I have been called a sandwich snob. That accusation is false. However, I do believe in something called sandwich theory. This is my quest to find the greatest sandwiches in Madison. Send me your sandwich recommendations by email or on Twitter or Instagram.
Ahhhh Players Sports Bar, home of the best burger in Madison (so says my brother, at least). Located in the Atwood neighborhood, Players is what I would describe as your classic, simple sports bar. There’s a flat-top grill that’s had decades’ worth of burgers and sandwiches pass across its top. Since this is a sandwich quest, I went with the Players patty melt: a burger patty with swiss cheese and sauteed onions on grilled rye.
The rye flavor didn’t necessarily stand out, but was grilled to golden perfection without being overly greasy. The bread integrity was also exceptional. The makings for a patty melt can get, well, melty, but there wasn’t any sogginess or breakdown under the stress of the makings.
I’m a dipper when it comes to patty melts; you take that first corner, dip it in a little ketchup and go from there. What really makes a great patty melt for me is properly sauteed onions. The onions were sauteed to perfect al dente level, combining that acrid, aromatic onion flavor with the fattiness and richness of the cheese and beef. My patty, though, was a little uneven in its cookedness. I ordered it medium — you need a little red in there — but one half was a little closer to medium rare, and the other half closer to nearly well done.
The stacking of the patty, with the cheese and onions atop, was perfect. It was the right amount of messy — after a dip into some ketchup, of course — without being too messy. There was also a good balance of cheese, onion and patty for each bite, without any slippage off the top.
Like all of Players’ menu, you get a generously sized sandwich for $7.50, and it comes with chips and a pickle. (You can upgrade to tater tots for extra). Given that we’re talking classic bar and grill food, you get a little more heft and richness right off the bat — but it’s not a patty melt that makes you feel like you need a post-lunch nap, which is crucial.
This was not the first time I’ve had the Players patty melt — nor will it be the last — but patty melts are another one of my all-time favorite sandwiches. One could debate where exactly a patty melt (or any melt, for that matter) falls in the sandwich phylum. I consider it to firmly be a sandwich, almost a different take on or a second cousin to the open-faced sandwich. Much like a reuben, a patty melt isn’t hard to make but it’s easy to do a subpar offering. Players’ patty melt, at great value, is my go-to patty melt in Madison.