Don't try to go cheap with this week's Cook's Corner.
|Ben Cohen is the co-owner of the Happy Badger cafe. (Photos: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
"One of the guiding philosophies here at the restaurant is to use best ingredients, prepare them simply and with love," says Ben Cohen, chef and co-owner of the Happy Badger Cafe at 331 N. Main in Bowling Green.
"So when I am writing this recipe, the emphasis falls as heavily if not more so on the ingredients chosen to prepare the dish compared to the recipe," he added, describing the process of capturing on paper the cafe's until-now-secret steps for producing its popular grilled honey cornbread with herb sausage, white cheddar and eggs.
The dish is among the most popular offerings at the restaurant's Sunday brunch, served weekly from 10 to 3.
"We change the menu every week, so it's always fresh and fun for us. But one of the dishes that we keep bringing back is our Grilled Honey Cornbread with Fresh Herb Sausage, Sharp White Cheddar, Over Medium Eggs and 100 percent Michigan Maple Syrup," he said, listing the dish by its full title.
Their customers demand it.
Cohen, 28, grew up in Toledo but when he and his sister Sarah took over management of the Badger from their parents two years ago, he brought a New York state of mind into the venture.
Cohen was fresh from spending several eye-opening years living in the Big Apple.
"I really engaged in the food culture there, the amazing groceries" and small ethnic restaurants. "I experimented and learned about all the culinary cultures that are going on around the world."
He brought back with him a new appreciation for quality, flavor and freshness, as evidenced by his cooking hints for this recipe.
The preparation of the sausage-cornbread-egg dish is "extremely simple," said Cohen, who estimated 15 to 20 minutes' preparation time.
First, he uses Belleville Brothers sausage from right here in Bowling Green. "They raise and slaughter their own pigs and have been doing it for over 100 years."
Don't stint on the syrup; it must be real maple.
As for the cornbread, you have a choice.
"We don't have an oven here at the Badger so we use Zingerman's Northern Cornbread. It is sweet, moist and amazing. It's almost like a cake, really spongy. You could actually use it as a dessert.
|Jason Vahle, a chef at the Happy Badger, holds a plate of grilled honey cornbread and sausage.
"Whatever cornbread you use, it must be moist. Dry cornbread simply won't do."
As for the herbs, Cohen is relaxed about which to choose, but "definitely not shy with the amount.
"If you're going to use drier herbs, put it in a food processor or a coffee grinder first; rosemary and sage, especially, since they have sticks."
He does have strong feelings about the choice of cheddar.
"I think it's important that it's white, and we use an intense sharp white cheddar," an organic cheese from Rosewood in Ann Arbor, also available for sale at the Badger.
If one doesn't want to try such a sharp cheddar, that's fine, but "it just wouldn't work with that really oily Kraft-type cheddar, is the main thing."
And finally, the eggs: "We use local eggs sourced from a few farmer friends with whom we trade eggs for compost." Local free-range eggs are also for sale in the grocery attached to the restaurant.
Cohen and his confederates at Badger, including chef Jason Vahle, dreamed up the recipe themselves.
"I travel a lot; we all do. When it comes to brunch, I feel a lot of the really wonderful inspiration comes from the South, a lot of that with the sweet and savory mix. It's definitely like a new revivalist Southern Cuisine. We're going to be seeing a lot more of that soon. It's catching on."
Cohen was just down in North Carolina a week ago, and confirmed his impression of the coming Southern emphasis.
The Happy Badger's reputation is spreading, as more people note its transition from clothing to cuisine. "Our parents opened a natural clothing store called Badger in Toledo in 2000, with a really small tea shop connected with it," said Cohen, offering the back story. "There's been a Happy Badger in BG since 2008 but it was really a fair-trade clothing store. Two years ago we changed it to fair-trade food," in homage to their parents. "We went from clothing-restaurant to solely restaurant-local grocery store."
"It's over a year now we've been doing the Sunday brunches," he added. "It's one of the first things I implemented once I moved back here."
People call the restaurant "and assume it's a buffet. It's not. This is a menu. We make everything per order."
Badger has two dining rooms which seat about 60 people total, not counting outside seating.
They've also been serving Friday evening special-menu dinners for about two years, which are centered around food that's in season - for example, an all-tomato dinner or last Friday's five-course, all-vegetarian dinner. "They usually sell out pretty quick."
Grilled Honey Cornbread with Fresh Herb Sausage, Sharp White Cheddar and Over-Medium Eggs
1 lb. bulk ground Pork Sausage (unseasoned)
Handful of mixed Fresh Herbs (Basil, Sage, Rosemary, Parsley) - whatever ison hand, minced
2 tsp. Salt
1/4 cup 100% Michigan Maple Syrup
Cornbread - Zingerman’s Northern or any moist cornbread
Organic Sharp White Cheddar
Cut the cornbread into slices about an inch thick and grill with a little bit of butter.
Make the sausage into patties and grill.
Flip the cornbread and cover with a handful of shredded sharp Cheddar.
Grill eggs in good butter. Serve with sausage on top of the cheese and cornbread, and the eggs on top of that. Top with a little bit of real maple syrup.
Serve with a side salad of:
Apples with a dressing of Honey and Balsamic