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Sunday, December 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 18.0° F  A Few Clouds
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PC Kitchen excels at bacon and steak fries
Meat and potatoes

A few of us debriefed in the car after a brunch at PC Kitchen. "So, what do you think you're going to write?" one friend asked. I reflected on my last few meals there. They were okay.

The eggs weren't ever quite over-medium when I ordered them that way. And the coffee was weak enough that, for this trip, I'd texted my friends to caution that they might want to have a cup at home first.

But it was okay. PC Kitchen reminded me of an alternative for Perkins, with a similar vibe and crowd, but of a smaller, local-chain variety. It serves breakfast and lunch until mid-afternoon.

"Well," I said, "the staff was enthusiastic and earnest."

My friend slapped her leg. "Enthusiastic and earnest," she chimed back. Well, they were.

"And the ham was really big," I added.

"The ham was really big," she nodded.

Our server that morning couldn't remember who got what, but he got an E - two E's - for effort. When a ham steak was forgotten, he rushed back apologetically with it. "A minute twenty-seven seconds," he smiled. "How's that for fast?" And he made me smile too. Success.

The side of smoked ham, a round about the diameter of my face, outshone my biscuits and gravy. The biscuits were dense (keep those butter chunks cold and intact!), and the sausage in the gravy was a few garnish-y slices of link sausage - an unusual choice for this classic.

I think what PC Kitchen does best is not pancakes or waffles, but meat, of which there is a lot on the menu.

PC Kitchen is pegged as "Pancake Café's little brother." Both are under the same ownership. Pancake Café is a Madison veteran, and those who have favorites on its menu will see a few familiar plates at PC Kitchen. There's no pizza, but more burgers and sandwiches, and several lunch entrees such as mac 'n' cheese. Add to this a few new breakfast items, like bacon pancakes and Belgian waffles.

PC Kitchen is in the location of the former Old Town Pub. Inside, what was once the bar is now a service area and belly-up seating. It's brighter, and there are tubs of cotton candy stacked on the back wall. The menu vouches that the food is made from scratch, and Jones Dairy Farm supplies the breakfast meats. I'm suspicious of what "homemade maple syrup" means (if you have to do anything to pure maple syrup, you're cutting it with something), but I will say that there's something to the PC Kitchen's bacon: "Our bacon is like no other. Custom cut just for us." It's thick and tasty and some of the best bacon I've had while eating out.

Of all the things I tried, the bacon cheddar burger was the most memorable. The burger was blanketed with ample cheese, but it was the thick-cut bacon that did the trick. Order bacon on something. There are lots of options - the BLT or, yes, even in your pancakes.

The three-egg oven-baked omelets are substantial, and would be one of the better options for vegetarians who don't want a carb-heavy breakfast.

I'm hard to impress with eggs Benedict. It's my favorite brunch food. The eggs were a bit overdone, and the Canadian bacon was mediocre, but the dish is on par with a lot of the Benedicts in town. I do wish I had thought of substituting the smoked ham.

The hash browns can be winning. My preference is for a crisped, brown surface on one side, which is what these are on most occasions. It doesn't specify on the menu, but the fries are in fact steak fries, another one of those things I have a thing for.

PC Kitchen's pancakes are on the thinner side. Blond. Take advantage of the multitudes of mix-ins available: blueberries, chocolate chips, bacon...did I mention bacon? Because the plain pancakes don't have much discernible buttermilk flavor.

The breading on the chicken fried steak was great, golden and crispy, but the steak was on the tough side. The gravy was somewhat runny and split. The gravies could use some tweaking here.

Another needed upgrade: the coffee. The "Hawaiian Kona Coffee" could've passed for something I would get in a Styrofoam cup from a convenience store. If quantity is what you're after, take solace in knowing that you'll receive a whole pot on your table for self-refills, but one pot of weak coffee just doesn't equal one cup of strong, decent coffee.

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