Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Manor Restaurant & Pancake House, St. Charles

Manor Restaurant & Pancake House
1 West Main Street
St. Charles, IL 60174

December 26, 2006


This was no great surprise; we'd visted the Manor Restaurant & Pancake House in St. Charles this past summer and found it mysteriously closed down, so we didn't expect any miracles when we dropped by the day after Christmas. Lights out, tables gone, and no signs of any renovation or remodeling to speak of. Looks like this really is the end of the Manor, but why? Why would a local fixture like the Manor, occupying the best piece of real estate in downtown St. Charles, suddenly pack up and leave?

Maybe I just answered my own question.

Still, it's hard to imagine that The Manor would have fallen on such hard times as of late. Even with shoppers and diners migrating further east to the Charlestowne Mall area, and residents in west St. Charles being tempted by the nearby offerings of the Geneva Commons, downtown St. Charles has enjoyed a quiet renaissance of its own, with the debut of local live theater and a variety of other bars and restaurants opening on both sides of the river. It's enough to make me wonder if the Manor's fate was tied to the Arcada Theatre, which gave up its run as the best bargain-priced theater in the state to instead embrace weekly appearances by cover bands and standup comedians, and to project Sunday football games on the big screen instead of actual movies. May they lose their liquor license and see the error of their ways!

As for the Manor, it will be missed. An almost-weekly tradition for my family for many years, the Manor was primarily a breakfast restaurant with great pancakes, but there were enough sandwiches and other specials to make it a great destination for lunch or dinner too. I know the sign in the picture says the closing time was 3:00, but most times I visited were in the evening, so I can only assume these new hours were instituted very recently, or at least in the past two years since I last visited.

I'll always remember the Manor, the glass case of candy and gum at the front register, the great view of the river and the downtown from the windowside booths in the nonsmoking section, and the old-fashioned coffeeshop feel of the smoking section. We'd grab rolls from the breadbaskets and toss them to ducks from the bridge afterwards, and I'd peer through the windows of the tavern located downstairs with dark fascination, wanting to lose myself in the neon-lit, seedy recesses of its dark confines. Nothing that was both literally underground and riverside like that could not intrigue my young imagination. Unfortunately, that bar is now closed as well.

So what happened to the Manor? I still don't know why they closed in April and left St. Charles, but they recently reopened in South Elgin on Randall Road. Meanwhile, I've read conflicting reports of a new Manor Restaurant reopening a few blocks west on Main Street, but have been unable to locate this new site. Unfortunately, I know my expectations and memories will overshadow any new improvements or offerings found at either. Maybe I wasn't as attached to the food at the Manor as I was to the building itself. Considering that I've devoted all of one sentence in this entry to their cuisine, that's probably the case.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fox Restaurant & Pancake House, Aurora

Fox Restaurant & Pancake House
2290 Ogden Avenue
Aurora, IL 60504

November 22, 2006


We've driven past the Fox Restaurant & Pancake House more times than we can count, usually around the same time in the late afternoon, and the sight of the sun setting behind it is always kind of stunning. I realize that's casting an aura around it that it can't possibly live up to, and that constantly finding a sense of majesty in ordinary things like this is only serving to deprive me of experiencing real wonders -- the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, etc. -- that I owe it to myself to one day see in person. But that will have to wait.

Inside, the Fox Restaurant does what it can to live up to its name. That doesn't mean serving up fresh fox meat (though carnivores will find something called "broasted chicken" on the menu), but decorating the walls with a very foxy motif. You'll find plenty of fox pictures and fox statues along the walls, and even some real, stuffed foxes near the kitchen above the bar. There's even one in the cover of the menu! Obviously, vulpephobes will have to face (and hopefully conquer) their fears if they hope to make it through an entire meal here. The foxes are countered with lots of Chicago sports memorabilia, but only enough to bring back a few fond memories of the 80's Bears and 90's Bulls. Thankfully, it's not enough to turn the room into a tacky sports bar.

I've seen Palestine crepes listed on a few different menus before this but could never tell just what they were, and I've never felt bold enough to find out for myself until now. In a nutshell (well, in a crepe), they're crepes packed with more sour cream than the body should be able to safely digest. I can only guess that my yogurt-saturated childhood gave me some kind of extra tolerance for lactose, because I passed them just fine, but they were really filling. The crepes themselves were perfect: light, sweet, and with an almost rubber-like texture that stretches out just a little before tearing when you pull on them.


We arrived shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon, and for at least 20 or 30 minutes we were the only customers in the restaurant aside from a few other employees that seemed to be on their lunch break. After paying our check, we headed out to the Phillips Park Zoo, which was only a five minute drive away, and just as mysteriously under-attended as the Fox Restaurant. Granted, it was a weekday afternoon, which aren't considered "busy hours" for leisure-based establishments such as these, but Phillips Park is free, and what else is there to do in Aurora? Come watch the otters play and swim, or get a very up-close look at the cougars (at least when they're in the mood to lounge about on the platform next to the observation window, that is). The wolves are usually pretty active in their pen, though I can't say the same for their cousins in the fox exhibit, which are so sedentary that they could fit right in with the decor at the Fox Restaurant. Maybe they're nocturnal?


Amanda here. This time I finally broke away from my tradition of ordering blintzes everywhere I went and got the blueberry pancakes. They were okay, but honestly? Too many blueberries. I never thought I would say that about blueberry pancakes, since usually restaurants tend to be stingy with them, but if there seems to be more blueberry than pancake, it's too much. Also, some of the stems were still attached and they got stuck in my teeth. The first few bites were good, but after that I started to feel like I was wading through an endless swamp of blueberries and soggy, blueberry-juice-soaked batter. Maybe I should have ordered the blintzes. Or the Palestine crepes. I sampled some of Joe's, and they were pretty good. I have to wonder about the name, though. Why Palestine crepes? Are they from Palestine? Were the Palestinians the first guys who thought of putting sour cream in a shell and calling it a crepe? Or is it just one of those things, like french fries (pardon me, I mean freedom fries) that really has nothing to do with its nominal nationality?


I rather liked the stuffed foxes. I mean, I'm sure the foxes are not crazy about the situation, but their sacrifice will be appreciated by countless restaurant goers. Really, it's an honor. I can only hope that when the foxes evolve into intelligent beings with opposable thumbs and take over the world, they will display my remains in "Human Restaurant."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Elly's Pancake House, Arlington Heights

Elly's Pancake House
372 E Golf Rd
Arlington Heights, IL 60005

November 14, 2006


Out of the short but disparate list of different suburbs I've lived in over the course of my young adult life, Arlington Heights has to be my favorite town of residence so far. I don't really know how I'd justify that or how I might try to categorically compare it to Elgin, West Dundee, Elburn, or Aurora. I don't know how its average standard of living stacks up against those other municipalities, let alone if it's a "growing community" or "a good place to raise a family" or anything like that. I do know that it's the only place I've ever been the victim of a crime, as my car was broken into during the middle of the night nearly two years ago, and that I constantly complained about the window-rattling noise from planes taking off from and landing at nearby O'Hare, but in hindsight, those were small prices to pay for everything else that I enjoyed. I was happier there than I have been in any other town that I've called home, and though there were plenty of reasons for that that had nothing to do with the town itself, I did enjoy the well-stocked library, the parks and forest preserve, and the easy access to Chicago. There were plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance too, and the streets and sidewalks were clean, free of litter and broken glass. I wish I could say the same for Aurora, but the popular use of "trash cans" never really caught on here like it did in the rest of America.

One of our favorite places to eat, if only for breakfast and lunch, was Elly's Pancake House. Just a 20 minute walk away from my apartment, it was always easy to get to, at least until you had to cross the usually-busy Golf Road to finally reach the green awnings of Elly's. Once inside, we rarely encountered much of a wait to be seated, though we rarely dined during the peak hours of breakfast. Any time around noon or thereafter usually guarantees instant service, though they're only open until 4:00 on most days anyway. One of these days we'll have to request the smoking section, otherwise we'll probably never get to sit on the left/west side of the restaurant. There's a pretty-impressive mural on the wall there I wish I'd been able to take a picture of. Unfortunately, we didn't have our camera with us on Tuesday, which is why we don't have any photos to post here. Instead, we've attempted to draw our food, with mixed results as you can see. This blob of brown and blue is supposed to be my order of blackberry pancakes, which was much better than it probably looks here.


I've never been a good artist but on a good day I can sometimes draw pictures of things that actually look like what they are. Sometimes. It's been years since I last attempted to sketch anything at all, the last time I can remember being assigned cityscapes (complete with a proper "vanishing point" in the distance!) that could have passed for Wesley Willis originals back in eighth grade art class. Amanda's rendition of her colorful strawberry blintzes platter is a bit more appetizing.


One of Elly's more reliable treats is their freshly squeezed orange juice. I've never been too keen on oj with heavy pulp, but I can't get enough of it at Elly's. It tastes great, and it's just got to be healthier than juice from concentrate, right? Check out the stacks of oranges behind the counter as you come in and see if that doesn't tempt you right away. Maybe it's all just a clever ruse, a bait-and-switch that my untrained taste buds can't detect. If it is, they've pulled it off magnificently.

About the restaurant itself: it's spacious with lots of windows, so the stale, claustrophobic feeling that I get in so many other restaurants never really comes together here. I guess I could complain about the restroom, but the peeled wallpaper gives it a haunting, noir-like atmosphere. Plus, someone carved "DRAGON ARMY" into the men's room stall door. How cool is that? I haven't the slightest idea what the "DRAGON ARMY" is, though my guess would be an up-and-coming street gang. Even if that's really the case (again, I might be wrong), then I'm once again willing to forgive Arlington Heights for its occasional crime issues if its gangs continue to choose great names like that. It’s the price you pay for great pancakes, and more...

Amanda here. I don't know why, but I've been on a blintz kick lately, so I once again ordered the strawberry blintzes when we visited Elly's. So far, none of the blitzes I've ordered at various restaurants have compared to the ones at Downer's Delight, but they've all been pretty good, and Elly's is no exception. I ordered whipped cream on the side, expecting to get a little puff of it atop my food. Instead I got an entire bowl. I proceeded to slather it on and make a complete glutton of myself.

Our waitress was quite nice, though I can't help but wonder what she thought of us when she saw us drawing crude representations of our food.

It is worth noting that Elly's has an attractive menu. They also provide paper take-out menus. As you can see, on the cover is the restaurant itself. I'm not sure what those green streaks in the background are supposed to represent. Paint raining from the heavens? Zeus hurling down angry lightning bolts because mere mortals dared to create pancakes better than his, and must pay for their hubris? Countless alien spaceships landing in Arlington Heights just to sample Elly's famous orange juice? You decide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lumes Pancake House, Orland Park

Lumes Pancake House
9060 W. 159th St.
Orland Park 60462

November 2, 2006


As a pancake restaurant reviewer, it causes me deep shame to admit that until I went to Lumes Restaurant, I never fully understood the difference between blintzes and crepes. I mean, they look kind of the same, and they're both shells stuffed with filling, so I guess I've always lumped them into the same category. I finally succumbed to curiosity and asked the waitress, and she informed me that blintzes contain a ricotta-cheese based filling, whereas crepes are just shells stuffed with a generous helping of whatever. Having learned this, I have ascended one rung higher on the long ladder to Pancake Nirvana, a state of total enlightenment in which all breakfast-related knowledge is clear to me. When I achieve Pancake Nirvana, rays of pure energy will shoot out of my body and I will be able to control matter with my mind. In addition to this, all breakfast items will feel an instinctive bond with me and come to my aid in times of trouble.

Fittingly enough, I ordered blintzes at Lumes. Strawberry blintzes, to be precise. They were smaller than the ones I had at Downer's Delight, but I found them satisfying, nonetheless. The ricotta-cheese based filling was the perfect consistency, neither too runny nor too solid. Joe sampled them and thought they were a little dry. Maybe I just like my blintzes dry. Maybe next time, I'll ask for a dry blintz on the rocks.


I suppose I should say a few words about the restaurant itself. Lumes is fairly nondescript, as far as pancake restaurants go. It has a classy, restrained feel, maybe because they don't cover the walls with kitsch. The windows let in plenty of light. Our waitress was polite and helpful. And the coffee was good. Good coffee may seem like a triviality, but nothing ruins a good meal like a mouthful of foul, gritty, lukewarm coffee dregs. And all too often, restaurant coffee is either sludgy and too strong, or so weak that it's just like brown water. This was neither.

My one complaint is the pancakes themselves. I didn't order them, but I tried a bite. They weren't horrible, but they were definitely substandard for an actual pancake restaurant, sort of what you'd expect from a store-bought mix. If you're in the mood for some really excellent pancakes, go elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for something else, Lumes offers a good variety of breakfast foods. It's worth a visit.

Just like Bakers Square and Downers Delight, Lumes Pancake House has deceivingly anti-apostrophic name designed to trip up even the most astutue observer. It's not Lume's, as a casual glance or a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend would suggest, but Lumes. This lack of possessiveness is troubling if you consider the possibility that the small chain is owned by one Lume (or Lumes) family. Where's the family pride? Unfortunately, this remains the only explanation for the name that makes sense, though, as neither Merriam-Webster or even Google are able to clear up the matter. Here's where a simple telephone call would likely give me the answer I need, but I'm not about to hassle someone with such a petty question.

Nomenclature aside, Lumes has a good selection of pancakes and other breakfast favorites. It had been a few weeks since I'd had a good waffle so I ordered one. No fruit or frills this time, just a regular waffle. It was pretty much what I expected, but the presentation was nice. Our friend Chris ordered the blueberry French toast, which came with a very generous portion of blueberry compote on top.

LumesBasicWaffle LumesBlueberryFT

For a Thursday afternoon, Lumes was fairly packed with customers, even though the photo below really doesn't capture that at all. It should give you a general idea of what you're in for, though. It's a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere that should appeal to all ages.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bakers Square, Orland Park

Bakers Square
15711 Harlem Avenue
Orland Park, IL 60462

October 31, 2006


With 151 restaurants across the country, Bakers Square isn't well-known as a breakfast hotspot. Seeing how their biggest draw is an after-dinner treat, that's unlikely to change any time soon. That said, they do serve breakfast, mostly omelettes and skillet dishes, with a few basic pancake and waffle options included.

Personally, I prefer the BS in St. Charles with its spacious dining room and their reliable serving staff of art school students. The crane machine is frustrating as hell, though. Steer clear! But on Halloween we decided to grab lunch at the Orland Park location, a smaller and decidedly less cheerful locale. I can't quite put my finger on what it is; the lighting, the scratched wood paneling around the booths, the clientele... I just get the feeling that most people around me, from the servers to the cooks to the other customers, would really rather be somewhere else instead. It's a psychic virus that's hard not to catch.

As usual, if it's after noon then you'll have to request the breakfast menu if you want to see any of their choices. I chose the basic pancake combo: pancakes, eggs, bacon. There's not much else to choose from if you want pancakes. What you see is what you get.


Nothing to write home about here. BS hold up their end of the bargain and deliver a startlingly average breakfast and nothing more. With so many other options available, especially in the vicinity of the Orland Square Mall, it's hard to recommend Baker's Square for anyone on the hunt for some good pancakes. We like the Chicken Caesar Pita and the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese for lunch and dinner, and we always stay for the pie, as they recommend. Coming for the food is just fine too, but if you're looking for a reliable breakfast haunt, you can do a lot better elsewhere.

Now if I can only figure out what this is for. I'm guessing that the numbers are supposed to light up, but I never see them turned on. Anyone?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Country Cafe, Big Rock

Country Cafe
103 Galena Street
Big Rock, IL 60511

October 26, 2006


If you want the same old, standard list of diners and pancake houses, go check Metromix. But if you want some under-recognized, below-the-radar recommendations, you’ve got to dig a little deeper. We went ahead and dug straight to the bottom of the barrel and found a review of the Country CafĂ© in the local community college newspaper. Nothing against college newspapers, though. It's just hard to wade through the painful editorial rhetoric found in the Waubonsee Community College Insight, penned primarily by one faithful student of the Rush Limbaugh/Michael Savage school of balanced, empathetic journalism, who was somehow appointed to the position of editor in chief. So finding the restaurant review means sifting through not just page-length tirades on illegal immigrants and liberals, but also self-congratulatory reminders of how his controversial "freedom fries" article really got everyone talking last fall. Thankfully, the restaurant review was left to a different student, but her description of it still seemed a bit embellished. Could it possibly be as homely and old-fashioned as she described it?

And yet, when we walked into the Country Cafe, I was suddenly struck by how right she was. With just seven booths, six tables, and a lengthy bar where the regulars congregated over coffees, the tiny, one-room restaurant was a lot smaller than we'd expected, and the arrival of any newcomers through the door (especially any younger than 40) seemed to grab everyone's attention. We were free to seat ourselves whereever we wanted, so we picked a booth and waited for our server. She was incredibly friendly and brought the coffee around to us about a half-dozen times before we left, so we never came close to running out.

I ordered the regular stack of three pancakes, and though I hardly ever order meat on the side, the pancakes were only $4.25, so I added bacon for a dollar extra. Ayinsan ordered a breakfast called the 2x4, which consisted of two pancakes, scrambled eggs, and one piece of sausage and bacon. I don't know what kind of math they used to come up with that name, but the eggs were just right, and the bacon was good and crispy.



I hate to have to say anything negative about The Country Cafe. Our waitress was nice, our food was good, and the prices were extremely affordable. Then again, I know I was seeing apartments listed for $400 in Big Rock when I was combing through the papers for a place to live this past spring, so maybe everything in Big Rock is just cheaper than it is in the suburbs. No, I hate to say anything negative at all about this humble little restaurant, but I must. The water was terrible. I don't know what could have been in it, or if the glasses just hadn't been washed correctly or if the water in Big Rock is just naturally bad but still tolerated and consumed by the locals. If you decide to give it a shot, bring bottled water if you can.

Ayinsan here:
It was a cold and rainy day as we pulled into the parking lot of the tiny, remote pancake house. In the distance, I heard the haunting sound of a cow's moo from across the barren, lonely cornfields as we left our car and crossed the parking lot, braving the icy, wet winds. We had driven for miles to find this place, and here it was, the holy grail, the end of our quest: The Country Cafe.

Country Cafe is indeed out of the way, patronized mostly by locals, or so it would seem. When we entered, an old man at the front counter looked up and eyed me suspiciously, and I half-expected him to drawl, "We don't cotton to you city-folk around here," or something adorably "local" like that. Okay, so Big Rock is not actually way out in the country and no one actually talks like that anyway, but my point is, this is about as far from IHOP as you can get.

countrycafedining1 countrycafedining2

So, what is the verdict, you ask? It's worth checking out. The food was all pretty good, nothing stellar, but tasty, nonetheless, and all very reasonably priced. Service was quick and friendly.

As previously mentioned, however, there was one significant blight on our experience. The meal was fine right up until we got our check and I finally took a sip of my water. It tasted sort of like a bucket of seawater that someone had wrung out their dirty mop in. I'm not exaggerating. To be fair, that may not be the restaurant's fault. Maybe it was a one-time occurence caused by a freak accident involving dirty laundry and salt blocks at the water plant. And we were about to leave so I didn't say anything about it. What's strange is that I remember thinking that the coffee there was exceptionally good, but presumably they had to brew it with the same rancid tapwater, so I don't know how that's possible. It's all part of the mystery that is Country Cafe.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Original Pancake House, Park Ridge

Original Pancake House
106 S. Northwest Highway
Park Ridge, IL 60068

October 21, 2006

So The Original Pancake House actually has over 90 different locations nationwide? What a letdown. Here I thought I was setting foot inside what should have been a national landmark, or at least a restaurant that could stake claim to an original and gutsy name. But it's just another chain, apparently. Next someone's going to tell me that there's more than one Waffle House out there.

But as far as chains go, at least they give their franchises (or at least their Park Ridge location) the freedom to run things as they see fit, no matter how eccentric and wierd that might be. As if IHOP would let any of their restaurants put up a Christmas tree in the middle of the dining room during October (covered with Halloween ornaments, no less). Model trains rode in nonstop circles around its base; there were only two running when we were sitting down, but it looked like they could have had as many as four running at once on different tracks if they really wanted to.

But I figure I should stop wasting time describing the toy trains because there are apparently a couple of people who read this blog now, and they'd probably wonder why I'd pay so much attention to such a silly thing. Oh, and most, if not all of those readers were sitting next to me, too, probably wondering why I'd bother with this blog in the first place. Then again, they seemed to be having more fun laughing at everyone else in the restaurant instead. We arrived after 2:00 so it wasn't busy at all and the dining room was mostly vacant, but they still had fun mocking the pasty man in the tank top sitting by the exit door. I can't say for sure that he didn't deserve it.

I ordered the blueberry pancakes and was a bit dissappointed when a plate of five slightly-larger-than-silver-dollar blueberry pancakes arrived. The blueberries were mixed into the batter and there was extra blueberry compote on the side as well. But they didn't last long, and it really just wasn't enough. Gena ordered the apple pancake, which was more than enough for her, so I cut a big piece from that. The apples were baked on top of it, not inside like the famous Apple Villa pancake, but it was still as chewy, sweet, and moist as I'd hoped.

A few years of ordering Swedish pancakes at IHOP has permanently perverted my expectations and understanding of just what they're supposed to be, so I'm always shocked and confused whenever I see them or try to order them anywhere else. The ones that Marcia ordered were crispy and so flat that you could almost see through them. Is this normal? Don't get me wrong, they were good, and the generous helping of lingonberries was excellent.

Yancy ordered a plate of crepes that were apparently very filling, so as you can see below, the last of the three went untouched. But the human body can only consume so much cream and filling before it begins to reject the excess lactose. He also ordered hash browns on the side, only to receive a bowl full of diced potatoes that we later found out (thanks to the receipt) were actually "Southern Potatoes." I think he was pretty disgusted by these just on principle, and hardly ate any of them.

Dan ordered some kind of egg sampler platter that included pancakes on the side. He seemed satisfied. I should have let him do part of the review but I'd like to keep this blog clean enough for my grandmother to read. If she ever gets a computer and learns to use the internet, I mean.

As far as chain (breakfast) restaurants go, The Original Pancake House surely has to be one of the best I've ever been to, if not for its food, then for the fact that it doesn't stick to a phoned-in design at any of its locations -- not in any of the images of its various restaurants that I've been able to find on Google, and certainly not at the barn-shaped Park Ridge location -- unlike IHOP or any of the the other prefabricated blights upon our American landscape. If you want to go someplace fun and -- I hate to say it -- "quirky" for breakfast or lunch (sorry, they're not open for dinner), then maybe the Original Pancake House is for you. Be an Original!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Apple Villa, Batavia

Apple Villa
1961 W. Wilson
Batavia, IL 60510

October 10, 2006


Near the far south end of the Randall Road Sprawl sits Apple Villa, tucked away next to a music store and a saddle repair shop. The entrance to this strip of stores is actually off of Wilson Street by the Wendy's, so after making that turn just go all the way to the north end of the parking lot and you're there. But why follow these directions when you could just follow your nose, and the scent of golden, delicious apples slowly cooking from inside their famous brick ovens?

Alright, their ovens probably aren't made of brick. And there really isn't an overpowering apple scent inside the dining room, let alone outside on the streets. But there should be, or at least you'll think so once you taste their "famous Apple Villa pancake." Just getting an up-close look at it will make you reconsider everything you ever thought you knew about pancakes. Then again, if a pancake is as big as a deep-dish pizza and full of sliced fruit, is it really still a pancake at all? Regardless of whether or not it's actually a pancake, it's probably more famous than most other restaurants' "famous" foods of choice. After all, it's what they're building their brand and image on.

It's been a few years since I'd been to Apple Villa, but I remembered that the Apple Villa pancake was far too much for one person to eat on their own. So we decided to split one, and we ordered the 10" version of it with vanilla ice cream on the side. There's a smaller, 8" version too, but I assumed that wouldn't be enough for us. How wrong I was.


There's a minimum wait time of 20 minutes for the Apple Villa pancake, but I think we ended up waiting close to a half hour for ours. A warning before you dig in: it's dangerously hot, and it's going to stay hot for at least 15 minutes so eat slowly and carefully. Another warning: it's filling, and there's a lot of it to eat. A 10" pancake would probably feed four people. We only finished a little more than half of ours before giving up and taking the rest home.

Aside from the food, the restaurant itself is really nice. I hate to keep using this word, but it's a very cozy place. There's a lot of quality wood trim and glass around the booths, and a lot of tasteful Halloween decorations hanging up, too. I'm willing to bet they go all out with this stuff during Christmas.

I have no idea what the rest of their menu is like, but if you'd like to try something different and don't have an aversion towards apples (I can't stress this enough), then get your family or a few friends together and try one of their "famous" Apple Villa pancakes, or whatever they are.

Ayinsan here. As Joe said, if you do order the apple pancake, you will end up waiting awhile for it. Some recommended ways to pass the time: Stack the coffee creamers or jams into little pyramids. Pretend that lots of little people live in them. Then pretend to be an angry deity and knock down the pyramids with one sweep of your mighty hand. Or play betting games with them. Cover them with a napkin and then try to guess which flavor they have the most of. If you're right, you get to leave without tipping the waitress. If you're wrong, you have to stab yourself in the back of the hand with a fork.

No, just kidding, you should never leave without tipping the waitress. They live off of tips, and most of them are already half-insane from their stressful jobs, so it's not a good idea to push them over the edge. Who knows what might happen. The next time you come in, there might be a rusty nail on your chair. Or some anthrax might "accidentally" find its way into your coffee. Or someone might be waiting for you in your car when you leave the restaurant, and "accidentally" stick you in the ribs with a shiv.

But back to the pancakes. Yes, the apple pancake was quite good, with a consistency similar to bread pudding, and a delicious cinnamon glaze. Put some ice-cream on it and allow the ice-cream to melt a bit. I had my leftovers later that night for dessert, and it was just as tasty the second time around.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Downers Delight, Downers Grove

Downers Delight
401 75th St.
Downers Grove, IL 60516

October 7, 2006

Amanda here. Thought I'd take a stab at writing the main entry for a change.

This weekend we went to Downer's Delight, which is--as the name implies--in Downer's Grove. The name is something of a contradiction. "Downer" seems to imply that it will depress you, but "delight" promises a world of sensuous pleasures. The overall effect is one of bewildered uncertainty, hope mixed with dread. Will the restaurant be a downer or a delight? There's only one way to find out.


First impressions? A rather standard-looking family restaurant, with an assortment of cakes and pies in a glass case by the front counter. The atmosphere is pleasant, low-key. The menu offers a pretty decent range of choices, from standard pancakes and waffles to blintzes and crepes in a variety of flavors. Joe got the potato pancakes. I ended up ordering the banana blitzes, which I didn't plan. Usually, I survey the menu for a few minutes, considering various entrees and carefully weighing the pros and cons before I inevitably just go with a standard pancake platter. You can't possibly go wrong with that. But when the waitress approached our table, I wasn't ready, so I sort of froze up and then just randomly picked something because I didn't want to miss my window of opportunity (it was a Saturday, so it was pretty busy). Now, blintzes are really kind of an iffy thing, not an old, reliable favorite like pancakes. For a moment, I thought I might have made a disastrous mistake. But as it turned out, the blintzes were quite tasty: Tender, chewy shells wrapped around a filling like sweet cottage cheese, and loaded with bananas. I'll probably get them again the next time I go there.


Furthermore, they were BIG. I almost couldn't finish, and for me, that's saying something.

I sampled Joe's potato pancakes as well. They were decent, not spectacular, but serviceable, and they came with a side of sour cream and apple sauce.



The prices were pretty reasonable, about what you'd expect from a restaurant of this type.

In conclusion? Downer's Delight lives up to the second part of its name. If you want to be trendy and clever you can refer to the restaurant as "Double D." On second thought, don't. People will just look at you funny and ask what you're talking about and you'll wish you hadn't said anything.

The first thing you'll notice as you walk into Dowers Delight is the small fountain right next to the front door. It lies low, recessed down into the ground, not raised upwards like most fountains. And it's full of change, not just pennies, but quarters! I'm not saying that you'll really need an extra pocketful of change just to have a plate of pancakes there, but it certainly wouldn't hurt, and it's all just an arm's length away for any brave soul willing to roll up their sleeves for it. We spent our spare change on a Care Bears capsule toy. I'm not really a betting man but I went ahead and placed a guess on which one we'd get. Amanda turned the crank and out it came! Go ahead and try to guess which one it was.

We were seated in the same booth as we were when we came by for breakfast a few months ago. It's the one right next to the entrance to the patio, but fortunately there were no customers dining outside, bringing an end to the once-constant flow of servers in and out of the doors. It wasn't the foot traffic that I minded back then so much as the repetitive yet upredictable slamming sound of the door right behind me. Google "Chinese water torture" and you'll see what I'm getting at.

I had a good view of the large plasma screen television hanging on the wall, which was tuned to CNN and covering North Korea's imminent nuclear test. But then my potato pancakes arrived, and they turned out to be so thick, tender, and moist that I forgot all my cares and fears of global thermonuclear war and just dug in. I don't normally order this sort of thing but I was in the mood for something different today. The applesauce and sour cream didn't last long so I switched to ketchup and Tabasco. It was filling, but nothing to write home about.

Even though I've enjoyed my food on both trips to Downers Delight, I'm having a hard time trying to figure out why I should ever go back. Their selection is fairly average. Their prices aren't exactly unreasonable but I definitely wouldn't call them a bargain, either. There's a strange, ineffible quality to the box-shaped building itself and the well-manicured lawn surrounding it that repulses me. Maybe this feeling started to take root the first time that I tried to process the restaurant's seemingly incomprehensible name in my mind. Naturally, I guess it was inevitable that I'd end up with such mixed feelings about Downers Delight.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lemont Street Cafe, Darien

Lemont Street Cafe
7511 Lemont Rd., Suite 200
Darien, IL

September 7, 2006


The Lemont Street Cafe is not actually located in Lemont, but a ten minute drive north into Darien. It is, indeed, located on Lemont Street. It is also a cafe, a cafe that closes every day at 2:00. Restaurants with such early hours have a certain obligation to deliver the goods, so to speak, when it comes to certain menu items. We're talking the breakfast menu here, people. Breakfast. Hot breakfast. Fortunately, LSC is already way ahead of us here. What else would you expect from a restaurant that puts its location in its name? They don't have time to take phone calls asking "where are you located?" They're too busy firing up the griddles and brewing the coffee.

I'll get the criticisms out of the way first. Maybe they've got plenty of people firing up the griddles and brewing the coffee, but they could use more servers. I've been to LSC at least a half dozen times, maybe more, but each time there only seems to be one or two servers on hand to wait on the entire restaurant. The girls that wait on us everytime seem so overworked that it's a wonder they stick around month after month.


LSC just finished up their summer remodeling job and the difference shows. Everything is clean and spotless, the abundant windows let plenty of natural light inside. Some people like eating in the dark. I enjoy a clean, well lighted place for a change. The minimal approach to decor is a nice break from too many other restaurants that try to load up on kitchy junk everywhere.

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I usually get breakfast at LSC. The selection of sandwiches and burgers is pretty decent, but the side of fries is sometimes insultingly small. My blueberry waffle was every bit as good as it looks. Ayinsan just ordered a plain waffle, but it came with a side of scrambled eggs and sausage that was also good. As usual, I probably finished whatever she didn't eat of that with some Tabasco sauce on top.

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If you ever stop by Lemont Street Cafe (and you should, yes, it's recommended!) there's a good bookstore just a few minute's walk down to the other end of the shopping center called The Frugal Muse that offers a good selection of used books, music, and videos. You'll always find something unexpected there.

Ayinsan here. Lemont Street Cafe is saturated with memories for me, since my mom and I used to come here almost every Saturday when I was younger. The remodeling looks nice, but I have to say I miss the old look, especially the cheesy Christmas lights strung up along the walls, regardless of the season. But I'll get used to it. The new cranberry-and-cream color scheme is kind of nice, and the pancakes are still fluffy and delicious. It is a TAD expensive, which is my one criticism. There's really no reason for a basic pancake-egg-and-sausage meal to cost eight bucks (or close to it, I can't remember the exact price). I mean, pancakes are pancakes. The ingredients are pretty similar regardless of where you're getting them. But hey, sometimes you don't feel like eating at Denny's. So if you don't mind forking over a few extra dollars for the ambiance, it's worth checking out.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Nikarry's Restaurant, Aurora

Nikarry's Restaurant
1053 N. Lake St.
Aurora, IL

September 5, 2006

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Going out for breakfast and expecting that you're actually going to remember the details of the experience more than two weeks later is pretty unrealistic. But that's exactly what I did after going to Nikarry's, so unfortunately I don't have quite as much to say about the place as I'd hoped. For a weekday, it was much busier than I'd expected, and pretty noisy too. If you're looking for a quiet, friendly atmosphere, maybe this isn't the place for you. If you like that greasy diner feel when you eat out, and just want good food served up fast and on the cheap, then it's worth checking out.


Inside you'll find lots of brass fixtures, venetian blinds, and plastic plants. The booths on the north end of the building provide a breathtaking view of the cemetery next door, too. The service was pretty good; even though it was busy we were seated right away, the coffee refills were plentiful, and upon seeing that we only had about ten butter packets left at our table, our waitress exclaimed "Uh oh, you're almost out of butter!" and ran to get us a dozen more.

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There were plenty of fruit pancakes and crepes to choose from, but I played it safe and got the plate of a dozen dollar pancakes. Not silver dollar pancakes, just "dollar pancakes." And they were only about a quarter each, if you do the math. According to the menu, you can order as many as 18 on a plate but 12 is more than enough. Ayinsan's eggs were okay. It's hard to screw these things up, really.

I'd head back to Nikarry's again, but it's in the heart of the Aurora pancake district and I still don't know how it stacks up next to its neighbors/bitter rivals down the street. Only time will tell.

Ayinsan here. I don't have too many comments to add about Nikarry's. Joe pretty much summed it up: It's a decent restaurant, but kind of forgettable. But then, maybe that's what you want sometimes. Maybe you don't want a restaurant that tries to impress you with its clever, cutesy decor or gimmicky entree-names (I'm looking at you, IHOP. I mean, come on. 'Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity?' Just typing it out makes me feel vaguely ashamed.) Maybe sometimes, you don't want nine kinds of syrup, or a wide array of strange and exotic breakfast foods that confuse your tired, overburdened mind and make you want to run away. You just want some pancakes, damn it. Nikarry's has pancakes, without any of the frills. It won't blow your mind, but it's still pretty good.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mother's Pancake House & Restaurant, Aurora

Mother's Pancake House & Restaurant
2290 West Galena Blvd
Aurora, IL

August 29, 2006


We figured we'd start with Mother's, since it's only a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Since I just moved to the area I have no idea how long it's been open, but the makeshift vinyl sign on the east side of the building and the lack of a yellow pages listing suggests that they haven't been in business for long. But I really have no idea. The inside could pass for new; everything seems new and clean, but there were more than enough retirees reading newspapers and sipping their midday coffees to give it that old school, pancake house charm. You'd think that the unexpected Italian disco music playing over the speakers in the lobby would undercut this vibe, but it doesn't. For fun, see how many roosters you can count in the decor.


Mother's has a pretty good breakfast menu. It's been three weeks since I last looked over their menu, but they've got just about every kind of pancake, waffle, or crepe you could ask for. I got the banana crepes, which were pretty good if you like lots of sour cream. Ayinsan had the strawberry french toast, which was more like little sandwiches of grilled bread and strawberries. You can't go wrong with any of their breakfast menu.

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After we finished and were getting ready to leave, our waitress offered to take our check up to the cashier for us, so we gave her our money and waited for her to bring us back our change. It wasn't much, and we were going to leave it as part of the tip anyway. But we never saw her again. Needless to say, her tip wasn't as big as it could have been. Until the end, she was great. Or at least she was better than the waiter we had on another day that once exclaimed, with genuine shock, "Wow, that was quick!" when he saw that we were finished eating. I know, I know. Don't sweat the small stuff. But we weren't asking for any special treatment, and it wasn't busy on either day.

Anyway, if you're out in west Aurora, Mother's is worth a visit. Just find the Cub Foods and you're there.

Ayinsan here. I feel it wouldn't be fair to end this review without commenting on the cinnamon roll french toast, which is easily the most decadent thing on the menu (or at least, the most decadent that I've tried so far). They serve it to you with a side of cinnamon butter and frosting, along with the usual butter and syrup. The result is a warm, gooey mass of sugary goodness so intense that the rush of pleasure from the first bite may overload your nervous system and cause a violent cinnamon-induced seizure. After that bite, I blacked out and woke up in the hospital. After several months of rehab (those Nazis force you to go cold turkey, they won't even let you sprinkle a little cinnamon on your coffee--that's all I wanted, just a little sprinkle!), I'm still struggling to regain the full use of my left arm and learn how to write in cursive again, but it was worth it.

I had eggs and sausage with it to make me feel like I was actually eating a meal and not a dessert, but really, the french toast alone is enough to fill you up. I recommend also the banana bread french toast and the split pea soup. Or better yet, dip the banana bread french toast in the split pea soup for a unique experience. No, better yet, don't, that would be gross.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The REAL first post

If it's not obvious already, this blog is going to be about pancakes. Pancakes in Illinois, to be precise.

Or maybe that wasn't obvious. Maybe you just stumbled across this blog by mistake and quickly assumed that "Illinois Pancakes" just another blog full of pictures of cats, boring rants about pop culture, or viral polls ("What 'Grey's Anatomy' character are you?"). I guess a name like "Illinois Pancakes" does sound irreverent and absurd (or as the kids would probably say, "that's so random!") enough to be about just about anything, but don't be fooled. We have a mission and we're sticking to it. And that mission is simple: hit up as many pancake restaurants in our nation's 21st state as we can.

Getting started with this isn't a lot different from making pancakes at home. It usually makes a big mess, and that first batch that come off the freshly-sprayed pan always seem to turn out dry and crispy. The first few entires here might not turn out as moist and fluffy as we'd like, but don't feed them to the dogs just yet! Hopefully we'll get the hang of it after a few tries.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

first post

"The price of greatness is responsibility."
--Sir Winston Churchill