Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Episode XLII: Woolman Café (ATL)

The café at work has come a long way since Episode XIV. A few months ago the whole place was remodeled and the menus updated. “Fresh Sushi” seemed to be the tagline.  My go-to is the off-menu Buffalo Chicken Wrap, extra tomatoes, provolone instead of blue, spinach wrap please. If I want to change it up, and feel well hydrated, I get the generous BLT. Once I made sure I could still get these, I was ok with the new layout and look.

One of the revamped stations features daily Panini. Word got to me pretty quickly that there was a Reuben on the menu but it wasn’t there every day. You have to check the menu at the beginning of the week. It seemed to be competing with the Cuban for the Panini shelf space.
I was in the café one Friday and the deli line was long so I walked over to the Panini station to see if the Reuben was there. I was in luck. Three Reubens, pre-pressed, were stacked high and looking right at me. The guy behind the counter popped one in the oven and the timer showed 00:45. 45 seconds?!?  The scorching Reuben came out and it was time to get down to business.

Reuben Panini

Appearance – (3.7/5.0)
This presentation is a causality of its little fry carton.  The top bread has started to fall off, exposing empty bread and a line of 1000 island. The way it is falling also draws your eyes to the Asian side salad that comes with the sandwich.  I have a feeling they don’t consider the featured sandwich when they come up with the side. I don’t see an Asian salad going well with a Cuban either.
Those Panini grill marks really steal the show. From what I can tell, only one side of the Panini press has those grooves.  Look at the bottom piece of bread. Totally smooth.  If you have to plate this in a fry carton, I would make sure both Panini groove sides are facing up.

The side view is not much better. This really exposes some issues with the Panini approach. The visual of sauerkraut/meat ratio is way off.  Universally thin cuts of meat suggest pre-package, pre-sliced.  It is also difficult to spot any cheese from this shot. I would think melted cheese would be a big plus from a Panini.

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.2/5.0)
The quality of the individual pieces was not bad. If I ever feel like a break from my buffalo wrap, I head to the salad bar. It is expensive, but what makes a good salad bar is solid individual selections.  This place definitely has that.
The problem wasn’t the ingredients that they used, it was what they did to them. Not many food combinations would do well when you press them in a Panini, let it cool, and then throw it in the oven. A piece- by-piece breakdown on this is coming up in taste.

Price – (3.8/5.0)
Long gone are my days at Bain Capital with free Odwalla drinks and heavily subsidized scratch-made meals. The café at work is run by a publically traded company. They know I had a choice of either bringing my lunch, going out to get lunch, or coming to their café. If I didn’t care enough to bring my lunch then I probably am not the most price conscious. If I didn’t go out to lunch then I probably don’t have lots of time. Crunched for time and money to spend means you drop close to $10 once you are all in with chips and a drink.  This is not exactly Dollar Taco.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.6/5.0)
The romantic in me really was excited about trying the Panini. I was skeptical, but hopeful that a good Reuben could come out of that. I was wrong. The JNSQ potential quickly evaporated.  This sandwich definitely got me thinking about what should and should not go into an oven and/or a Panini press.

Taste – (7.9/10.0)
The side Asian salad was just not very good. We can leave that one there and focus on the sandwich.
Given the ingredients, I think they could have produced a satisfactory Reuben. The temperature changes just doomed the whole operation. I have talked before about how a Reuben is not something that does will in a doggy bag. You have one shot to enjoy it!

Corned Beef – This is probably the least affected by the temperate swings.  These slices are too thin to lose too much juice anyway.
Swiss Cheese – Also, largely unaffected.
Sauerkraut – This is the issue folks. I wish I would have taken more chemistry in school but I didn’t. I do know that the pH levels in this stuff has something to do with why it doesn’t age well and should not be subjected to temperature swings.
1000 island – This just seems like a bad idea given that it is a mayonnaise based sauce.
Rye bread – The bread loses some of the crunch from the Panini when it is in the oven. This gives you the weird sensation of bread that is warm, somewhat firm but not toasted.

Overall – (23.2/30.0)

This is not the café’s best dish. I will stick to my buffalo wrap or salad bar. I may even try the sushi but I doubt it could be better than H-E-B sushi!