The interior, punctuated with hunks of tender pork shoulder, is otherwise quite soft; the crunch of cornmeal provides essential textural contrast, as well as structural stability.
One of those arguments I try to avoid -- an effort at which I often fail -- is the classic "I can't find good X in Madison" routine. A New Yorker whose lust for proper bagels or pizza goes unsated. The Los Angeles expat who misses real Korean galbi. And I know Wisconsinites who have gone forth to bemoan the absence of squeaky cheese curds or, strangely, Bush's baked beans (canned in Wisconsin and Tennessee).
So, either we don't have that many Pennsylvanians among us, or their heartstrings are less than tugged at the lack of good scrapple in the Badger State -- because that's one complaint I have yet to hear.
Scrapple is one of those regional specialties, like beef on weck in Buffalo or lutefisk in the upper Midwest, that mystifies outsiders and inspires fierce loyalty in most locals. It owes its origin to the Germans who settled in the area, and brought along a willingness to leave no chunk of pork behind. Those Germans, many of them Amish or Mennonite, became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, an element that adds to scrapple's foreign vibe.
Get right down to it, though, and scrapple is just meatloaf. Sure, it might be a little softer -- it is known alternately as pork mush -- but the equation is pretty close. Bits of pork, herbs and spices, maybe some vegetables, and a filler agent. Scrapple takes it a bit farther, getting sliced and then seared, though I wouldn't protest if someone served me meatloaf in this fashion.
Steven Buchholz, owner of Crema Cafe, got the yen to whip up some scrapple after conversations with friends who had ties to Scrapple Country. But a willingness to try something strange isn't the same as selling a strange food to a customer base whose only knowledge of scrapple comes from Wikipedia, or that one episode of Ace of Cakes. Enter Black Earth Meats, whose bona fides in the Madison restaurant scene offer a level of reassurance; their pork anchors the scrapple.
The Crema recipe takes scrapple in a few different culinary directions, a pedigree befitting a dish of mixed parts. Bell peppers, onions, pork shoulder and coarse-ground chile-infused cornmeal call to mind pozole, the Mexican stew that shares those ingredients. The polenta incorporated into the mixture, and scrapple's "refrigerator pie" nature, is reminiscent of Italy's arancini. And there's something comforting, like Grandma's fried leftover oatmeal, about the whole presentation.
That Crema's scrapple has a firm, well-browned crust is essential. The interior, punctuated with hunks of tender pork shoulder, is otherwise quite soft; the crunch of cornmeal provides essential textural contrast, as well as structural stability. Rich and creamy on the palate, scrapple still benefits from the soft yolk of two perfectly cooked eggs alongside.
It's a fine little slice of Americana, this scrapple a la Crema. Patience will be required if you missed it the first time, however; scrapple only ran once as a weekend special. Buchholz tells me the special was quite popular, though, and Crema sold nearly all of the prepared servings. He hopes to serve it again once the weather cools down.
By fall or winter, Black Earth's pork will be at its seasonal best, and a hot plate of food along the Monona lakefront will hearten and soothe like it should. Scrapple or not, that's something you can always get in Madison.