A biscuit-by-biscuit guide to Richmond in installments of five at a time so Stephanie Ganz doesn’t actually die of biscuit poisoning.
I once heard Southern foodstuff author Ronni Lundy say, “There’s no such thing as a bad biscuit.” And the idea has stuck with me ever since. It is difficult to truly botch the process, biscuits being one of the easier quickbread recipes in many regards–no yeast, no laminating, no starters; you can even make biscuits with your own two hands and a fork, no mixer required.
I think what she meant was that even a cold, day-old biscuit that’s been left out on the counter overnight can taste pretty good when slathered with sorghum butter or cradling a slick piece of fried chicken, or hell, both.
But while it’s hard to make a bad biscuit (though certainly not impossible if you overwork them or add too much baking soda, both of which I’ve done), it’s particularly admirable to make a great biscuit, a biscuit that combines all the requisite textures–a crunchy exterior and a crumbly yet fluffy interior, that perfect golden-brown-and-delicious bottom1–and the simple, good flavors of flour, buttermilk, and fat. Biscuit-making requires a delicate but effective touch; it’s not a science, it’s an art.
And we have our share of biscuit artists, old and new, baking up towering brunch arrangements, parenthesized by squiggles of hot sauce and downy, buoyant biscuits that beckon for butter and a tiny sprinkle of the good salt. It’s getting hard to keep them all straight, and I firmly believe, like Ronni Lundy, that there’s a biscuit for every situation. You just have to know how to appreciate it.
POPS ON GRACE — HAM, EGG, AND CHEESE BISCUIT
Pops delivers the most biscuit for your buck, easily, with a giant, Aggro Crag of a biscuit. This is a biscuit for all seasons, one that will hold up to time and toppings. Throw a few in a picnic basket with some ham, mustard, preserves, and soft butter; and then head for the hills with the best biscuit picnic man could devise.
With the addition of black forest ham, a scrambled egg, and cheddar cheese; this biscuit becomes one of the best breakfast sandwich options in a city that is shamefully lacking in them. It’s greasy-in-a-good way, and almost unwieldy yet still somehow manageable while driving, not that you probably should do that, but if you must…
STOCK PROVISIONS — TASSO HAM BISCUIT
It’s no wonder Stock Provisions took home the Good Food Award for their tasso ham. This is a flawless ham, with hints of paprika, a balanced smokiness, and ribbons of fat that melt away when shaved thinly.
On Stock’s biscuit, the ham meets up with a spiced honey, and the two are an instant match. The shaved ham rests between two airy flour clouds, lending the perfect chew to each bite. Stock’s Adam Musselman made the batch of biscuits I enjoyed on my last trip. He told me that he prefers a drier dough for a lighter biscuit, and whatever he’s doing is clearly working. This biscuit gets the closest to the Texture Trifecta of any of the others I tried in this round of biscuitery. Though, to be clear, it’s not a competition, and all biscuits are winners.
SAISON MARKET — SPICY CHICKEN BISCUIT
This biscuit has the most distinct flavor of the five, and, of the biscuits I tried, Saison Market’s was also the softest, lightest, most melt-in-your-mouth-iest of them all. When combined with the fried chicken, the biscuit and the breading merged to create a soft chicken blanket, like a buttery comforter between your fingers. This is the biscuit you stumble to, in yesterday’s clothes, happily gulping it down with an iced coffee, while your greasy paws scroll through pictures of whatever the hell you did the night before.
The key to this biscuit is dipping it in Saison’s own hot sauce, which is mild enough to allow that kind of treatment. It’s got all the hot sauce flavor without an overpowering amount of heat, which means I’ll find just about any excuse to dip something in it, a biscuit being no exception.
SUGAR & TWINE — STRAWBERRY BISCUIT
With a thumbprint-well of jam on the top of the biscuit, this is the only pre-sweetened biscuit in the bunch. Sugar & Twine’s strawberry jam is made in-house with as many local berries as possible (it’s been a tough season for strawberries around here), cooked down very simply–It’s just berries, sugar, water, and time.
There’s a cakiness to the crumb of Sugar & Twine’s biscuit that reminds me more of a muffin than a biscuit, and the sweetness pairs well with one of those darling ceramic mugs full of Trager Brothers coffee.
WPA BAKERY — BISCUIT BISCUIT
Forget bells, forget whistles. This one’s all about the biscuit. WPA’s is a straighforward, straight-cornered biscuit with a gorgeous all-butter glow, that slices admirably and stands up to toppings both sweet and savory. These biscuits are available daily until 11:00 AM (or while supplies last), and they’ll turn it into an egg & cheese biscuit, should you require something more substantial.
From an efficiency standpoint, I really love the fact that these biscuits are square. Square biscuits eliminate dough waste, and they create something unique–biscuit corners, which mimic the crunch of the bottom of the biscuit, only there are four of them to enjoy, creating a crunchy cube on the outside with a perfectly light, delicate inner-biscuit.
- Henceforth the “Texture Trifecta.” ↩