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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Biscuits! Pie! Pork! 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe's triple threat

Credit:Andrew Pham

It is such a relief that 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe isn't riffing off the other cultural reference encoded in its name. There are no mega-munchies breakfast bowls or mid-afternoon mood-lifter sandwiches here. 4 & 20 plays it straight with the 18th-century nursery rhyme.

Of course, there are no live birds ensconced in any of the pies here. Pies at 4 & 20 - as well as pastries and lemonades, breakfasts and sandwiches - feature a whole lot of fruit. Fruit is a big deal in this kitchen. On one visit, chef Evan Dannells described hunting down what seemed like the last flat of good strawberries in town. Four of the six current lunch menu items incorporate fruits. The jam made with rhubarb and Bell's Oberon Ale is something to behold.

But 4 & 20 isn't all delicate fruit-topped trifles and smoothies. In fact, this is possibly the only bakery in town to really nail the science of the biscuit. Here, they're large, tender and buttery. Order one if you don't believe the hype; a single biscuit with a small ramekin of house-made jam is a steal at $2.

Two breakfast sandwiches (one vegetarian and one geared toward the addition of meat) are served on these biscuits. The former comes with Havarti, red pepper, spinach and an egg, while the other is egg and cheese by default. Both are fairly inexpensive and make a tidy breakfast meal.

With the biscuit perfected, black-peppery sausage gravy must soon follow. With that gravy and the optional (read: just do it) over-easy egg, two split biscuits will top you off for the rest of the morning. There's your delicious, delicious calories.

Naturally, though, there are plenty of goodies in the bakery case if you need a little something extra. Not that a giant-sized replica of an Oreo cookie is little, exactly. But it is pretty darn good. Even better is the equally trademark-skirting pocket pie that resembles a Pop-Tart. Strawberry-peach was a particularly nice combination, possibly surpassing the bakery's traditional (and excellent) peach pie.

Breakfast at 4 & 20 is good, often exemplary. And it's served all day if you want it. So is the cold-processed iced coffee, which is rich and strong. But the menu that kicks in at 11 a.m. justifies a leisurely lunch break. One word of caution: This is the section of the menu that appears to change the most from season to season, so checking the cafe's website isn't always reliable.

But as long as it's summer, I'd be willing to gamble on the availability of the chilled cucumber soup. A vibrant and refreshing purée, it's topped with spicy peanuts on a float of lime crème frache. Hot days are rendered infinitely more tolerable with a cup - or bowl, who am I kidding?

The lunch sandwiches are something, though. A compelling grilled cheese with provolone and green garlic cream cheese already slipped away, but an herbed goat cheese sandwich with pear, toasted walnuts, arugula and fig marmalade is still on the menu and ideal for a light lunch. The goat cheese keeps it from being too sweet, and the walnuts add a little texture to keep all the insides from slipping out with each bite.

4 & 20 does a lot of in-house meat work. The bacon is house-cured, and two more implementations of high-maintenance pork demonstrate a dedication to quality protein.

A Cuban sandwich isn't hard to find, but 4 & 20 advertises a 17-hour braise on its pork belly. Add some crispy-edged ham and Hook's swiss cheese, and now you're talking. Instead of mustard, 4 & 20 applies a mojo aioli. Cuban in origin, this version of mojo is lemony and bright; it's a unique break from the conventional Cuban sandwich recipe.

And on my last visit to 4 & 20, there was something new that caught my eye, something that seemed impossibly fiddly and time-consuming for a small cafe: a porchetta sandwich, topped with raspberry barbecue sauce, aioli and a fresh vegetable slaw. If you're unfamiliar with this Italian pork roast, I'll simply say that the Bon Appetit recipe estimates it takes just shy of three days to craft a single porchetta. Five respectable slices fill a brioche bun, and the price doesn't even crack nine dollars. It is spectacular, and I'm not sure how they do it.

That nursery rhyme, "Sing a Song of Sixpence," describes a diner surprised by his meal. No one expects live birds to fly out of a pie. Maybe you wouldn't expect the kind of effort that the 4 & 20 kitchen puts into cafe fare, but there it is all the same, soaring.

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