Last week, some lucky tablemates and I basically had Sage all to ourselves for a few terrific lunches. See, the top-tier North Campus place was attempting to roll out its brand-new midday service slowly.
Yeah, sorry Sage, that's not likely to happen now that G.A. Loudmouth is on your case. And as word breaks out that Sage is making great soups, salads and lusty handcrafted sandwiches for only a couple more bucks than fast food, I doubt I'll be enjoying many more all-alone nooners in there again anytime soon.
Working from a restrained menu that emphasizes tricked-out familiar sandwiches, Sage's lunchtime fare is rife with bold, compound bites that wrangle the sweet and spicy, the salty and hearty, the leafy and meaty. And that includes soups and salads, because Sage certainly excels in these culinary phases, too.
Take, for instance, a recent Daily Soup ($6) flaunting deeply developed flavors. At its heart were tons of long-cooked, transparent onions with the texture of soft noodles. The soup's body, which was creamy - but not excessively thick or gloppy - benefited handsomely from blue cheese pungency and a backbone of bacon.
Instead of forgettable ephemera, the salads I tried at Sage actually provided me with something memorable to sink my teeth into. For example, "steaky" is not a word generally associated with a pile of greens, but it aptly describes the Grilled Caesar ($7). About half an intact head of smoky and grill-marked romaine was trimmed to its hearts and embellished with hard-cooked egg, anchovies and a brashly rich dressing.
The excellent Spring House Salad ($7) elegantly balanced delicate, chopped thin asparagus spears, shallots and a creamy, semi-sweet, rosemary-tinged dressing with upscale pork and beans. I especially liked how its generous cubes of salty seared pancetta placed al dente white beans and the salad's other elements into crisp relief.
Racy Southwestern accents perked up Sage's massive and marvelous Bistro Burger ($11). A large toasted soft roll embraced a handmade juicy patty flattered by cumin-kissed smashed avocado, melted Swiss and a sweet and spicy, chutney-like house-made chipotle ketchup. This grill-crusted black Angus big boy might've been a royal mess to handle but it was a princely feast to eat.
The BLT+ ($9) similarly dressed up another old favorite. Its buttery and thick, Texas-toasty "grilled brioche" bread held up under the weight of much super crispy bacon, good L and T plus a rich onslaught of black-pepper mayo, avocado and a fried egg. Exactly.
Southeast Asia met South Carolina on a baguette-y roll in Sage's Bistro Banh Mi ($9). This hearty hybrid combined huge hunks of tangy-sauced pulled pork with a slaw of pickled carrots, daikon, jalapeno and cilantro. As with all sandwiches, it comes with top-notch house-made potato chips dusted in a barbecue-flirting paprika-based spice mix.
Speaking of sides, Sage's other extras - like the addictive hand-cut fries ($3), the bright, sweet and tart red cabbage slaw ($2), and a not-so-simple Simple Salad ($3) - were standouts in taste, size and price.
If sandwiches aren't your thing, there's also a Smoked Salmon pasta ($11) and a full-flavored, salt-edged meatball with a kicky "smoked tomato" gravy, killer tater-tot-riffing risotto cake and niftily contrasting arugula salad ($11).
These entrees might even call for a nice libation from Sage's fine drinks menu. I know my toast to Sage's welcome and new - if no longer secret - lunch menu certainly did.