, and husband Paul agreed to help me in this task.

As a morning person, the beauty of Bryant’s and Sunrise is that both restaurants open at 5 AM on most days. Early birds can get their bologna biscuits before dawn. While I prefer an early start (translated: biscuits fresh out of the oven! Right?), I had to haggle over when we could start this taste test. Not everyone can do early mornings. She informed that 10 AM was the earliest she could make it on a Saturday. I think she was trying to starve me, but Kim finally agreed to meet us at 9 AM at Bryant’s. From there we continued our taste test at Sunrise.

We tried our best to make sure that we compared similar bologna biscuits. We ordered two bologna biscuits and sliced them into portions at each restaurant to evaluate internal consistency. Each biscuit sandwich included bologna, an egg fried over easy, and American cheese. We could not totally control for bologna preparation. Sunrise smokes and grills their bologna while Bryant’s only grills their bologna. This difference could have made a major impact in the test. My notes below reveal why it did not.

TASTING NOTES

In the photos that follow, Bryant’s appears left, and Sunrise appears to the right.

American Cheese

The cheese is the easy part. We discerned no major differences in the American Cheese at Bryant’s or Sunrise. The melted American cheese provided a nice creamy gooiness to each biscuit regardless of restaurant. Paul wished for real cheese like smoked cheddar, smoked gouda or even pepper jack cheese. Really Paul?!?! Aren’t all of those cheeses too fancy for bologna? Moving on.

Biscuit

Bryant’s presented round biscuits with a more or less uniform golden color and tender exterior with one biscuit showing a little dark brown on one top edge. The interior of tender, slightly moist fluffiness demonstrates the essence of a Southern baked biscuit with a perfect flavor balance of fat, salt, baking soda and powder in perfect check. Sunrise offered a square biscuit with less uniformity in color on a harder surface. The Sunrise interior had good balance of flavor among the ingredients but a dryer, crumby texture. Bryant’s biscuit wins here without surprise.

Egg

Bryant’s brought us eggs as ordered with soft intact yolks centered within evenly cooked egg whites. Sunrise served us eggs with soft intact yolks, but one yolk cooked on the very edge of the white on the first egg. The white on the second egg was still runny which made a wet mess on that biscuit.

Bologna

Sunrise should have won here. The smoked flavor of their grilled bologna is superior to Bryant’s grilled bologna. However, Bryant’s placed a generous half-inch slice of their bologna with a crisp char from their grill on our biscuits. We could really taste the bologna on Bryant’s biscuit. Sunrise gave us a quarter-inch slice of bologna. The other ingredients in the Sunrise biscuit drowned out the rich flavor of the thin slice of bologna. Size matters.

Who won?

Bryant’s attention to all the details of a bologna, egg and cheese biscuit pushed them ahead of Sunrise in this taste test. To be honest, the result surprised me. My first experience of the P Love’s biscuit is what led me to test each biscuit sandwich. In my first P Love’s experience, I recall eating a biscuit with a thicker slice of bologna that equalled Bryant’s half-inch slice. I can forgive Sunrise. They opened a month or so ago. Consistency is hard to achieve in the first few months of a restaurant opening. We had to choose one or the other, but don’t finish reading this critique thinking that the P Love’s biscuit isn’t worth your time. With a thicker slice of bologna at Sunrise, this duel would have been a draw.

Bryant’s bologna biscuit was better in this particular test, but there is no loser here. You should try both biscuits.

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