In ye olde 2014, after a group of friends and I made many somewhat earnest resolutions, I made perhaps the most backhanded, last minute, impulse resolution: to eat pancakes once a month. Was there booze involved in my thought process? DUH. Did this resolution make sense at the time? Nope, other than that I think it came from recognizing I always order savory things instead of sweet things when I go out for breakfast (aka my favorite meal). I quickly settled on the following parameters: to eat one pancake or (do my worst to a) stack of pancakes, once a month, at different locations, with different pancake styles -- no recycling for official business. Spoiler alert: I did it.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this has been the most delightful, fun, and probably best New Year’s Resolution I have made, or will ever make (though my 2016 one is pretty great…). The results were always good, and the experience a fun one, especially shared. Last year was a hard year for me, and one which made me place a lot more focus and appreciation on the people and things that bring me joy. Most of my resolutions went down the porcelain throne as circumstances beyond my control took precedence; having this as a challenge I could always complete easily and enjoy (and share in the enjoyment of!) was always a light to anticipate. I strongly recommend doing something fun like this yourself; it’s never too late! Here is a brief recap of each pancake, along with winners in best individual pancake, best savory pancake, best sweet pancake, and yes, worst pancake (or really, the most anticlimactic). Yes, I took a picture of each one, and yes, I made a calendar of all my cakes of the pan. And yes, because I am a classic overachiever, there are a lucky 13 pancakes. That’s how much I loved this resolution!
The Pancakes of 2015
Pancake: Whole wheat pancake with banana and chocolate chips
Location: Ball Square Cafe, Somerville, MA
Company: Table for one
Takeaway: Delicious! Great whole wheat nutty flavor, gigantic size, and great service
I picked this place because it was in walking distance, I’d never been, it’s relatively inexpensive, and there is rumored drama with neighboring Soundbites (which I was underwhelmed by) which obvi intrigues me (there is usually a line outside both on the weekend). In re: service, I asked about how much I’d get from a stack and the guy was like “well...you’re getting eggs too and you’re not that big...they are really good but I’d go with one.” He was not wrong - I am not big, and their pancakes are quite large! They had many options, but I’ve always been a fan of bananas and chocolate chips in pancakes, so I went with old faithful and wasn’t disappointed!
Pancake: Sweet potato pancake
Location: The Deluxe Town Diner, Watertown, MA
Takeaway: Really tasty, a staple of a pancake provider
The original location of The Deluxe Town Diner has been and will always been a favorite of mine, for all three meals (though conveniently, they serve breakfast all day). At this point, I’ve probably tried all their pancakes (you’re okay if you probably never try the ployes) and will note that my all time favorite of theirs is probably the blue cornmeal pancake. It’s just so good! My friends and I usually get whatever savory giant thing we each want (I recommend the B.E.S.T., hold the B) and split a pancake amongst the table, which has allowed for many tastes of many pancakes. Though I went with the lovely Bean, I refused to do the usual in the name of science and got a stack own with eggs, ham, and a salad - but I did split the stack! Regardless, my dining car was stuffed by the end, if you catch my drift. The sweet potato has great flavor, is fluffy, light and delicious. They recommend it with pecans, which is fine, but I went plain for this one, and liked it better!
Pancake: Blueberry pancake
Location: Renee’s, Somerville, MA
Company: Mrs. Gav’s Book Reviews
Takeaway: Just a respectable pancake, a bit stingy on the blueberries, not bad, not exceptional, but it did disappear so…
Renee’s is a local establishment that also usually has a line out the door. I’ve been before, but gone my usual savory route. When my good friend Emma came to town, I knew I had to take this English fan of Americana/part time Parks and Rec fanatics for delicious diner-esque food, and Renee’s came to mind. She got a giant, gorgeous, waffle ala Leslie Knope. I went blueberry pancake, and while I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t overly impressed, especially in retrospect. It was good, but maybe a little boring after the first two, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the powdered sugar dusting. In short: if you want something from the pancake waffle family, I vote waffle - or enjoy their amazing savory dishes!
Pancake: King Cakes (bananas, chocolate chips, and peanut butter with bacon on the side)
Location: The Friendly Toast, Cambridge, MA
Company: some dude
Takeaway: No wonder Elvis died
I went for a dinner date with some dude, and had these with a bloody mary to wash them both down. Holy guacamole - I know I started the year with bananas and chocolate chips, but April took it to another level. These were great, but perhaps just a little too decadent. I’ve been to the Friendly Toast several times, and knew what I was in for, but wowzer. I think I was full for a week and probably didn’t need sugar for longer. I might suggest that this pancake would be more fun with the bacon inside the pancake, but hey, I'm just a one woman pancake crusade. The moral of this story: pancakes for dinner are fun, pancakes are more enjoyable with dear friends, and I like the savory items at Friendly Toast and pancakes better than I liked my date!
Pancake: Strawberry, blueberry pancakes
Location: Sneakers Bistro, Winooski, VT
Company: Bean, Ciara, and Aileen
Takeaway: WINNER! Best Individual Pancake, great flavor, company, tons of fresh fruit
We preplanned this one out the wazoo, as Bean and Ciara were running their first marathon: the Vermont City Marathon. Aileen and I went along for moral support and the promise of scenery, great beer, and in my case, pancakes. We went to Sneakers after the marathon and were all starving. Cheering is hard, you guys! When I think about what the best pancake part of all the pancakes I ate in 2015 was, I always come back to this one. Vanilla notes, crispy almost caramelized in butter edges, tons and tons of beautiful, fresh fruit, and even the dusting of powdered sugar didn’t bug me. It was delish, and I strongly recommend you check this place out if you’re in the Burlington area. I washed it down with a bloody mary and friendship!
Location: Andy’s Diner, Cambridge, MA
Company: table for one
Takeaway: WINNER! Loser! Worst Pancake! Just...not good.
I know, I know. One multigrain pancake. I should have known better. Maybe I was tired at the end of a long school year, or maybe I just wanted to be impressed, or maybe the multigrain part of the Ball Square Cafe pancake was so good that I had high hopes...hopes that did not match up in reality. The pancake was kind of small, kind of dry, but well cooked and crispy on the outside. Andy’s Diner is a serviceable diner that appears to be ripped from the 70s. The eggs were great, and I think if you want a good classic greasy spoon diner meal in the Cambridge area you should check it out. If you’re a pancake snob avec moi...well, move along, or order regular pancakes, which I think would be much better!
Pancake: SOS pancake (chipped beef gravy)
Location: The Dining Room, Inwood, WV
Company: table for one
Takeaway: Honorary WINNER! Grossest looking, most filling, most fun, weirdest, best discovery!
A weird month this one, seeing as it was the month I got my diagnosis. I was down in West Virginia to do a training with The Library Corporation in Inwood. Inwood isn’t a huge town, and the culinary options are perhaps not the healthiest (case in point: the healthiest salad I could find was at McDonalds, though the grocery store was great!), but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in sheer gorgeous greenness, kind people, and great frozen custard! While my official pancake was the SOS, I also took the opportunity to have Waffle House for dinner one night, so my waffle tally for 2015 was one, but I have to admit I don’t get the fuss about the waffles there. I get the rest, but for a place called Waffle House, I expected...I don’t know what but something other than something I could use as a sponge! Sorry not sorry, fanboys and girls. Next time I’m getting hash browns scattered, smoothered, covered, etc. (But Mom, as requested, I did order the grits and they were buttery deliciousness.)
SOS, for the uninitiated, is creamed chipped beef or chipped beef gravy, whatever you want to call it, though the SOS part stands for Shit on a Shingle. YUM. My grandfather allegedly learned it in the Army and made it for my dad, my dad makes it for me, and when I saw it on the menu at the Dining Room, where I had planned just get some eggs and toast, I a) did a triple take, b) made a game time decision to get it, and c) promptly texted a picture to my dad and sister. The waitress thought my incredulity was weird; according to her it’s a normal thing. Any West Virginians out there care to confirm?! The Dining Room is really cute and old timey as well. It’s probably not the healthiest, but it is affordable, feels like a really lovely slice of Americana (lots of trucks outside, near the Musselmans factory), the waitresses were very sweet, and I’d totally go back and recommend it if you’re in Inwood! It was everything I wanted it to be and more. The pancake was huge, hearty, and possibly Bisquick. The SOS took it over the top - I couldn’t even make it halfway through; the pancake absorbs the liquid and gets a bit sponge-like. I probably won’t do that again, and prefer SOS on toast for the crisp factor, but I’m really, really glad I tried it! Caveat: I basically fell asleep with my eyes open during training.
August (the twofer month)
Pancake: Hair of the Dog (Pilsner-bacon batter pancakes, bloody mary butter, maple syrup)
Location: Lulu’s, Allston, MA
Takeaway: WINNER! Best savory pancake! Seriously if you at all like savory things, get this!
Jackie promised me good pancakes and whoooooboy, girl delivered! Lulu’s is in Allston, a Boston neighborhood best described as a land of college kids, hipsters, rats, and great restaurants; it is dearly beloved for all those reasons and more. I’ve only been this one time, but it seems to be a pretty popular place (my sister told me she loves it) and they seem to serve a lot of higher brow comfort food, I think. This was one of my top favorites of the year. I loved everything about this: salty meets sweet, creative butter, slightly gummy texture due to the heavy weight of the delicious beer batter and tiny pieces of bacon (weird, but I sometimes really like things just a bit undercooked), crispy edges, an herbal garnish...I mean I could rave for days, but it would probably be quicker to just go and get a stack. You won’t be disappointed!
Pancake: Coffee Cake pancake
Location: Kristin’s, Braintree, MA
Takeaway: Super delicious, great ambiance, totally would be a winner if a few others hadn’t slightly edged it out!
I had this near winner/top pancake a few weeks after surgery with Amy, who accompanied me on a super slow walk around beautiful World’s End in Hingham, MA and promised not to judge how slowly I chewed things, my old lady hat, or fistfulls of Advil. Not knowing the South Shore well, I took a gander at the black hole that is Yelp and found a few options, but none that sounded as promising as Kristin’s, which has no less than 19 types of pancakes on the regular menu. It’s got an old school vibe and we had to wait to get a table, but it was filled with families and the waitresses were super nice! It was hard to choose, but I didn’t want a pancake that would leave me feeling violently ill before we went on a long walk, so we settled on splitting an order of the Coffee Cakes of the pan and an omelette. Though they were decadent, they were just right - great cinnamon flavor, perfectly cooked, delicious fluffy style pancake, and huge. I was full, but didn’t want to puke (high praise, I know). I’d totally go back again for more. In short, August was an excellent month for pancakes and friendship!
Pancake: Middle Eastern Pancake (pistachio, cinnamon, and honey)
Location: The Madrona Tree, Arlington, MA
Takeaway: Delicious, great Middle Eastern twist/upgrade on what are probably great pancakes on their own!
I’ve been to Madrona Tree, but once again, only for the savory options. I knew they’d probably be a good choice, but as Hannah was haunting old roots, I figured I’d let her choose between a few options. Thanks for choosing this one, friend! This was a winner, though not officially. I loved the pistachios and that it had honey instead of syrup; it was just the right level of sweet when it arrived. It was perfectly cooked to my likes with crispy edges and some gummy spots (also possibly from the honey), and I would compare the flavors to a bite of baklava, sans intensity. We also got to sit outside on a beautiful day, discovered a big, adorable town fair happening, and had great service. My only regret: I only ordered one!
Pancake: Vegan gluten-free sweet potato and date pancakes
Location: Red Lentil, Watertown, MA
Takeaway: Great flavor, hard to believe it’s gluten-free AND vegan
Red Lentil, how I love thee and thine vegetarian/vegan dinner options! This is a great place, so take note, Bostonians, especially those of you with dietary restrictions. Bean and I have been before, but this was one we’d talked about trying for nearly the whole year; we finally made it and were not disappointed. This pancake has great flavor, and I’d go so far to say it trumps the sweet potato pancake I had across the street in February, potentially because dates are probably one of my favoritest treats in all the lands. I also loved the blueberry-maple drizzle it arrived with, but wish they’d given us a serving of that since it absorbed in and we just had regular maple syrup. My vote: eat the food, Tina. Except don't expect them to have any milk of the cow for your coffee - just of the soy and the almond.
Pancake: Pineapple coconut pancake
Location: City Room Cafe, Nashua, NH
Company: Bean, Chris, Becca
Takeaway: Totally, totally delicious, ample serving, great ambiance
This was my first real longer distance race in a while, a half marathon relay I completed with best teammate ever, Chris. We knew we would want breakfast after this feat of athleticism, and boy howdy did we ever after shivering our way through a wet, cold morning! Luckily, we had settled on this one, and though we were bummed to discover a wait when we were kind of sweaty wet freezing it wound up moving quicker than anticipated, and gave us a chance to chat with a couple waiting outside who told us that this was their favorite breakfast place, and that breakfast was their favorite meal to go out for. On top of that, they noted that the pancakes were pretty damn delicious, so I felt pretty good about it all!
While it looks like they sometimes have crazy special pancakes, they didn’t when we were there, so I opted to make my own, a pineapple coconut pancake. The actual pancakes were huge, and the batter delicious. To my delight, possibly because of the wetness of the pineapple, it was a bit undercooked gooey, with nice crispy edges and fluffy texture elsewhere. They came with powdered sugar which I could have done without but didn’t really mind (I mean...holy sweet ingredient choice already, right?) and sans pat of butter, which I found I do kind of like, but didn’t miss here. I was so cold I just ordered a stack in addition to my usual side order of scrambled eggs, and then proceeded to devour most of the stack. It was great when it was happening...not so great when I stood up, but that’s my own gluttonous fault. I’d totally go back here and eat more cakes of their pans!
Pancake: Snickers pancake
Location: In A Pickle, Waltham, MA
Company: Dave, Lara, and their little linebacker crew
Takeaway: Don’t tell your dentist about this one
I saved a doozy for last! I realized that I hadn’t done a really decadent (okay, yeah, I had but specific to dessert) type of pancake, and needed to rectify that before the year was out. In A Pickle had been on my radar as a promising purveyor of pancakes, so I asked my friends and their sons to join me, figuring kids like pancakes, right? Right! I struggled to choose my final pancake from their list of a lot of decadent options. Snickers? Oreos? Cookie Dough? M&Ms? Reeses? All sounded like they’d get the job done. I settled on Snickers, and man...did I get more than I bargained for. My teeth audibly screamed on my first bite (only a slight exaggeration), and yet I persevered. Again, I probably would have been fine with just one, and eventually started eating around the sliced pieces of Snickers because I think there were no less than two king sized bars in my pancakes. The actual pancake itself was pretty great, so I’d go back for that, and probably stick with just one, as they are ginourmous. They also come with a very generous dose of vanilla whipped cream, which really gilded that lily. Did I come close to finishing? Nope.
In lessons learned, I went to a bodypump class immediately after this. Don’t go to a bodypump class after eating Snickers pancakes unless you like Snickers burps and feeling terrible. The verdict: humans over age 16 should probably not eat Snickers pancakes without two to twelve other human adults over age 16 to share it with, but the human experimentation was worth it. I’ll go back and try more things in a heartbeat!
The End/Beginning: 2016
It was a delicious year, filled with great friends and smiles. Pancakes bring those two things out in spades, so I hope you are food porn inspired to ask some good friends out for smiles and ‘cakes. I’ve got high hopes for 2016: year of the sandwich! (Which is short for: send me your recs, already!)