Thursday, August 30, 2007

Original Pancake House, Oak Park

Original Pancake House
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.

OPHOakParkPancakes OPHOakParkEggs&Potatoes
OPHOakParkTobasco OPHOakParkOmlette

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

Broadway Pancake House, Brookfield

Broadway Pancake House
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.

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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.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Olde North Pancake House, West Chicago

Olde North Pancake House
27W751 North Avenue (Rte 64)
West Chicago, IL 60185

July 31 & August 2, 2007


Less than two miles east of the Cascade Drive-In theater, the Olde North Pancake Pancake House stands on a relatively unoccupied stretch of Route 64. It's one of the last places you'd expect to find a pancake house, though in another five years, it might just be surrounded by Starbucks and bathroom tile stores like most of the other restaurants we've been to. Open space serviced by a major road like this doesn't stay unoccupied for very long anymore. It's probably only a matter of time before Lowes and Home Depot set up shop across the street from each other, Wal Mart buys up the busiest street corner they can, and mattress stores suddenly start springing up.

Hopefully this oncoming sprawl won't swallow up the Olde North Pancake House anytime soon. Olde North offers a good variety of pancakes and other breakfast entrees, and lots of lunch specials too. It was only open until 2:00 on the days that we visited, but apparently stay open later for dinner on Fridays.

There's a good selection of pancakes at Olde North, though my initial order of coconut pancakes wasn't the best choice I could have made. Shredded coconuts on top, and also baked into the cakes. I love coconut, but after finishing half of my order, I was longing for some good old fashioned plain hotcakes, or at least the cornmeal pancakes that I'd decided not to order at the last moment. On our next visit, I ordered my unoffical favorite: Swedish pancakes. They arrive at your table wrapped up like crepes, with lingonberries packed inside and drizzled on top, crispy on the edges and chewy in the center. These didn't disappoint at all, and were some of the best Swedish pancakes I've ever had.



Both of our visits were around 1:00 on weekday afternoons, hardly the busiest time for business for any breakfast restaurant, but each time there were still small groups of people coming in after us. That's a good thing. Like the Cascade Drive-In just down the road, it's easy to get the feeling that the days of the Olde North (or rather, places like it, in general) are numbered. Or maybe they're making more money every week than they know how to spend? I don't know. Hopefully people are also buying the decorations that hang on the walls. Most are for sale and have tiny price tags hanging from them. I don't like folk art at all but I support folk artists. I mean, I support their intentions, but not necessarily with my wallet. Yeah, I'm sure they really appreciate that.

OldeNorthInside1 OldeNorthFireplace
OldeNorthInside2 OldeNorthInside3

Ayinsan here. As you can see, the interior has a cozy, rustic feel. Well, aside from that tower of individually packaged sugar cereals on the front counter, which are neither cozy nor rustic, but probably very tasty nonetheless. We got a booth near the back of the restaurant, next to a window, and there was a bird-feeder just outside. While we waited for our food, we watched hordes of sparrows (I think that's what they were...I can recognize robins and cardinals and pidgeons, but aside from that I am woefully ignorant of the birds inhabiting our fair state) crowding around to peck up seeds.

OldeNorthStuffedFT OldeNorthEggs&Sausage

For our first visit I ordered the stuffed french toast, which was just plain delicious. Sweet cream-cheese filling between two half-slices of french toast, smothered with strawberry sauce and topped with dollops of whipped cream. For our second visit I got a combo which I believe was called the country breakfast. Hot cakes, scrambled eggs and sausage patties...can't go wrong with that. The sausage was especially good. Eggs? Eh, there was nothing wrong with them, but they weren't exciting. Finding really good scrambled eggs seems to be a tough task. I guess there's only so much you can do with them, but restaurant scrambled eggs all have the same dry, spongy consistency--filling, yet devoid of soul and character. I've taken to livening them up with a few drops of Tobasco sauce.


The Olde North Pancake House is right across from a mini golf course called Coyote Crossing. Their inflatable, grinning mascot proved a valuable advertising tool. After lunch, we crossed a busy street just so we could take a closer look, and a photo, and the next time we visited Olde North we ended up playing a game.