Short Stack Eatery’s breakfast comes up short

Short Stack Eatery counter
Short Stack Eatery counter

In my opinion breakfast food is the best type of food. I have never been and will never be the person who “just doesn’t eat breakfast.” On busy mornings I still make time for oatmeal and a banana, but I love all types of breakfast options – eggs, toast, bacon, pancakes! And because I love breakfast food so much I love brunch and breakfast for dinner! I know I’m not alone in my love for breakfast food, which is why I was always a little disappointed by the breakfast offerings downtown. Recently, the Bassett Street Brunch Club opened, but there aren’t other places that serve breakfast all day downtown. So when I heard that the Short Stack Eatery opened right in the middle of State Street and would be serving breakfast all day, every day I thought I’d love it. Well I love the theory, but the execution didn’t work for me.

Short Stack Eatery
Short Stack Eatery
Short Stack Eatery table, number
Short Stack Eatery table, number

Short Stack Eatery is in a corner building so it has a ton of windows and is super bright and cheery. The brightly colored teal walls also add to the cheeriness. Table numbers are made with old license plates and tables are littered with old letters, maps and clippings, which is a cute way to bring in some nostalgia and Wisconsin pride. There’s a big counter in the middle that serves as a place for staff to huddle and diners to sit around. The huge chandelier made of whisks was my favorite!

Short Stack Eatery chandelier
Short Stack Eatery chandelier

We went on a busy Saturday morning after the farmer’s market and actually got a table right away, but only after we ordered at the counter. That was strike number one – I don’t like having to order and pay at a counter and then fight for a table while waiting for my food. Ordering at a counter also means we had to brave the busy drink station to get our own waters, silverware and even build a bloody Mary. I realize this makes me sound lazy, but the space Short Stack Eatery is in is way too small to make diners conglomerate around a small table for their drinks and utensils.

Short Stack Eatery Pick Three
Short Stack Eatery Pick Three

Their menu has all of the usual breakfast suspects: eggs, pancakes, french toast, etc. But then it has two unconventional options. A Pick Three option, which is exactly what it sounds like – they have a list of options and you get to pick three. The other one is a blind special, which again is exactly what it sounds like…but if you want to know what’s in it you get charged $12.95 and if you order it in blind faith it only costs $6.95, which in theory sounds good but you really have to be open for anything. The next strike against the Short Stack Eatery was the prices. A glass of orange juice is $4.25 – it is fresh-squeezed, but holy crap that is an expensive glass of orange juice. My meal was $8.95, which isn’t bad for breakfast, but the portions were just so freaking small it wasn’t a good deal.

Short Stack Eatery pancakes
Short Stack Eatery pancakes
Short Stack Eatery eggs and bacon
Short Stack Eatery eggs and bacon

So my $8.95 meal was the Pick Three option on the menu. I chose bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes from a list that also had breakfast potatoes, toast and a couple other things. I was shocked when my order came out. The two eggs barely seemed like one large egg, the two small pieces of bacon were laughable and the three pancakes were about the size of a coffee mug. Everything was good – the bacon was cooked just right, the eggs were fine and the pancakes were actually pretty good, but almost $10 for a couple bites of egg, two pieces of bacon and three small pancakes? I was very disappointed in the price for what I ended up getting. And even though their orange juice was fancy and fresh squeeze, nothing on my plate warranted the price tag.

FOOD NOTES: I really wanted to be excited about a fun new breakfast place downtown, but unless Short Stack Eatery drops their prices or increases their portion sizes I won’t be back. I was shocked with the small amount of food I got, but the food I did actually get served was decent. Unfortunately, because people who live downtown like trendy places like Short Stack Eatery they probably won’t be changing their prices or portion sizes anytime soon, and will probably be pretty successful. The decor was cute, but I really don’t like having to order at a counter and fight for a glass of water and a napkin at a drink station.

Sophia’s serves mediocre food in a cramped space

I put a lot of stock in restaurant reviews on Yelp. I feel that the masses will reflect the actual quality of a restaurant. Usually I read the first five reviews and then a couple of the really bad ones to have a good expectation of what I’m walking in to. The first time Yelp reviews have really led me in the wrong direction was for Sophia’s on Johnson Street. The reviews said Sophia’s has the best breakfast in town, and I couldn’t disagree more.

The first strike against Sophia’s happened when I picked a friend up for breakfast on a Friday and Sophia’s was closed. Apparently, Sophia’s is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. That does not seem like a good business plan to me.

A month later that same friend and I drove back over to Sophia’s on a Saturday for breakfast. Sophia’s is in a small building on Johnson Street that is so nondescript I have driven by it dozens of times and have never noticed it. When you walk in the first thing you will notice is that there are only five tables and a small counter by the front window. I’m not against small restaurants but this takes “small” to an extreme. To get to the only open table in the place (which I didn’t think there was going to be one for us when we first walked in) we had to awkwardly climb over two people sitting at the table in front of the empty table. You order at a counter and they bring your food out to you. But the weird part about Sophia’s is that once you’ve waited in line to order, then you have to wait in line again when you’re done eating to pay, because you pay after you’re done eating. Usually if you order at a counter you do the whole ordering and paying thing in one transaction. Having to wait in line once we were done eating just to pay was super inconvenient.

Sophia's cinnamon roll
Sophia’s cinnamon roll

I could be persuaded to forgive the cramped space and the odd payment system if the food had been great. But unfortunately it was not. The cinnamon roll we got was more like a cinnamony morning bun with an odd lemon glaze on top. I’m sorry but when I want a cinnamon roll I want it to be frosted or glazed with vanilla or cream cheese goodness…not an oddly tart lemon concoction.

Sophia's omelet
Sophia’s omelet

Their menu, not posted online anywhere, is written on a chalkboard, which I’m assuming means it changes. When we were there they were offering a couple different omelets and breakfast sandwiches, as well as pancakes. I’m a savory breakfast person so I got an omelet. It had cheese, ham and peppers in it. The peppers were tasteless and seemed like they may have come out of a can. The omelet itself was kind of watery and the cheese was sparse. I was thoroughly unimpressed, especially because the guy sitting behind me at a different table kept rocking his chair into mine the entire time. The omelet also came with breakfast potatoes that weren’t crunchy enough for my taste and were very bland.

Sophia's apple pancakes
Sophia’s apple pancakes

My friend got apple pancakes, which were the special that day (but she said the last time she was there the special was the same so my guess is it doesn’t change very often).

FOOD NOTES: My favorite restaurant in my hometown only has about a dozen tables, and I’m able to overlook the small space because the food is so good. The one thing that place does well is that even though they have 12 tables, there’s a reasonable amount of space between them so you don’t have to climb over people to get to a table. The food at Sophia’s is nowhere near good enough to make up for their annoying dining area. The lemon flavor on their cinnamon roll was not appreciated, and their omelets and breakfast potatoes were subpar. Their prices were also a bit high for the extremely cramped and rundown dining area we had to endure.

Brunch Club may need time to excel past donuts

brunch club coffee
Brunch Club coffee

There are a lot of restaurants on my list that have been open since before I moved to Madison, but the new breakfast-focused Food Fight restaurant on campus landed on my must-visit-soon list. Food Fight rarely gets anything wrong so I made a plan with a friend to try it out. The Bassett Street Brunch Club opened this fall in the newly built Hampton Inn on the corner of Bassett and Johnson streets in downtown Madison. The Brunch Club definitely fits into the downtown boutique feel of the Hampton Inn with modern cement floors and walls, fun patterned booths and bright colored accents throughout. The menu consists of traditional breakfast options, coffee, brunch drinks, homemade donuts, and then they have lunch and dinner menu options. I started with a cup of the Colectivo Coffee they serve. I love that it comes in a big mug instead of those tiny cups most diners offer. The coffee was very good and our waitress kept it full the entire time!

brunch club donut
Brunch Club chocolate hazelnut donut

I heard their donuts were homemade and they offer three or four different flavors each day. We decided to split one of the chocolate hazelnut donuts before our breakfasts came. They definitely know what they’re doing on the donut front. The donut itself was perfectly fluffy and not at all greasy. The chocolate topping was better than generic chocolate frosting, but  what made the donut were the huge chunks of hazelnut covering the entire top of the donut. It was definitely worth the $1.50!

brunch club hash
Brunch Club corned beef hash

For breakfast, there are two dishes I use to measure a restaurant’s quality – eggs benedict and corned beef hash. The eggs benedict on the menu has a lot of non-traditional toppings, so I opted for the homemade hash. The hash came with two eggs and toast (I usually splurge on toast at restaurants but their jam was unexpectedly bitter so I didn’t finish my slices). Based on the size of the donut I was expecting the breakfast portions to be a bit larger than the cup of hash and two pieces of toast I got. The eggs were cooked perfectly but the hash was basically flavorless even though it had chunks of red peppers and onions. Basically, other than the donut, I wasn’t very impressed with my breakfast.

brunch club pancakes
Brunch Club lemon ricotta pancakes

My friend got the lemon ricotta pancakes. She liked them but I thought they were too lemony and kind of mushy. She also got a side of breakfast potatoes (we also kind of measure a restaurant’s quality based on the quality of their breakfast potatoes), and these weren’t very good. Like my hash, the breakfast potatoes were practically flavorless too.

brunch club potatoes
Brunch Club breakfast potatoes

FOODNOTES: The Brunch Club is in a great location and has a fun funky vibe. Our waitress was absolutely stellar, but it wasn’t very busy when we were there and the hostess seemed to awkwardly wander and make unnecessary small talk. The donut and coffee were the highlights of the meal. I didn’t like the lemon ricotta pancakes but my friend did, and my corned beef hash was completely flavorless. They have a ton of dishes on their menu and I really hope some of their lunch or dinner options are better. I would like to give their meatloaf, pot pie or the fried chicken and donuts a try. Hopefully they still have homemade donuts to get as an appetizer when I go to try their dinner options! I really want to like this place so I will give it a couple more chances!