We know them mostly as pancakes, but sometimes also call them hotcakes or griddlecakes. At my house, they were flapjacks. And my father made the best ones I’ve ever eaten. I think it was probably the old cast-iron skillet he used and the way he burned them slightly that made Dad’s flapjacks so delectable.
Pancakes seem so American. But I’ll bet you can’t think of a country or culture that doesn’t use pancakes in one form or another. There are blinis in Russia, French crÃªpes, Latin American tortillas, Italian cannellonis, and katief in Egypt. Many Asian countries have spring rolls or egg rolls and in the Caribbean there are roti and green corn cakes. Welsh crempop, the cracklin’ bread of the American South, blintzes and matzo pancakes'the list is endless. Flour-based batter grilled over hot fire is one of humanity’s oldest foods, predating bread and pastry. Sure, there are modern variations, but the essential pancake is almost as ancient as mankind.
When I was growing up, my family moved around a lot. But in just about every American town we lived, I remember there being a family-owned pancake house. Eventually, most of these places would be edged out by national chains like International House of Pancakes (IHOP) and Village Inn. Increasingly in modern times, American families turn to places like Denny’s, Bob Evans, Shoney’s, JB’s and Perkins for pancakes.
The Original Pancake House has been around longer than either Village Inn or IHOP. Both the first Village Inn and IHOP opened in 1958, while the original Original Pancake House was launched in Portland, Ore., by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke in 1953. Of course, like Village Inn and IHOP, over the years, The Original Pancake House has become a coast-to-coast franchise operation; there are currently more than 90 Original Pancake Houses in the United States. One of the newest is in Sugar House, which I suppose is not so original. But I’ve developed a zeal for eating lunch there.
On occasion, my mother used to feed our family pancakes for dinner. I thought that was especially keen (in the lingo of the day) and possibly even radical. Now I realize that pancakes for dinner at my house probably had more to do with a lack of food in the fridge than conscious convention-breaking. Maybe it’s not exactly dangerous or risky, but I still like a wild-card dinner of pancakes and bacon once in a while. Anyone with children should try this; kids love it.
But The Original Pancake House isn’t open at dinnertime, so I go there for lunch. And that’s a good way to avoid the crowds who gather, especially on weekends when the place is busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I often enjoy eating pancakes on the small patio, but the inside of The Original Pancake House is pleasant as well. Nut-colored paneled half-walls meet sky-colored upper walls which are that Mediterranean blue hue you normally only find in Greek restaurants. A collection of mismatched dinner plates on display make up the rest of the simple but pleasing dÃ©cor. Thankfully, the kitschy photos and such of the first Original Pancake House and owners are pretty much limited to the waiting area in front.
The basic pancake at The Original Pancake House is a buttermilk pancake with a deep “eggy” flavor that is better than most. They are not cheap, however. The profit vs. food cost on these hotcakes must be remarkable, since a basic order of buttermilk pancakes, served with whipped butter and warm syrup, goes for $5.50. Add a side of scrambled eggs (two for $2.75) and a regular glass of freshly squeezed orange juice ($2.50) and with tax and tip you’ve spent $14-$15 on a basic breakfast for one. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to lunch at TOPH: Fifteen bucks seems like an expensive breakfast, but a reasonably priced lunch. Perhaps I tip a bit more at The Original Pancake House than normal because the service is fast and extraordinarily professional and friendly if you happen to have Orlando as your server, with his infectious smile and great attitude.
There are some 20 varieties of pancakes at TOPH, ranging from aforementioned $5.50 for basic buttermilk pancakes to $7.95 for an order of macadamia nut and white chocolate chip pancakes, which are dusted with powdered sugar and topped with whipped cream. Other popular pancake options are banana, cinnamon-raisin, buckwheat, wheat germ, chocolate chip, blueberry, sourdough and potato. One of the better values on the menu is “Three Little Pigs in Blankets,” which is three small sausage links rolled up in three buttermilk pancakes ($6.50).
The oven-baked German-style pancake'called for some reason the “Dutch Baby” ($7.75)'is wonderful. It’s a large plate-sized, moon crater-shaped pancake with two-inch crispy ridges that help hold in as much butter, powdered sugar and syrup as you can handle. You can also get it stuffed with strawberries and bananas, in which case it’s called a “Dutch Treat.”
I was less enthusiastic, though, with TOPH’s Belgian waffle ($5.50). Maybe that’s because it wasn’t the Belgian waffle I remember from Belgium. TOPH’s waffle was thick, with deep large grids like the ones in Belgium, but I’m pretty sure that at The Original Pancake House they use their regular waffle recipe for Belgian waffles. In Belgium, they are made with a yeast and warm milk starter, and also vanilla, which I didn’t detect at TOPH. Waffles in Belgium also incorporate a lot of “pearl” sugar not easily found here into the waffle (as opposed to on top of), which makes for a sweet treat that is delicious without any topping at all.
Pancakes, flapjacks, hotcakes â€¦ whatever you like to call them, they’re not really all that original and definitely not just for breakfast.