This weekend I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to visit some old friends from high school. After a night of Halloween galavantery on Saturday and before everyone had to leave on Sunday, we decided to grab a bite at everyone's favorite semi-cheap semi-good semi-sit-down restaurant, Perkins. By the sheer stroke of Lady Fortune, Perkins, obviously pandering to a classier audience than usually frequents their establishments, happened to have French dip on the menu. Ever on the watch for these sandwiches to bring joy and satisfaction to my legions of faithful readers, I decided to delve into the unknown and order this blog's titular sandwich.
Bread: 1/10 pts
All I can say is "What were they thinking!?" When the French dip was served the my table, after quite literally minutes of waiting, I wasn't sure whether to cry or laugh. All they did was grill two pieces of sliced bread and placed the innards of the French dip betwixt them. I mean, read the menu and look at the picture featured therein! It clearly shows different bread, bread far more appropriate for this type of sandwich. As only a quarter to a third of the items on the menu have pictures, they obviously thought that this meal would look especially appetizing, and they were right! But then they pull the ol' one-two switcheroo and you are left with this affront of a sandwich. This type of behavior is absolutely reprehensible and inappropriate. They need to realize that they are not serving grilled cheeses to some epsilon level simpleton here. I am a connoisseur of sandwiches, and I will not settle for such an affront to the honor of all that is French dip, especially when all it would take to sate me would be using a hoagie bun or a French baguette.
But regardless of what they bread should have been, when life gives you grilled bread, make grilled bread-ade, right? Well... I tried. After my initial shock subsided, I decided to give the French dip a whirl and see what it tasted like. The bread was a little crunchy for my tastes, and obviously not what it was supposed to be, but it wasn't that horrible. But the first major problem occured when I went to dip my sandwich in the au jus. The bread just refused to absorb to juice, something a baguette is perfectly suited for. Instead the absorption was left entirely to the meat, and, as Jesus said, "au jus cannot be absorbed by meat alone." (French Dip 4:13). Another major issue was the rock hard crust, again something that is not an issue on a hoagie roll or a baguette. It was far too crunchy, and simply did not mix well with the rest of the concoction. If they had cut the crusts off, much like my mother does for me, Perkins might have salvaged another point in this category, but as it stands, the bread on this French dip was absolutely abysmal. I don't think you can screw bread up much more than happened here.
Roast Beef: 6/10 pts
Although the review standards clearly read that the French dip should "contain little fat," it is my humble opinion as a culinary critic that this roast beef had almost TOO little fat. It was bland, and when salty fatty au jus can't even give the beef taste, you know that you are in for a doozy. The meat was cooked to an optimal color and toughness, and had the correct amount of thickness and density. But none of this can detract from the fact that the meat was hardly the main mover-and-shaker in the sandwich. This sandwich is a good lesson in preparing meat for French dips: No matter how well it is cooked and sliced, bland beef will likely remain bland beef, especially if no spices are added during the cooking process.
Cheese: 5/10 pts
On the topic of the cheese, it must first be noted that the cheese (and onions) cost an additional 79 cents on top of the $8.49 I was already paying. This is unacceptable. Some out there might say, "Hey, c'mon, go easy on them, there might be some people who don't like cheese on their French dips, why should they be forced to pay extra?" To that I have only one thing to say: A village cannot reorganize life to suit the village idiot. And that's exactly what anyone who would pass up the opportunity for a cheesy French dip would be. Sorry Perkins, but don't make me have to ask for cheese and don't charge me for an essential.
In addition to that oversight, the cheese was rather bland and tasteless. It was also a little too greasy for my tastes. On the bright side, it wasn't oozing out the sides, having been well portioned, and it wasn't cheese sauce. It also added some much needed fat to the dish, and, along with the au jus, was one of the major workhorses of this meal. They would have scored higher if they hadn't charged me for my cheese.
Au Jus: 9/10
Strangely, while many of the other aspects of this French dip were lacking, the au jus was done just about perfectly. I was given a healthy portion in a large cup which lasted me the entire sandwich, although this may have been due to the fact that only the meat was absorbing any. I ladled a few spoonfuls into my mouth sans-French dip, and it had a great flavor to it, not being either too salty or too bland. The only thing that I could find wrong with this au jus was that it could have used a little more beef flavor, but again this was probably due to the fact that the beef it came from was bland to begin with.
Miscellaneous: 6/10 pts
- Appearance: 0/2 pts
This French dip wasn't the ugliest thing I have ever seen, although to be certain it looks even worse when compared against my dashing smile, but again, the review standards clearly state "it should at the very least be recognizable as a French dip." I would not recognize this sandwich as a French dip unless I did an autopsy to check its innards. Not to beat a dead horse, but it does look like a grilled cheese.
- Price: 2/3 pts
At $8.49 plus an additional $.79 for cheese, this French dip comes in at $9.28, a bit pricey, especially considering I was given only a handful of fries and a sad excuse for a French dip. Nonetheless, this seems to be about the average price for a French dip, so only one point will be deducted.
- Restaurant: 2/2 pts
This was actually one of the nicest Perkins I have ever been in. It was clean and had a good atmosphere, my view during my meal being a small wooded patch of land to relax me during my daunting endeavor. Although it was extremely busy, our group was seated rather promptly and service was quick and pleasant. Kudos to the waiter and waitress who served us; My horrible French dip was not their fault.
- Extras 2/3 pts
It was much appreciated that there was a wide array of sides to choose from. I could have fries, fruit, salad, or soup, although ever being a purist I chose to go with the standard fries. However I was greatly disappointed at the number of fries I was given. As I eloquently put it in my notes, "Fries were niggardly." Because of this I am taking a point off. If I went back and received more fries, I would be willing to reconsider, but as it stands, two of three is the best they are going to do here.
Final Tally: 27/50pts
A sub-par French dip, without a doubt. While there was one major flaw, the bread, several other minor flaws, such as bland meat and the bland cheese, really brought down the score of this French dip. This is really unfortunate, as this French dip could have been something good. I know I have had French dips at the Rochester, Minnesota Perkin's locations and have had the correct bread, which makes it all the more confusing why they would sabotage their own sandwiches with grilled bread. I hope to someday go to another Perkins and review a (hopefully) better sandwich, but until that time, I advise all French dip lovers to steer clear of this establishment. There are much better French dips out there! Don't let this one make you become jaded! If you are somehow forced to go to Perkins, at the very least make sure that they know you won't stand for grilled French dip. The very fact that you read this blog shows that you are a connoisseur, and connoisseurs will not stand for anything less than perfection.
In each of these reviews, I hope to enlighten my readers about the entire process and the thoughts that go through my head while consuming these French dips. Therefore I have included at the end of this entry notes taken during the judging process, exactly as I took them, and will continue to do so in future reviews. I was rather unprepared for my review this time around, so notes were taken on my iPhone and had to be abbreviated, but in the future I will bring a pen and a flip pad to better capture my thoughts. (Note: Sorry about the wandering tense)
Notes taken during consumption:
Smells like a French dip. Plenty of ai [sic] jus. Bread is wrong, bread like a grilled chese.[sic] Pix was hoagie. Fries were niggardly. Meat was well cooked, lean, maybe a little bland and dry. Chese [sic] cost extra. Was a little greasy cheese. But cheese is always. Meat was right amount of packed. Jus was really brown, healthy looking. At the end the french dip was too crunchy, tasted more like a grilled cheese, less like a French dip.
Thanks for reading, I hope you look forward to my next installment. And always remember: "A sense of humor is the ability to understand a joke - and that the joke is a Perkin's French dip." -Clifton Paul Fadiman