You know what the most-searched food term was in 2014? Pancakes. Not “duck confit” or “poutine” or “gourmet doughnuts” or any other trendy trend. Pancakes. Given that, we thought it appropriate to take another spin around North America and pick some of our favorite destinations for 2014’s most popular food term. Because as every Midwesterner knows, food trends come and go, but pancakes stay with you a good, long time. Here goes …
Karl Ratzsch’s, Milwaukee: We stand by our pick from 2014. It really takes a good German restaurant to achieve the appropriate mix of lightness and sweetness in an apple pancake, and there are no better German apple pancakes in a city built by Teutons than the ones found at Ratzsch’s. The only downside: You have to wait until lunch to sample what we originally called “the puffy vision of egg-powered, apple-anchored lightness” that “comes with a full serving of knackwurst!” Hyperbolic? We think not.
The Griddle Café, West Hollywood, Calif. (and Las Vegas): If there could be such a thing as a blinged-out pancake house, this would be it. How else can you describe pancakes that include the “Mounds of Pleasure,” filled with coconut and chocolate, or “Eyes Wide Open,” shot through with espresso and chocolate chips, or the fact that you can buy an authentic Griddle Café thong at the checkout? The key to enjoying this place is to enjoy the place, trappings and all, because you are definitely going to enjoy the pancakes, especially the simpler creations. Because in case the Griddle Café hasn’t heard, in Pancakeland, minimalism is in.
Coffee Cup Café, Sully, Iowa: You know you’re in farm country when the menu, in addition to pancakes, has entrees named “The Harvester,” “The Combine,” and “The Farmer’s Wife” (one egg, any style, one pancake, your choice of sausage or bacon, and a rolling pin – only kidding about the rolling pin). But this is the sort of hometown mainstreet diner people burn their tongues on scalding hot coffee for, and endure rubbery eggs and desiccated cinnamon rolls hoping to find. Cautionary note: Do not order the five-pancake stack unless you are planning on not eating anything else for a very long time.
The Original Pancake House, Portland, Ore.: It may not deserve all the rapturous hype it receives, for there are other places that do the things the OPH does just a little bit better. But there’s no denying its status as a James Beard National Historic Culinary Landmark, and if you’re in the vicinity you cannot miss with the powdered-sugar dusted, cratered popover known as a Dutch Baby.
Walker Brothers, Wilmette, Ill.: Think of this suburban-Chicago institution as a Midwestern version of the OPH, with all that implies: more butter, more bacon, more harsh consonants, and coffee strong enough to strip the paint off a battleship. While the call of the traditional buttermilk is strong, the better choices are the surprisingly authentic Swedish pancakes and the crisp, completely irresistible potato pancakes.
Le Billig, Quebec City, Que.: We’ll write more about Quebec City later this month as the calendar rolls closer to Carneval, but what it lacks in cosmopolitanism compared to Montreal it more than makes up for in provincial/continental charm. That unique mix of Europe and New World northwoods is never more evident than in a good crepes restaurant like Le Billig. The crepes run a very wide gamut from sweet to savory, and are priced along a similarly wide range. But whether you want duck and buckwheat or berries and cream, Le Billig has you covered. It’s a tad pricey, but the U.S. dollar goes further than it used to, and it’s way cheaper than Paris.
Al’s Breakfast, Minneapolis: “Minneapolis is a big pancake town,” says our “Middle of Nowhere” writer John Seals, and Al’s is one of his favorite hometown pancakeries. It’s a tight fit, though; “hole in the wall” overstates the dimensions of this 10-foot-wide Dinkytown tradition, where the blueberry pancakes are as unforgettable as they are ample, making getting out a sconch harder than getting in.
Sam’s Sourdough Café, Fairbanks, Alaska: Chances are that you are not simply going to find yourself in Fairbanks this time of year. It is going to take an act of supreme consciousness to get you to Fairbanks in midwinter. But should you find yourself at the edge of civilization in the midst of its most uncivil season, this is absolutely the place to go for the best sourdough pancakes you will eat in any restaurant anywhere. Pair ‘em with a side of reindeer sausage and you’re steeled to face the -40 temps outside. Well, not really. But you’ll think you are.