Friday, November 28, 2008

Golden House Restaurant & Pancake House, Chicago

Golden House
4744 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640

November 25, 2008


The Golden House Pancake House & Restaurant has probably never been graced the elite heights of any critics' lists of best breakfast restaurants in Chicago, usually reserved for such prominent names as Ann Sather or Lou Mitchell. By comparison, there's nothing fancy or assuming about Golden House. It's a restaurant from another era, real names no gimmicks. But does it live up to its name?

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Definitely not. Or at least that's the first impression you'll get, as you walk in and find yourself surrounded with shiny booths padded with... ruby red-colored vinyl. No solid gold tables anywhere! The deception continues as you're given your menu, featuring this misleading illustration on its cover. Perhaps the breakfast at Golden House reminded the artist of pancakes at their grandparents' summer home in what would appear to be the Wisconsin Dells, or perhaps Eau Claire or Rice Lake.

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I ordered a plate of silver dollar pancakes, offered in servings of ten or fifteen, though I'm sure you could ask for different quantities if you really wanted to. These were definitely satisfying, better than many other restaurants' take on the classic dish, but perhaps unsurprisingly, nothing too special. My coffee was hot and fresh, which they probably deserve credit for given that there were almost no other customers sitting down when we arrived; not much of an incentive for them to keep brewing fresh pots, but brew on they did.

The Golden House is located next door to the Riviera Theater, which I've only been to twice. First, to see Wilco in 2000, which was a pretty great show. Mercury Rev opened, Wilco played most of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and, while being surrounded by young hipsters and greying WXRT listeners, I still enjoyed myself without any sense of self-consciousness. About a year later I saw Paul Oakenfold on the horrid Bunkka tour and was so bored and utterly depressed by the whole show that I left long before it had ended. I probably went straight for the red line to begin my journey home but could have salvaged something out of the evening if I'd only looked to see what was next door.

Ayinsan here. No real complaints about Golden House restaurant and pancake house (not to be confused with Golden Nugget, another Chicago pancake house). There's nothing about it that really stands out at first glance, but it delivers the goods--the pancakes, that is. You won't find crepes or blintzes or anything too hoity-toity here. Just the old stand-bys: pancakes, waffles, french toast, all with optional fruit. The fruit specials have peculiar alliterative names like "adorable apple pancakes" and "beautiful blueberry waffles." Putting fruit on your breakfast does not merely add another flavor, see, it turns your breakfast into a work of art so lovely that you won't want to eat it: instead, you will cover it with a coat of varnish to preserve its beauty and put it on a marble stand in your foyer for all the world to admire. Anyway...

I ordered the country breakfast. I'm pretty sure that's what it was called, anyway. It's a standard breakfast combo with three pancakes, eggs and sausage.


The pancakes were quite tasty, chewy and dense the way I like them. Some people probably prefer the lighter, fluffier pancakes, and those certainly have their appeal, but in my opinion, nothing tops that chewy consistency. The eggs were passable (shown below with some non-Tobasco-brand hot sauce on them) and the sausage was a few notches above passable. They may look a bit scrawny, but they were quite tender and flavorful. No gristle. Always a good thing.

Unlike many such places, the waitress/waiter doesn't deliver the check to your table, you pay at the front counter. I didn't expect this, so I spent several minutes trying awkwardly to catch our waitress's eye and give her some indication that we were ready. At first I couldn't figure out why she was just standing behind the counter staring back at us expectantly. Really, this set-up makes more sense. It's just less common.

Overall, not a whole lot to say, except that if you're in the area and looking for a good, dependable breakfast place that will deliver the old favorites, stop into Golden House restaurant.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

tragedy strikes, pt. 2

It's been more than a year since we visited Gigi's in Naperville, a nice enough little restaurant that we probably would have returned to if it wasn't located in the bowels of southern Naperville, accessible only through a tortuously stoplight-ridden drive that we'd rather not experience again. For rather unfortunate reasons, however, it's a choice we may no longer have the opportunity to make.

On the evening of October 30, an explosion ripped through Gigi's Pancake House & Restaurant, critically burning two employees and causing extensive damage to the building. Read all about it here:,naperville-explosion-fire-102908.article

The authors of this blog would never claim to be the foremost experts on pancakes in Illinois, or the inside source on all restaurant gossip in the Chicago suburbs. Nevertheless, there's no excuse for us to take three whole weeks to cover a story like this. That said, the past three weeks have given investigators ample time to survey the damage and their findings, just released this week, have shed new light on what first appeared to be a freak accident.

This isn't a detailed or final report, and it might be some time before we know just what happened that night. This isn't the first time that local pancake house has exploded. Will there be more to come?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Colonial Cafe, Aurora

Colonial Cafe
1961 West Galena
Aurora, IL 60506

September 18, 2008


No, that sign isn't fake. One-cent pancakes? Believe it! Colonial has run this promotion before to celebrate some of their locations' anniversaries in 2007. It was a little unclear what the cause was this time around at their Aurora location, but I didn't pause to ask our server. We were too hungry and they were too busy.

Of course, there's always a catch. You can't take advantage of the one-cent pancake offer unless you buy a beverage, so don't expect to walk out with a bill under ten cents. We bought some coffee and juice, and what the heck, some bacon too! It's easy to agree to such suggestions when your main course is free, even though it helps bring an almost-free breakfast up in price to a mere great deal instead. I'm sure that's part of their plan, and probably why they're doing it at more locations in the coming months.


Ayinsan here.

Not much to say about the pancakes themselves. They're good, but not mind-blowing, comparable to pancakes you might get at IHOP or the like. But hey, they were a penny, so I'm not complaining. They even came with their own little cup of syrup, though our waitress also brought us a traditional glass syrup container, so we weren't limited to the cup.

Colonial's always good for some reliable comfort food. Hopefully in the future we'll get a chance to try some of their more adventurous breakfast items, but you can't go wrong with buttermilk pancakes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Southern Belle's, Oswego

Southern Belle's
1158 Douglas Rd
Oswego, IL 60543

September 9, 2008


Do you find the stylish and postmodern motifs of today's pancake houses a little too cold and impersonal? Do you ever wish you could go back to a simpler time, when men and women would start their day with a hearty breakfast before working in the fields? When giant chickens, taller than a fence, roamed our farms and laid a half-dozen eggs a day? When Weiner-mobiles towed covered wagons full of fresh vegetables down to the farmer's market at Venice Beach? If so, Southern Belle's might be the restaurant for you.

It may not have a fireplace or a porch full of rocking chairs like Cracker Barrel, but Southern Belle's adds their own touches to evoke the charm its namesake implies. If the waitresses working during our visit were any indication, all the servers wear overalls as part of their uniform. Whether this is done to enhance the restaurant's working class ethic, or to evoke pleasant nostalgia of the Depression-era Dust Bowl, I'm not sure. I couldn't find the men's or the women's restrooms, just ones meant for "dudes" and "belles," so if you fall in either one of those categories, you're in luck.

You'll find a good selection of pancakes on their menu. I ordered the strawberry pancakes, which looked like an ordinarily-sized serving but proved extremely filling. I couldn't even clean my plate! Not sure how I felt about the strawberry topping they generously applied, though. I'd have been just fine with plain strawberries and nothing more.


Halfway through our meal I finally gave in and ordered some coffee. This was getting close to 1:00 in the afternoon, long past the breakfast hours and any kind of lunchtime rush they may have had. In fact, there were only two or three other tables with customers at the time, besides the two of us. I know this situation really isn't condusive to a busy and fresh coffeepot, so I'm not going to hold it against them or anything. That said, my coffee wasn't very good. Bitter, maybe a little burned? I should have trusted my instincts before ordering any. Aside from our recent trip to Mapleberry, lately I haven't been able to find a good cup of coffee almost anywhere.


Ayinsan here. Southern Belle's won fifth place in "best breakfast overall" in a newspaper-run contest and first place for "best new breakfast," but the sign in the window simply says, "Thank you for voting us best restaurant." Kind of misleading, but nonetheless, Southern Belle's is worth visiting.

Probably the first thing you'll notice upon entering is the decor. Lots of objects hanging from the ceiling, including a Radio Flyer wagon, an Oscar-Meyer Weiner-mobile, and a giant box of Frosted Flakes. Why these particular items? One can only wonder.


I got the banana crepes, which are always a bit of a gamble. Sometimes they're great, sometimes there's just not much to them, depending on where you go. I asked the waitress what else was in the crepes, aside from bananas. She went in the kitchen to inquire and told me they were filled with a "sweet mixture." That didn't clarify it much, but I went ahead and ordered the crepes. They were pretty good, though if there really was a "sweet mixture" inside them, I couldn't detect it. It seemed to be just bananas...but despite that, they were quite filling. The bananas were fresh (not overripe or yucky and bruised) and the crepe shells were chewy and sweet.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mapleberry Pancake House, Carol Stream

Mapleberry Pancake House
1276 Kuhn Road
Carol Stream, IL 60188

August 26, 2008


I often idealize the common features of so many American pancake houses -- the dim lighting, brass fixtures, and faded upholstery of booths and chairs, worn out from decades of diners dragging their behinds across them every day -- as being a common and comforting motif that's as natural as the forces of nature. That said, sometimes you want a change of pace, something a little newer, a little brighter, a little bit less like your favorite old sweatshirt, so to speak.

If this feels familiar and you're in the western suburbs, the Mapleberry Pancake House might be just what you're looking for. It's just two years old but deserves a niche of its own in the busy, Pancake-House-Royal-Rumble that is Dupage County.

With a name like Mapleberry, I figured I had to get some kind of fruit pancake during my visit. I ordered the blueberry pancake with whipped cream, very satisfying but not oppressively filling, either. They're not breaking any new ground here but they definitely deliver the goods. The coffee I had was pretty good, too. Like IHOP, you get your own pot delivered to the table. No more waiting for refills, which was probably a blessing since our area's waitress seemed to disappear from the room completely during the last 10 minutes of our stay. But we had no pressing needs so I can't really complain.


Ayinsan here. I ordered the cinnamon swirl french toast with scrambled eggs and sausage. The french toast was pretty good...not as good as Mother's, but then, I have yet to see anyone top Mother's in the cinnamon french toast department. They were generous with the eggs, which were fluffy and quite tasty. The sausage was a bit bland, but passable.


Overall, no complaints, really. The ambiance was nice, the bathrooms were clean, the place was quiet and peaceful and we were served very quickly. I don't even have any sardonic comments to make. Well, one small thing. When I asked for water, we were given a pitcher but no water glasses so I had to drink ice water out of my coffee cup. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, but it felt a bit strange. I could have taken one of the water glasses from the empty table to our immediate right, I suppose. Oh well.

We went on a Tuesday. Judging by other reviews of this restaurant, it tends to become packed on the weekends and service suffers, but I can't verify that personally.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Harner's Bakery and Restaurant, Aurora

Harner's Bakery and Restaurant
10 W. State Street
North Aurora, IL 60542

August 1, 2008


Earlier this year, The Kane County Chronicle polled its readers to find the best breakfast restaurants in the area. The results are no longer posted on the paper's website, but we have them saved right here. They're at the bottom of the page after a nice profile on the Blueberry Hill restaurant in Aurora.

Deservedly, Mother's took the top spot for best breakfast, beating out multi-location votes for Colonial, Egg Harbour, and some place in Oswego called Southern Belle's. The award for best pancakes also went to Mother's, who topped Colonial, IHOP, and Nikarry's. It's affirming to our sense of taste that our fondness for Mother's is shared by so many, and not just rooted in the convenient fact that it's just a few minutes' walk from here.

Also on the list for best breakfast and best pancakes was a restaurant we'd never heard of before. Harner's in North Aurora (not Aurora, as its residents probably love to remind everyone) is nestled next to the Fox River, pretty well cut off from us by road construction on I-88 and Oak Street, but it was still worth the detour to check out.


You'll be tempted by the treats in the bakery as you walk through the door, and you'll probably make plans to pick some up after you finish eating. We would have done this ourselves if we didn't have errands to run, and if it wasn't one of the hottest days of the year. Leaving a box of cinnamon rolls or cupcakes in the car on a 90 degree day just wouldn't have been the best idea. Still, we browsed in the bakery for a while before being seated. Harner's has two distinct dining rooms, the first having a bar to sit at and some ceiling fans, the second having an added-on feel of a room addition but with a nice view of the Fox River and the Fox River Trail. We were seated in this second room, which was adorned with a brick fireplace and decorated with taxidermy. Can you find the jackalope?


You'll find a limited selection of pancakes on their breakfast menu, but the prices are reasonable. I went with the standard order of three pancakes and came away satisfied but unamazed. Pretty good, but the fourth-best pancakes in all of Kane County? I just don't know. I imagine that most of Harner's loyal customers keep coming back for the atmosphere and the camaraderie, or at least that's the impression I got from the photo collages that line the walls next to the doors to the (spacious) restrooms.


Ayinsan here. Harner's is not just a breakfast place. It's a bakery, too. You walk in and are greeted with a huge glass display case filled with cookies, donuts, cakes and cinnamon rolls. Some of the cookies have cute animals faces, which I imagine would be fun to bite in half. There was a plate of free samples atop the display case. I tried one--some sort of shortbread nut cookie, I think. Pretty good. I wish I lived close to a place like this, so I could just walk in every morning and buy a nice, hot cinnamon roll. Of course, it's a good bet that I wouldn't be able to restrain myself. I wouldn't stop at one cinnamon roll. I'd stuff my face with frosting-laden confections until I lay helpless, bloated and groaning on the floor.

We were seated in a room with wood-paneled walls and lots of windows, providing a nice view of the surrounding scenery. Harner's is tucked next to a little wooded area near the river, so you actually see trees and water through the windows, rather than looking out at a gas station parking lot or a convenience store.


The waitress brought us a bread basket almost as soon as we sat down. Along with the standard rolls, there were some little pieces of nut-bread, very dense and sweet, almost like cake. We didn't have to wait long for our food. Really, the whole experience would have been quite pleasant, except we were sitting next to a table filled with really loud people. I immediately felt a twinge of dread when I looked at the table next to ours and saw a baby in a high-chair, but really, the baby wasn't too bad. Aside from one or two shrieks, it mostly stayed quiet. The woman sitting across from it, however, had a terribly annoying, high-pitched, nasally laugh, like a duck choking on a kazoo. And she laughed a lot. And of course the adults at the table kept poking the baby and egging it on, trying to get some kind of oh-so-precious reaction out of it. The few times the baby did laugh or shriek was mainly because Choking-Duck-Laugh-Woman and her giggling friend wouldn't leave it alone.

Eventually, the group left, leaving us to enjoy our meal in peace. For a change of pace, I got the biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs. The menu gives you the option of ordering either a full or half order. I really could have gotten the half order, but my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. I couldn't finish them.


I tried some of Joe's pancakes. They were delicious, chewy, dense and sweet. If I come back here at some point (which I probably will) I'm definitely ordering the pancakes.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cracker Barrel, Romeoville

Cracker Barrel
1295 Lakeview Drive
Romeoville IL 60446

June 12, 2008


I'm just going to come right out and say it. Cracker Barrel has the best pancakes I've ever tasted. I really wish I could award that distinction to some underappreciated, off-the-beaten-trail pancake house and not a national chain already raking in big bucks, but the simple truth is that I really, really like Cracker Barrel's pancakes.

Don't get me wrong, there are some very close seconds out there. Manor's pancakes and Honey's pancakes are both very tasty, and I recommend them. But Cracker Barrel pancakes have a certain texture I've never encountered anywhere else, light and crispy on the outside, tender and chewy on the inside. And they serve them with real maple syrup. I don't know exactly what they do to make them so flavorful. Fry them in pure butter or something, probably.

I got the Momma's Pancake Breakfast, which also comes with (unremarkable) eggs and sausage/bacon.


When you're waiting for your food, you can play the little game they have on all the tables. It's a wooden triangle with holes in it, and all the holes but one are filled with little plastic pegs. You have to "jump" over the pegs to remove them. The object of the goal is to end up with only one peg left. It's a cute little time-waster, but it's always bad on my self-esteem because it includes a little intelligence test: If you end up with one peg you're a "genius." Two and you're "purty smart." Three and you're "just plain dumb," and four and you're an "ig-nor-a-moose." I always seem to end up with three. No matter how meticulously I plan ahead, those plastic pegs outsmart me every time, and I can hear their malevolent little voices laughing inside my head. "You're just plain dumb!" they chant. My rage wells inside me like a tide of molten lava, but then the food arrives, placating the savage beast within.

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Cracker Barrel also has a gift shop, filled with decorative wooden plaques bearing homespun cliches, garden ornaments, stuffed animals, scented candles and other words, stuff you could never possibly need, but somehow just being surrounded by a wonderland of unnecessary stuff makes you want to pull out your wallet, open it, and say, "Take it. Take all my money. I must have your things." For many visits, I resisted the evil, magical pull of the Cracker Barrel gift shop, but today I caved in and got a quarter pound of fudge.


Joe here. This was the fourth time I'd been to Cracker Barrel, but the first time I'd ever ordered breakfast at one. I'm always tempted by their "old fashioned" meals -- chicken n' dumplins, open-faced sandwiches -- which are about as traditional as meals get but somehow still feel strange and exotic to me. I've never seen anyone under 50 order a blue plate special or anything like these dishes in any other restaurant. Doing so myself gives me the same feeling I get when I go out for Chinese food, authentic Mexican food, or sushi.

I never would have guessed it, but Cracker Barrel has worked pretty hard to establish themselves as a breakfast force to be reckoned with. Their menu boasts of their profane consumption of the world's maple syrup supply, currently at 6%. Each order of pancakes comes with an individually-bottled serving, warmed and ready to pour. I'm sure than 99% of these bottles head straight for the landfill once their life on the plate is through. Kind of a waste, but it's a personal touch that keeps the customers coming back in, I'm sure.


Good pancakes, nothing earth shattering but great texture and presentation. Very filling. Worth coming back for, though you can get these in 40 other states, not just Illinois. Eggs and sausage were passable, though not as good as the hotcakes.


Surprisingly hilarious read here. Still don't know what "Cracker Barrel" means, always conjured up images of cheese and crackers for me as a kid, which I still can't get over every time I see that cheddar-colored logo.

Monday, May 26, 2008

tragedy strikes


A lot has happened since we last wrote about the Lemont Street Cafe. Shortly after our original entry, LSC underwent a name change and the final phase of a nice remodeling, rechristening itself as the Shea Cafe. I don't know the story behind the name change, or if Shea was pronounced as "Shay" (rhymes with clay) or "She-ah" (rhymes with diarrhea). I'm leaning more towards the former, since it also rhymes with cafe and there was a sparse collection of baseball memorabilia in a display case by the register.

Anyway, the name change didn't bring about sweeping changes (though in rereading our original review, I can say with confidence the service really did seem to improve over the following year and a half, though it was never particularly bad to begin with). It was still the same good food and friendly atmosphere. You were always made to feel welcome, and you could tell that the owners loved their work and were truly appreciative whenever you walked through the doors. The Lemont Street Cafe/Shea Cafe was always one of our favorite spots for breakfast and lunch, a fact that wouldn't be clear to me until well after we'd written our original review and kept coming back for more.

Despite being one of our favorites, we spent a few months away from Shea exploring other restaurants in the area, always confident that we'd be able to return whenever we'd like. Imagine our shock and disappointment when we drove by more than a month ago to find this note taped to the inside of the door. I only hope that everyone there is back on their feet somewhere else by now. What a pity that restaurants run by passionate people can't make it here anymore, while others content to just go through the motions every day get to stay in business.


Ayinsan here. Around the same time Shea Cafe closed its doors, Spring View--another nice restaurant--shut down. Not sure what the "All New This Fall" message means. Will it be the same restaurant under new ownership? Will it be someplace completely new? The sign offers no clues, but apparently there will be something in this location come Fall. I have to wonder what will happen to the koi in the meantime. I hope they're okay. We've only been to Spring View a couple times, but I liked the place. I was sorry to see it go.


As if the combined loss of Shea Cafe and Spring View weren't enough, the Baker Square in St. Charles recently closed its doors as well. Okay, so it's not quite the same. After all, there are plenty of other Baker Squares in the area, so it's not like a unique restaurant has vanished forever from the face of the Earth. Still, I always liked the one in St. Charles. It always seemed a little cleaner, a little nicer.

Why are so many restaurants going out of business? Probably the sagging economy is to blame, at least in part...but I guess the real question is, why do so many crappy restaurants remain in business while the good ones die out? It's a mystery for the ages.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Honey, Glen Ellyn

499 N Main St
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

May 12, 2008


It's hard to review Honey objectively. It took us a long time to get there, and then we had to drive around awhile longer looking for parking. So by the time we arrived, we were over-hungry and kind of irritable, and there was some construction going on right outside the window, so we had to listen to someone jackhammering through the entire meal. Of course, none of this is the restaurant's fault, but all of it combined to make the experience less pleasant than it could have been.

Honey is similar to Orange in the overall appearance and decor, and even the type of plates. The interior has a clean, open, well-lit look. Maybe my experiences at Orange colored my perceptions of this restaurant, but I expected to find a lot of different, exotic breakfast dishes here. However, the menu is pretty basic. There are plenty of egg dishes, but only a handful of carbohydrate-based breakfast entrees, and I happen to like carbohydrates for breakfast. There were pancakes, french toast (which was unavailable because they were out of bread), pan-fried oatmeal cakes, and one or two other things I can't remember now. I ordered the plain buttermilk pancakes, which were delicious, and a side of bacon. Considering how expensive said bacon was (at least three dollars, I think) I was disappointed at how scrawny the pieces were. They were sliced so thin, they were almost transparent.

Joe had the pan-seared oatmeal, which is something I've never encountered before: Oatmeal baked into big, solid triangle-shaped pieces and topped with dried apples, apricots and other assorted dried fruits. Possibly the largest amount of fiber ever packed into a single entree. If you need to--ahem--get the ol' pipes unclogged, this might be just the thing.

In front there's a little cafe type thing where they sell coffee and desserts. I got a vanilla bean cupcake, which I had later, and it was possibly the most intensely vanilla-flavored thing I've ever had. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but I couldn't eat more than a bite or two of it at a time. Maybe if we ever come back here, I'll try the red velvet or the chocolate flavored cupcakes.


Joe here. I'm not even sure I want to review Honey right now but since the chances of us returning there under better conditions any time soon are pretty slim, we'd better just make the best out of what we have. Honey sits in the middle of downtown Glen Ellyn, a pretty nice area that I've never been to before last week. I know, lots of suburbs like to flaunt their downtown authenticity these days -- usually with overpriced condos and banners on lightposts ("Visit historic downtown _____! Theatres! Shoppes! Parkes!") -- in hopes of establishing their street cred, or something. But really, this was a nice town from what we saw. We drove around for a few minutes trying to find unmetered parking spots, but should have saved ourselves the trouble since the one we settled for only cost ten cents per hour.

Our first impressions of Honey reminded us immediately of Orange in Chicago. The clean and cozy dining room was warm and inviting, but in a modern and minimal style that's a big break from the traditional family restaurant setup. The creative cuisine looked very Orange-ish too. No wonder; Honey's menu was designed by an (ex-?) Orange chef. We'd forgotten our camera on our trip to Orange and had to grab a cheap disposable one at the last minute instead. What a shame, since Orange's decor and beautifully-presented food was among the most photo-worthy we've ever seen. The same goes for Honey, so we made sure to bring the digital camera along and took lots of photos. However, tragedy struck again as I deleted almost all of them by mistake! You'll find some fine substitutions here, though.

I ordered the pan-seared oatmeal, which arrived in hefty little triangles decorated in dried fruits and drizzled in honey. It was truly a sight to see. How I wish I could show it to you! A little of this went a long way, and I was forced to box up the leftovers for later. I tried some of Ayinsan's pancakes and they were absolutely amazing. Smooth like velvet, lightly kissed with a touch of honey that gave them a sweet finish, and really unlike any pancakes I've ever had before. I only wish I was in better shape to appreciate them! I wasn't feeling my best that afternoon, and the effects of long drive along with the pounding jackhammer on the sidewalk just outside of the window we were sitting by -- I wouldn't think you could run a jackhammer on a piece of concrete only a few square feet wide for so long, but apparently you can make the experience last for more than an hour if you really want to -- were only further dulling my senses and distracting me from what otherwise may have been one of the best restaurants we've ever been to.

I can't blame Honey for what was a less-than-pleasant dining experience. I'd love to return soon, hopefully under better conditions all around, just to see if it's really good enough to be "the suburban Orange," or maybe even something better altogether. Maybe we didn't completely agree about Honey, but I know we'd agree that finding restaurants like this that are willing to try new things with old traditions sure makes writing this blog a hell of a lot more interesting.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Matty's Pancake House, Willowbrook

Matty's Restaurant & Pancake House
10S642 Route 83
Willowbrook, IL 60527

April 15, 2008


Matty's is one of those places that has been in business forever, and will probably stay in business until the end of time, even though it doesn't get a lot of customers. Walking in, you can just tell that the few old people there are the same old people who have been having breakfast there every day since 1972.

It's also very easy to miss. Maybe it was the needlessly confusing directions we got off of Google Maps (I don't think their definition of a "slight left" is the same as mine), but we drove past this restaurant twice. It's a fairly big building, and right by the roadside, so I can't really explain why we failed to see it when we were actively looking for it. Maybe the restaurant owners don't want to be overwhelmed with customers, so they have some sort of high-tech, psychic cloaking device around their building, designed to deflect the attention of passers-by. Like the Shadow, Matty's Pancake House has the power to cloud the minds of men.

We walked in to see a small dining room with standard pancake-house decor. Do you know why faux-stained glass is so popular in pancake houses? Me neither, but I have to admit there is something oddly soothing about it. Maybe just because it reaffirms my preconceptions about pancake houses. If there's one thing in this world I can count on, it's the presence of that faux-stained glass with some kind of floral design.


Despite the tired aura of the place, service was remarkably quick. We ordered, I got up to use the restroom, and when I got back, our food was already there. I ordered a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream. Pretty good. About what you'd expect, which pretty much sums up the whole experience.


Joe here. This was my first time visiting Matty's, and definitely my last. I'm not sure I've ever paid to put myself through such an unpleasant half hour as this. What a horribly depressing place this was. The food wasn't bad but I'd gladly trade the entire experience for a box of stale Eggos and a hotplate.

Yahoo has Matty's listed as "Matty's Family Restaurant," which is kind of like listing the Yearning for Zion ranch as a Mormon church or Bad Newz Kennels as a pet shop. If I had kids, I'd sooner take them to Hooters in the middle a frat outing or to Buffalo Wild Wings while UFC 84 plays on the big screen. Matty's might look like a pancake house, but walking through its doors isn't unlike stumbling into the basement bar of your local VFW as a table of vets swap stories about how many gooks they killed back in 'Nam. I have a picture of the greasy slobs we were seated next to during our meal -- asking for a different table really wouldn't have removed us from their presence by more than an extra ten feet -- but I get the feeling that they were either mobsters or ex-cops, so I'm not going to post it here.

I swear every day, almost on the hour and often in public, so I can't judge anyone else if they do the same. But when you're in a restaurant having a conversation loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, you'd expect the owner to step in and do something about it, right? Nah, these were his bros. If they wanted to shout about "that cocksucker down at the VA" who stuck them too hard with the needle the last time they went to get their shots, or refer to "that son of a bitch" in every other sentence, that was just fine. Hell, he was sitting down with them, goading them on along with the serving staff. I almost lost my brunch when they started grabbing the waitresses by the wrists, pulling them close and groping them from behind. I can't pinpoint why I found this so revolting without revealing my deepest prejudices about class and my worst fears about aging. Regardless, it was a harrowing display that makes me cringe in light of so many of my favorite restaurants closing as of late. Why not this one instead?

I'm still trying to figure out why fifty cents was tacked onto our bill after it had been printed. Judging by the confused and semi-disgusted reaction I got from the owner when I went to pay at the register, it's not unimaginable to assume that it could be some kind of special fee they have for customers paying with debit cards. Maybe he considers them a nuisance? It took him a few minutes and multiple swipes to figure out how to process it. If anyone else has any other ideas about this -- other than it being a tax for elitist jackasses like me -- I'd like to know.

I know times are tough right now. Gas is more expensive than ever, good jobs are hard to find, and everyone is looking for ways to save their money. Unfortunately, for many families that's going to mean eating out less often than they're used to. I'd hate to recommend this, but in the case of Matty's I sincerely hope that their customers reconsider their continued patronage of this sketchy operation. Making pancakes with your loved ones at home is more fun, anyway. Make breakfast special today and pass by this dump at all costs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Golden Acres Restaurant, Sugar Grove

Golden Acres Restaurant
5S094 State Route 47
Sugar Grove, IL 60554

March 20, 2008


According to my parents, the Golden Acres Restaurant has been open since before I was even born. Based on watching most of the customers that I've seen there on each of my visits, this doesn't seem surprising. It's the closest restaurant to Waubonsee Community College, which borders it directly to the west just across route 64 47, but as far as I can tell, it's never been a hangout spot for students (as if such destinations exist for community college students at all). I know there was talk of it closing a few years ago, but as far as I can tell, it's always been open. I could have sworn that its full name was "Candy's Golden Acres." Maybe it still is?

You won't find much beyond traditional pancakes and waffles at Golden Acres. The selection is pretty basic, but the prices are reasonable. Without much to choose from, I just ordered some pancakes. But still, which to choose from? There's the "short stack" for $3.65, or the Golden Pancakes for $3.95. What's the difference? Who cares! They're called Golden Pancakes, and I had to find out why. Sadly, they failed to live up to their awe-inspiring name. But however could they?


Not much more to say about Golden Acres. If you want a restaurant with a roadside diner vibe (only without the smoking cooks or biker gangs) and cheap food, you've come to the right place. Just be sure to bring cash.

GoldenAcresDiningRoom1 GoldenAcresDiningRoom2

Ayinsan here. One of the nice things about this blog is that it gives us a reason to visit pancake houses that are kind of off the beaten path, and this is about as far off the path as they come. Surrounded by fields and trees, this is pretty much the only building in sight (except for maybe a grain silo).

We'd been here once before, awhile back, and my memories of it were pretty accurate. Small, mostly empty (though that could have been the time of day--we came in around early afternoon) and peaceful. I got pigs in a blanket. Yum.


All things considered, it's a nice little place, but their selection is rather limited. They have a few breakfast combos, of varying sizes, called, in descending order: "for dad," "for mom," and "for children." Cute, but it places the customers in an awkward position if they want to order one of these combos, but don't fit the description. I mean, I'm not a mom so I'd feel a little weird ordering the "for mom" combo, and even weirder ordering the "for dad" combo.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kiwanis Club of Aurora, 58th Annual Pancake Day

Kiwanis Club of Aurora
Aurora Central Catholic High School
1255 N. Edgelawn Dr.
Aurora, IL 60506

March 15, 2008


I was coming home from work late on Friday night when I saw this banner staked outside of the fire station. I really had no idea what I'd be getting into, but I knew what my Saturday morning plans would be.


The breakfast was held at Aurora Central Catholic High School, which despite being just about a mile from my apartment, I had to look up online to find. Fortunately, the parking lot was well-marked with directions once I arrived and it was easy to tell where I needed to go from there. Even without the signs, I probably could have followed the steady flow of hungry people towards the cafeteria. It was hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Aurora, which donates proceeds to youth programs around the world.

I knew it was probably going to be busy, but I was surprised to walk in and see such a packed room, not just with customers but with lots of volunteers running about, seating people and refilling drinks. I paid my $5, got in line, and watched the operation as I passed by the kitchen. Even with two of these turntable griddles running, it was all they could do to make them fast enough.


I exchanged my ticket for a plate of three pancakes and three sausages and was directed to one of the long cafeteria tables, the kind which I haven't sat at since high school. I seated myself in the middle of my row of tables, later realizing this was a big mistake as getting attention for coffee and juice refills proved most troublesome, but at least I was surrounded by lots of other people to talk to. Right? I appreciated the invitation to engage in my community and to get to know my neighbors. That's what these get-togethers are for, right? But getting to eat my pancakes and sausage in peace without being hassled by anyone else is something I appreciate even more, and despite the busy, almost chaotic action all around me, it was still a really laid-back morning for everyone who was sitting down.

Three pancakes and sausage were really enough for me, though as my syrup-coated paper plate left my hand for the trashcan, a volunteer at the table next to me approached with another heaping plate of steaming pancakes. Looks like I was seconds too late for seconds. Next year I'll be better prepared.