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SENSATIONALLY HOMEMADE: 23rd Street deli Scratch hits breakfast and lunch out of the (ILM) park

Three words: homemade English muffin. Well, homemade everything, to be specific.

Scratch on 23rd popped up down the road from our local airport. The quaint café quietly opened under the radar (whizzing by even us local foodies who are on top of the Port City dining scene). Several weeks ago, a friend mentioned enjoying a fabulous breakfast sandwich at some place called “Scratch.” I wasn’t the only one with egg on my face; even my editor was puzzled at the sound of a new restaurant suddenly residing just down the street from her home.

VEGGIE BOWL: Red quinoa and brown rice, topped with sunny-side-up egg, spinach, tomato, and kale-pesto. Photo by Tom Dorgan

VEGGIE BOWL: Red quinoa and brown rice, topped with sunny-side-up egg, spinach, tomato, and kale-pesto. Photo by Tom Dorgan

Having opened in early spring, I jumped at the chance to critique my way through their almost entirely made-from-scratch menu. I pulled into an empty parking lot at 11:50 a.m. on a Wednesday. For a few moments, I questioned the lightly glowing “open” sign. The menu was showcased on modern digital screens, the cashier was friendly, and the modest dining room was spacious and clean. I started with a small order for myself (before heading home with the other half of the menu). I was sighing at the sight of vacancy when, suddenly, the bing-bong of the door startled me, and customer after customer (after customer) shuffled their way in, until the line was nearly out the door. The cashier informed me it was a standard crowd for noon. Once I dug into my grub, I could see why.

MEAT PILE: Tisket a brisket sammie to die for. Photo by Tom Dorgan

MEAT PILE: Tisket a brisket sammie to die for. Photo by Tom Dorgan

My breakfast sandwich took a bit longer than expected (about 10 minutes), but when making English muffins and sausage patties from scratch, by all means, chefs, take your time. The sausage patty could have been a bit bigger from a surface standpoint, but I wouldn’t change a thing about the spicy, herby flavor of the meat. Between sharp white cheddar and a perfectly cooked fried egg, I was in my happy place. The outside of the muffin was crusty, buttery and speckled with cornmeal. There wasn’t much nook-and-cranny action, as it was sliced instead of forked open, but the bread itself had a sour tang and a great chew. Note to Southerners: Scratch also serves up a shredded Carolina hoop cheese biscuit that, even without trying, I’ll vouch for.

As for the homemade cold brew: I’m picky about coffee, and I polished off every sip of the 20 ounces I was given. Scratch even extends their high-quality standards to the drink lineup: specialty lattes, mochas, smoothies, and iced concoctions galore. Pastry-wise, my options consisted of several muffins and cookies. I assume, however, closer to opening time, this self-serve baked-goods hot box is jam packed. I snagged a blueberry muffin the size of my head. Nothing to write home about, but it may have been a few hours old.

Anyone looking for a lighter method of piling carbs and protein will find the veggie bowl is as good as it gets. The puffy mixture of brown rice and red quinoa came topped with a sunny-side-up egg, spinach, tomatoes, and a kale pesto drizzle. At just $7, the amount of whole grains and veggies was impressive.

A+ for affordability.

I read their pickled pepper pork sandwich was a house specialty. Pork lovers will be in ham heaven. It starts with slow-roasted thick, juicy pork, sharp provolone, pickled sweet and hot peppers, and velvety garlic pesto. The entire thing is cradled into a fluffy (and fresh baked, of course) French baguette. The pop of pickled peppers cut the hearty, tender slices of pork, and the pesto wasn’t overwhelming but was just kissed by the garlic. The not-so-golden-brown baguette could have benefitted from a touch longer ride in the oven for more of an exterior crisp. All in all, though, every bite was balanced and tasty.

Enter: the brisket melt; it was my favorite item of the day. The generously gooey sandwich was worth every calorie of slow-roasted brisket, BBQ sauce, smoked Gouda, and house pickles on homemade griddled sourdough. Every ingredient was not only superior, but proved its purpose with each mouthful. The moist brisket was savory and fatty, in all of the best ways, while the dill-scented pickles gave a vibrant, vinegary contrast to the meat. Such a solid sandwich provides the definition of “comfort food.” I’m already excited about finding the remainder of it in my fridge after a night on the town.

Speaking of comfort food, grilled cheese and tomato soup, anyone? I was eyeing the Scratch grilled cheese (stacked with all of my favorite players: sharp white cheddar, Muenster and Havarti), but I just hit my nom factor with the decadent brisket melt. Instead, I opted for the soup. I’m usually not overly impressed with something like standard soup, but the house tomato basil was extraordinary. It had a pinkish hue (likely from a dash of cream) and was brimming with chunky fresh tomato pieces and fragrant, earthy basil. It wasn’t as heavy as a bisque or as light as a standard canned red soup. It was the Goldilocks of homemade tomato soup.

The pasta salad also came highly recommended and it was lusciously loaded with a bright vinaigrette, feta and chopped veggies.

To test out the flexibility of the kitchen, I asked if it was possible to get a scoop of the chicken salad and one of the tuna (which were only on the menu as entrée salads). The cashier complied without hesitation. The chicken salad was yummy and bursting with homemade pickles. The tuna was chunky, fresh and flavorful.

Scratch may have snuck up on us gently, but their sensational, thoughtfully-crafted fare is anything but bashful. They scratched my back—err, appetite—so now I’m scratching yours. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Scratch on 23rd
1724 Gardner Dr., Suite 160
Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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