Friday, December 21, 2007
2942 Finley Rd.
Downers Grove, IL 60515
December 11 and 17, 2007
We visited Juicy-O on the way to a job interview I had more than a year ago, enjoyed our meal there immensely, and then promptly forgot not just its name but also the suburb that we were passing through when we found it. The only thing I remembered about its location was its proximity to a Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant, which is all we had to go by for quite some time until I found this last week. I don't know if this completely validates the existence of Downers Grove or not, but at least it's a start.
The first thing you'll notice while walking in the door is the abundance of pictures and signs hanging up. A lot of breakfast restaurants put up framed posters on their walls; specifically, I've seen this, this, this, and ones like this hanging up in different family restaurants/pancake houses, not just here but in other states. Juicy-O isn't content to mimic this motif of contrived spontaneous nostalgia. Instead, their gallery consists not of faux-vintage prints, but framed quotes in the form of arcastic observations, quasi-motivational sayings, self-deprecatory humor and various other maxims and adages. I never want to be "that guy," but despite the head-scratching stupidity of so many of these, I caught myself reading a few out loud, probably to the annoyance of the surrounding waitstaff.
Juicy-O make choosing the perfect breakfast easy: their entire menu is available on their website. On my first visit, I ordered the "pancake flight": one order of pancakes topped with strawberries, blueberries, and bananas. Very good, maybe not as great as The Manor's assorted fruit pancake, but a great bargain for anyone who loves fruit pancakes. Some whipped cream would complement this nicely. I guess I could have requested some. I also wish I'd taken a sharper picture of it all than this. The plate wasn't sliding across the table at a high speed or anything, so there's really no excuse for the blurry atrocity of a photograph pictured below.
Returning to Juicy-O a week later, I wanted something different. Crepes? Waffles? I went with French toast, "Thick Cinnamon Swirl" French toast. This was an adequate breakfast but wasn't as rich as I'd hoped. No cinnamon butter spread either, unfortunately. Maybe Juicy-O was watching out for my health.
I get the feeling that even with three visits under our belt, we're still only scratching the surface of what Juicy-O has to offer. I haven't even mentioned their juice bar, or the free (and delicious) doughnuts they offer during breakfast. All this in a spacious, colorful, and fun restaurant, with fewer gimmicks than my rambling description has probably suggested. I can't wait to go back again! And no, I'm not just saying that to get their customer of the month award.
Ayinsan here. On our first visit to Juicy-O, I had the banana foster French toast. I remember it being good, though that was so long ago I can't say much else about it. On our second visit, a few weeks ago, I had Juicy-O's basic breakfast combo--two pancakes, two eggs, two sausage links and two bacon strips. Most breakfast places have some variation of this. It's a nice balance of foods, and all very tasty. Their pancakes are soft and fluffy, the eggs look and taste like real eggs, the sausage was big and juicy and the bacon was...bacon-y.
On our most recent visit I tried the strawberry pancakes. Not bad, but strawberries and pancakes is not the best combination. Strawberries are great with waffles or blintzes, but pancakes, I have found, are best in their purest and simplest form, their warm fluffy goodness graced only with melted butter and maple syrup.
Joe's already remarked on the large number of framed saying on the walls. They range from mildly clever to irritating to nonsensical. "I used to have a dog, and he was a good dog" reads ones, "but these days he'd be a 'Canine American.'" Okay, whatever that means. Another reads, "Sarcasm is one of the many services we offer," but no one in the restaurant offered us sarcasm, so I think that qualifies as false advertising.
I should comment on Juicy-O's "bubble tea." I'd never had bubble tea before, and based on the name, I was expecting it to be kind of like, you know, tea. Actually, it was more like a fruit smoothie. Very thick. Not that that's a bad thing, I just wasn't prepared for it. I got the "peaches and cream" flavor. You can get bubble tea with or without tapioca. I am not wild about tapioca in general, but in the past I'd only encountered it in pudding. Here, it came in the form of free-floating, dark blue globules near the bottom of the glass. Chewing on one of these is a unique experience. One was enough for me, but if you like tapioca you might have a different reaction.
Overall? I recommend Juicy-O. Tasty food, and the prices, while not cheap, are about what you'd expect for a restaurant of this type. Just be forewarned; the framed sayings on the walls, while not particularly funny, are strangely addictive to read, and you will find yourself attempting to read every single one.
Friday, November 30, 2007
1650 W Main St
St. Charles, IL 60174
November 25, 2007
I didn't know what to expect from Spring View. We've driven past it before, but I never really noticed it, so this visit was a pleasant surprise. The interior is pretty nice, clean, cozy and well-lit. As you can see, there's kind of a mauve color scheme going on with the chairs and ceiling fixtures...or is that lavender? Something like that. There's lots of plants too. If you happen to be a Viking lord or a rough-edged biker covered with tattoos of knives and snarling tigers, the decor may not be to your tastes, but otherwise it's pretty nice. I also enjoyed the bobble-head dogs near the front entrance. Yes, I'm easily amused.
I got a waffle with whipped cream and strawberries. The menu claims these are "frozen fresh strawberries," which seems like a contradiction to me. I mean, I understand fresh fruit to be fruit that has not been frozen. These strawberries seemed like frozen ones, which I actually prefer, at least on waffles (they're juicier, and their juice soaks into the waffles and makes them ooey gooey good). Maybe the menu writers worried that if they just put "frozen strawberries," people would expect it to show up topped with strawberries frozen in ice-cubes.
In any case, the waffle was good...and surprisingly cheap. There are places where you'd have to pay $7.50 for a waffle with whipped cream and strawberries. This was $5.50, and it tasted great and filled me up.
Ah yes, and how could I forget the koi pond? This is the only pancake restaurant I've been to with a koi pond. And there are lots of those fish in there, all different colors, some nearly a foot long. Surprisingly, they were still pretty active despite the cold weather. The promise of koi was what lured me to this restaurant in the first place. Apparently the pond attracts visitors of the non-human variety as well. Once (according to a waitress) a hawk swooped down and grabbed the biggest koi out of the pond with its talons, and raccoons have been spotted sneaking about as well. I don't know if these fish have any kind of self-awareness, but I imagine their lives are similar to that of the Eloi in that H.G. Wells story. Most of the time it's pretty easy--they just float around and eat--but every so often one of them is snatched and carried to an early and gruesome death. Alas, poor koi.
Joe here. I'm not sure if I've ever been to the Spring View restaurant before this past week. We've been driving past it for years, but always on our way to Colonial, Baker's Square, or the the late, great Manor in downtown St. Charles. It never looked like much from the outside, and being surrounded by guardrails and brick walls, it always seemed like more of a fortress than a restaurant. The sign's been missing those letters for a few months now, too. All this never did much to draw me inside, but last week I finally faced my fears and gave it a chance.
Spring View doesn't bill itself as a pancake house, at least not on their sign outside. But pancake-phobes seeking refuge from those soft, steamy platters of their nightmares will be in for a horrifying surprise when they receive their menu. Their breakfast menu is on the back, and what they lack is selection is made up for by some pretty good prices. My blueberry pancakes weren't even $5.00!
My only real complaint? Our food arrived extremely quick, but felt like it had already been sitting out for minutes. The pancakes were good, but would have been better if they'd only been a little hotter. Nothing to write home about, but worth trying again, especially if you're on a budget.
Don't fall for his dirty tricks.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
2240 S. Arlington Heights Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
November 17, 2007
I used to live about a half mile down the road from Higgley's. I probably dined there on fewer than a half-dozen occasions, but I loved the place. Really, I did. Great comfort food, and it was cheap! Higgley's was usually close to empty in the late afternoon, well after the midday lunch rush but before the early dinner customers would begin to show up. That's when I would usually wander in, awaiting free rolls and the sense of reassurance that comes from being the youngest person in the room. Usually, I'd order a soup and sandwich, but I liked their pancakes too, and was looking forward to trying them again, for the first time in over a year. Higgley's wasn't exclusively a breakfast restaurant, but breakfast was always on the menu, and the atmosphere felt like a pancake house, or at least a family restaurant. Though unfortunately, I never saw any actual families at any of the tables. They were probably at the Denny's across the street on Algonquin Road, or in the IHOP a half mile to the north on Golf Road. Their loss.
So maybe I should have seen it coming, but I was still shocked and saddened when we pulled into the Higgley's parking lot, found it to be distressingly empty, and then saw the neon green posterboard taped to the front door.
So what's the story? "CLOSED DUE TO NON-RENEWAL OF LEASE" doesn't really explain why Higgley's closed. As a restaurant that had been open and operating successfully for years (more than ten, at least twenty, I'm assuming), surely the owners of the business itself would also own the actual property that it was housed in. Right? Or so it would seem. So did Higgley's bow out on their own free will, or did CVS put up an offer that the landowners couldn't refuse?
I could have sworn that Higgley's was open during the past few times that I've driven past it. Should have stopped in while I had the chance, but apparently that chance passed by a long time ago. This blog hosts the only complete news story on the matter that's still online, and the article is more than a year old. So strange to see the same sign still taped to the window today. The latest rumor is that a new BP Station could be moving in, demolishing Higgley's as well as, wait for it... the old BP station next door! This new station would be complete with an AMPM store. If you haven't been inside one, it's a laughable "store-within-a-store" that sells ordinary gas station food and soft drinks in appallingly giant cups. Sometimes those also have a Wild Bean Cafe inside. If you loved the authentic, retro-'50s experience of Wal-Mart's Radio Grill, you'll love the friendly baristas, comfy armchairs, and the Friday night poetry slams at the Wild Bean Cafe.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
2728 W. 111th Street
Naperville, IL 60564
October 9, 2007
Not every pancake house has its own website, so on the uncommon occasion where I find one that does, I'll usually read it pretty thoroughly before heading out the door. Who wouldn't want a sneak preview of where they're going to be spending the next hour in, not to mention a good hour or two's pay? When I first saw the website for Gigi's, I paused to wonder if maybe I should look for some place a little more casual. Flash animation and a snazzy jazz soundtrack? Pretty impressive, maybe even a little intimidating for someone who just wants to get a plate of pancakes. Photos of a sprawling banquet room, tables adorned with expensive silverware, customers wearing designer suits and dresses, toasting Champagne... can I really afford this?
Imagine my surprise when we pull up to the address and find a standard pancake house: no dress code, no maître d', and no white tablecloths in sight. The exquisite pastries featured on Gigi's website? Possibly hidden in the back, though there's a display case full of basic cakes and pies. I've checked and rechecked this site a number of times since then, just to make sure I wasn't looking at a different Gigi's restaurant. Surely there are a few out there that begrudginly share the same name. But the Gigi's online seems to be the same one that we dined at, despite the misleading impressions of its website.
We arrived at mid-afternoon and nearly had the place to ourselves. Pretty standard but inviting interior that does its best to make you forget that you're stranded in a wasteland of suburban strip malls and big box stores. Their breakfast menu features a decent selection of pancakes, and more. I ordered the banana pancakes, pictured below, lurking in the shadows.
Sliced bananas on top, mushed bananas inside, moist, fluffy, and a bit on the heavy side. Whipped cream was provided on the side, which is a good placement for it in this case. Take it as you need it. My freshly squeezed orange juice was like sunshine in a glass. Recommended.
Ayinsan here. Not a whole lot to say about Gigi's. It's cozy, low-key, and has some autumn-y decorations--no tacky paper jack-o-lanterns or dancing skeletons, just some orange leaves festooning the light fixtures. The waitress brought out a bread basket to our table before the meal, which is always nice. Often, when we visit these types of restaurants, we'll be sitting there hungry and we'll be the only people in the restaurant who don't have a basket of succulent muffins and soft, chewy rolls sitting on our table. I don't know if we just send out some kind of anti-bread vibe, or what. We usually either have to request a basket or go without...so it's a pleasant surprise when a basket does show up, even if it's just your basic rolls and crackers, like this one.
I got the blueberry pancakes. In addition to the blueberries baked into the batter, there's some warm blueberry compote on top. Compote is a terribly unappetizing word--it sounds too much like "compost"--but nonetheless it's really good on pancakes. Especially when combined with whipped cream. By the way, I usually have to ask for whipped cream, and some places will even charge extra for it. Here, it came automatically with the pancakes, but it's on the side, so if you don't like whipped cream (but hey, who doesn't?), you can ignore it.
Gigi's might warrant a future visit, if it was a little closer. As it was, we had to drive for what felt like hours, across miles of unknown terrain. I think we crossed a desert at some point, and then had to drive through pirahna-infested rivers in a sweltering jungle. But it was worth it for those pancakes heaped with warm blueberry compote. Mmm, compote.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
450 E Ogden Ave.
Naperville, IL 60563
September 8 and September 25, 2007
The actual name of this restaurant is unclear. While it's referred to as "Grandma Sally's Waffle House" online, the name on the sign is "Grandma Sally's Family Restaurant." Whatever you call it, it's a place where you can get breakfast all day, and in my mind that qualifies it as a pancake house, which it also says on the awning.
We've been here twice now. On our first visit, the food was excellent. I got the strawberry blintzes and received a full plate of blintzes, along with an entire bowl of warm, gooey strawberries on the side. They certainly didn't skimp on anything. If you're a blintz person, this is your restaurant.
On the second visit I thought I'd try something different, so I got a cheese omelet with pancakes. Now, omelets are generally not something I get in restaurants, so I don't have a lot to compare this to, but I can't say it was anything to get excited about. The eggs were kind of tough, and rather than being evenly mixed into the omelet, the cheese was all kind of concentrated in a little pocket in the center. The pancakes were passable, the hash browns were pretty good. Though really, it's hard to screw up hash browns. Mix in a little ketchup and salt and you're set.
The interior of the restaurant sports a large painting of Grandma Sally herself, watching over the customers. I'm not sure whether this should give me a warm, fuzzy feeling, or a sort of, "Grandma Sally's got her eye on you, so you'd better not dine and dash or she'll come after you with her razor" feeling.
The front of the menu also sports a painting. There's Sally serving some food to kids at a table. The boy in the center is named Chris (you have to look really closely--his name is on the front of his shirt). The other children, I guess, aren't important enough to get names. It makes me wonder what sort of strings this "Chris" pulled to get his name on the menu while his fellow children languish in obscurity.
Joe here. I don't know why it took this long for us to check Naperville for a pancake house. It's only a few minutes away, and being the fourth largest city in the state -- it doesn't seem to be a question of if it will ever pass Rockford for third, but when -- and is the perfect suburban setting for the pancake house and/or family restaurant. Maybe a little too perfect? I'd post some of those anti-Naperville shirts that were popular two years or so ago but now they only seem to be available as toddler-sized onesies for Wicker Park grups to dress their kids up in. The irony of it all.
The blueberry pancakes I had on my first trip were excellent. Didn't get any blueberry syrup with them, but that's fine. I'm starting to think that flavored syrups were only invented to compensate for bland, dry pancakes, anyway. I had these more than a month ago so I'm afraid I don't remember much about them, except that I was very satisfied and was already looking forward to coming back to Grandma Sally's again soon. Maybe I'd found a new favorite pancake house?
My hopes were dashed upon the second trip. I ordered the Swedish pancakes, the hardy perennial dish that I can always count on, no matter where I go. Grandma Sally's serves theirs with a big bowl of lingonberries, which was a promising sign, but it was much more runny than I usually like. The pancakes themselves were soft and chewy, almost to the point of being soggy. There doesn't seem to be any cut and dry way of making Swedish pancakes, but I prefer a crispy edge to them that these didn't have. No lingonberry butter, either, but less than half of the places I've been to seem to offer that. I don't want to say these were terrible, they just weren't satisfying. Ayinsan's American cheese omlette was disappointingly runny and bland.
I do like the interior of the restaurant; lots of browns and greens, plenty of brass fixtures and hanging plants. You see this sort of thing a lot, but that's precisely the point. It's like an unspoken agreement in the pancake house underground: keep the same motif in every restaurant and customers will feel at home no matter where they go. It's more of a loose tradition than any kind of a corporate-mandated commitment to standards. It's a far cry from Grandma Sally's days of feeding orphans in a log cabin (partially pictured here behind the shoulder of the lonely gentleman). These days, her altruism towards children only only goes to ones that can afford it.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
954 Lake Street
Oak Park, IL 60301
August 18, 2007
I know I said I wasn't going to do any more entries on chains we've already been to, but in light of recent events, it's become clear to me that I was wrong to take these individual franchises for granted. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring... or if tomorrow will even arrive. For you.
But if it does, you might want to treat yourself to breakfast at the Original Pancake House. They have 16 locations in Illinois alone, more than any other state. If there's a non-acronymical pancake house out there with more locations (109 nationwide), I'd like to know. This one sits in downtown Oak Park, just blocks from the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway. I had time to kill before breakfast so I went for a walk but missed it by one street. Nice houses in the neighborhood, anyway. But we all know what Hemingway thought about those.
We dined on a Saturday morning, so as you can see, the OPH was packed. We had to wait almost 15 minutes for a table, and passed the time as best we could. Eventually we were seated and ordered some coffee, brought to us in a pot that was conveniently left on our table. On a busy morning like this, they probably wouldn't have time to come around and give everyone refills, anyway. We all ordered pancakes or eggs. I wish I would have picked something a little more adventurous than a basic plate of buttermilk pancakes, but I've been burned a few times this summer by ordering a few appetizing-sounding but ultimately disappointing exotic pancake dishes, so I chose to play it safe. And nobody wants to be the only person to order a pile of fruit and whipped cream. Not when you're in the presence of greatness, anyway.
My pancakes were delicious: evenly cooked, fluffy but not bready, and a perfectly-sized portion. In other words: good pancakes, which is all we ever ask for. This good-ness is a difficult quality to define in plain, flour-based pancakes, much less discern to any significant degree for most people from restaurant to restaurant. These differences are largely imperceptible to the human tongue, though I hoped that in time I would somehow develop the skills to do so. Unfortunately, this ability is purely genetic, meaning that I'll probably never fully experience the long-rumored, consciousness-altering, fourth plateau of pancake goodness that's supposedly out there somewhere. I wanted to try some of Gena's omelet, which was too much for her to finish, but I didn't want to look like a gluttonous cadger so I didn't ask. No one else had any trouble cleaning their plates. For the five of us, our bill came to about $45.00. This isn't bad for a group of single people with a wealth of disposable income to blow indiscriminately. But I'm starting to understand why going out like this would be difficult for families to do on a regular basis.
Downtown Oak Park seems like a nice place to live, a suburb with character, if you will. Maybe I'm just oblivious to its dark, gentrified secrets? I don't know. Any place with a pancake house, movie theater, Borders bookstore, and internet cafe/bubble tea bar on the same block can't be that bad, can it?
Monday, August 20, 2007
9215 West Broadway Ave.
Brookfield, IL 60513
August 16, 2007
We've had a pair of free passes to the Brookfield Zoo that we've been waiting to use since the spring, which we finally put to good use this week. Since we were already headed to Brookfield, we wanted to find some place to have breakfast first. Sure enough, there was a pancake house in Brookfield, and though we took the wrong way out of the nearby turnabout to get there, we eventually found it relative ease. The Brookfield Pancake House sits on a quiet street, just across from an old fashioned barber shop, and next door to something called Micro Thunder, Inc.. As you can see, it's also next to a dollar store. And not one of those cheap Dollar Tree stores that have taken over every strip mall in the suburbs (and unfortunate shopping malls as well), either. Check the dude in the jorts who's about to sit on the sign. Classic style.
The awning above the door displays the name "Broadway Pancake House," yet the sign just above it clearly reads "Broadway Family Restaurant." From the outside this might seem like a restaurant with an identity crisis. Just don't expect to find a shocking collision of themes inside. It's a pancake house, but feels more like a diner than a family restaurant. Our host/waiter was friendly and the service was good, but we were two of the only customers in at the time. It was after 1:00 on a weekday, so obviously business was slow. It must pick up later in the evening, because unlike most other pancake houses we've been to, Broadway is open until 9:00 at night for dinner.
The menu gives you a decent but not quite impressive list of pancakes to pick from. I chose the silver dollar pancakes, while Ayinsan skipped pancakes altogether and tried the French toast special with eggs and sausage. My pancakes were fine. Nothing special, here.
Our bill came to under ten dollars for both of us, but that's without any coffee or juice. We'd both had coffee earlier that morning, and maybe we just wanted to save money by drinking ice water instead of juice. It's probably a fact that meals are more enjoyable when you get "real" beverages with them, so we're probably doing these restaurants (and our opinions of them) an unfair disservice when we choose not to have any with our meals. Not that we really think that our opinions are really filling (or emptying) the booths. I just don't want to put up an unnecessarily critical or pissy "review" that some pancake house owner is eventually going to find on Google. Is that a spineless attitude or what?
Anyway, the Broadway Pancake House is a good stop if you're looking for breakfast on the cheap, especially if you're planning on spending a few hours at the zoo afterwards (worth doing before Labor Day). Just don't expect anything more than a no-frills breakfast. No fancy crepes, Belgian waffles, apricot glaze, or chrome caddies of fruit-flavored syrups. But maybe that's just fine with you.
Ayinsan here. As you can see, my breakfast came arranged with geometric precision on the plate, with french toast triangles bracketing a large, yellow rectangle of eggs, and a sausage link perched at each end. Of course, I only had a few seconds to appreciate this effort before I tore it apart with my knife and fork.
Pretty much all that needs to be said about the Broadway Pancake House has been said. It's simple, quick and cheap, and while the food was nothing to get excited about, it's also nothing to scoff at. And somehow, I was left with the impression that the folks running this restaurant take a certain pride in their work. Maybe it was the attentive and friendly service, or the carefully arranged food, or maybe they were broadcasting sub-audible hypnotic suggestions through the Oldies radio station.