This month brings National Pancake Week – as if we need such a reason to head out for stacks. “Everybody loves pancakes,” says Roger Lademann, executive chef at UNC Charlotte. So much so that the Crown Commons eatery on campus serves about 500 cakes every Friday, when pancakes are dished up all day long.This comfort food is all about that feeling of leisure, being on holiday and doing something nice for yourself. No matter the name (pancakes, hotcakes, flapjacks) type (plain-Jane style, or with berries or nuts or chocolate chips on top) or accompaniment (coffee, eggs, bacon), flapjacks flat-out feed the senses. There’s the visual thrill of watching that plate of golden-brown heaven hit your table. That aroma of cake and butter, hot off the griddle. And that first yummy bite of sweet delight, dripping in syrup. Whew. Makes us want to grab a fork and see who’s flipping what – which is exactly what University City Magazine did, visiting local breakfast places to bring you the skinny on the area’s best short stacks. Lucky for us, we’ve got great choices. So pick your favorite type of flapjack, set your GPS and check out the area’s offerings. Because, really, you don’t need a reason.
The Classic: Harrisburg Family House Restaurant5429 Highway 49 S., HarrisburgService starts: 6 a.m. Monday – Saturday, 7 a.m. Sundays.Contact: 704-455-3525.Price range: $3.15 for short stack of two to $6.45 for combo plate with eggs and choice of meat.The skinny: Don’t you love it when the pancakes are so thick and round you can’t see the plate bottom, only rim? One look at the stack of three, layered over an oval plate, tells the story: this is no place for wimpy appetites. (Your taster – no wimp – thought she could polish off the combo, but wound up asking for a takeout box.) Generous portions are a signature of Harrisburg Family House Restaurant, where the oversized pancakes come in a range of varieties. They’ll even make a big-eared mouse style, which the kids love, says co-owner Nikolaos Katsanos. For most, the conventional-style pancakes hit all the right notes as a satisfying breakfast. For some, the straight-up cakes may taste more like a base for the kitchen’s other pancake creations – from pecan pancakes, to chocolate chip, to the “red white and blue” cakes with sliced strawberries, bananas and blueberries designed like a lovely flower on top. Tip: Show up with your stomach growling, because once you’re seated, food arrives quick.
The Gut-buster: IHOP Restaurant230 E. WT Harris Blvd., CharlotteService starts: 7 a.m.Contact: 704-717-9600. IHOP.Price range: $3.99 for short stack of three buttermilk pancakes to $8.49 for pancake combo with two cakes, two eggs, hash browns and choice of meat.You’ll flip: Yes, you can be traditional, but why? That’s the question when pancake choices such as Strawberry Banana, New York Cheesecake, Double Blueberry and Cinn-a-Stack (cakes served with cinnamon roll filling, cream cheese icing and whipped topping) stare back at you from the menu. Then there are the specials. Seems IHOP also likes to feature a less-decadent choice on its menu. Years ago, it was Cream of Wheat Pancakes. Now it’s the equally deeee-licious Harvest Grain ‘N Nut Pancakes. While this might not be everyone’s first choice, the darker, slightly crispy exterior makes for a pleasantly different pancake, as do the nutty bits of grains, almonds, walnuts and oats inside. Love the server’s offer to heat up the tableside syrup container so we can pour it on hot over our pancakes. And she also provided a complimentary cup of coffee to go on our way out – a nice touch. Pancake love without limits: If you’re a fan, keep watching for periodic “All You Can Eat” IHOP pancake promotions starting at $4.99.
The Diva: Mimi’s Café Charlotte10224 Perimeter Parkway, CharlotteService starts: 7 a.m.Contact: 704-509-5911. Mimi’s Café .Price range: $4.99 for three buttermilk pancakes to $8.49 for the new mixed berry pancakes with two eggs, bacon or sausage.Worth the wait: You shouldn’t be in a rush anyway when you’re going out for a leisurely pancake breakfast, and that’s especially the case at Mimi’s, the national chain with a location across the way from Northlake Mall. From the jazz music over the speakers, to the chandeliers and dim lighting, no one was in a hurry in this relaxed atmosphere on a recent Sunday at around 2 p.m. And while it takes a while longer here compared to other places for the cakes to finally hit the table, the buttermilk taste more than makes up for service matters. The generous cup of syrup allows for the four-pancake stack to get the generous dousing required. Flapjacks at 5 p.m.: The breakfast menu – including pancakes – is available all day, everyday.
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Miss Independent: Showmars9605 Sherill Estates Road (off Statesville Road), HuntersvilleService starts: 6 a.m.Contact: 704-895-6199. Showmars.Price range: $2.95 for short stack of 2; add on for other combinations.A local favorite: Charlotte’s homegrown chain, founded in 1982 by George Couchell, isn’t hard to find around here with 27 locations. But not all Showmars serve breakfast. We should consider ourselves lucky to be near one that serves pancakes seven days a week. This spot off Highway 21 has pleasant diner décor, a fast, cheery service staff and large, delicious hotcakes served pretty: confectioners sugar sprinkled on top and two fresh orange wedges on the side. Servers clearly know coffee addicts when they see one, offering complimentary coffee to go on your way out.Wake up: This leisurely breakfast has limits. Get there by 10 a.m., or you’ll miss out on this treat.
Just like moms: Cracker Barrel7809 Lyles Lane N.W. (off Bruton Smith Boulevard), ConcordService starts: 6 a.m.Contact: 704-979-0404. www.crackerbarrel.com.Price range: $5.99 for three buttermilk pancakes, to $7.59 for a sampler plate that includes eggs, meat choice and hash browns.Confession time: This longtime fan of this national chain’s “Momma’s Pancake Breakfast” has long sliced her fork through the springy buttermilk pancakes – and has never been disappointed. Some tips on how to chow: sometime between ordering and food arrival, clear your space of the tabletop toys and menus to make room for two jumbo plates filled with three cakes (plain, or with optional fruit toppings), eggs and meat choice. Take in the yummy aroma, give a mental shout-out to the kitchen for nailing that golden brown look yet again, and get going. But why Do the pancakes come with only one of those cute little bottles of syrup? We pancakes-as-syrup-sponges lovers need at least two bottles to make enough swirls around the plate.
Celebrating National Pancake WeekPancakes have a long history – in some cultures, they’re tied to Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday), when families would use up all their eggs, milk and flour and serve a final feast of pancakes before fasting. In recent years, savvy commercial folks have been credited with creating a National Pancake Week in the days leading up to and around the start of Lent , which falls on March 9 this year. On the web, some have declared March 1 the start of National Pancake Week; others, March 6. Since 2006, IHOP joins in every year with a National Pancake Day celebration and a free short-stack giveaway all day (in exchange, donations are requested to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals). This year’s free pancake day is March 1.
Making the perfect pancakeRoger Lademann, executive chef at UNC Charlotte, offers this advice on making your own perfect pancakes:- Start with a smooth batter. No lumps.- Invest in a nice griddle. - Heat the griddle to medium to high temperature, with butter on it.- Once the batter is on the griddle, watch the tops. No sneak peeks on the flapjack’s cooking side. “You don’t want to peek. You want to keep it straight across. If it’s loose, all the batter could slide to one side.”- When the topside starts to bubble, it’s time to flip.
Recipe:Twinkie Pancakes How about this for morning decadence? This kooky recipe is from “The TwinkiesCookbook: An Inventive and Unexpected Recipe Collection from Hostess.” (Ten Speed Press) Recipe creator (and grandpa) Jerry Ferrill came up with these pancakes to impress his grandkids after a sleepover. It worked. Serves 4 to 6.
6 Twinkies4 cups prepared pancake batterButter or margarine, for serving (optional) Pancake syrup, for serving (optional)
Slice each Twinkie crosswise into 8 thin slices. Spray a griddle or skillet with nonstick vegetable oil spray or brush lightly with vegetable oil. Heat the griddle over medium-high heat.Pour ¼-cup measures of the pancake batter onto the hot griddle, spacing them apart. Arrange 3 Twinkie slices in each pancake. Cook until the pancake begins to bubble and is golden brown on the underside. Carefully turn the pancakes and cook the second side. Serve immediately with butter and syrup.
NOTE: Using 1/8 of a Twinkie may sound thin. But when the pancakes are flipped over, the Twinkies cook way faster than the batter, so you want the slices as “embedded” as much as possible. After a singed stack on the first round, my second set went better. The combination of Twinkie filling and syrup is delightful. Not for those who can’t handle a sugar rush.