Saturday, February 23, 2008

International House of Pancakes, Aurora

International House of Pancakes
2455 Augusta Way
Aurora, IL 60506-6444

February 12, 2008

IHOPBuilding

Ah, IHOP. You can't really have a pancake blog without saying a few things about IHOP. Okay, so we mainly went because it was National Pancake Day and they were giving out free shortstacks. I recognize that this is basically a marketing tactic to lure people in so they will spend money on overpriced juice, coffee, and side-orders of bacon. And we did end up spending about five dollars for two juices, plus tip. But hey! Free pancakes!

IHOPSign

I almost never try the flavored syrups when I go to IHOP, but today I decided to sample the strawberry and blueberry syrup. Not bad, but I still prefer the good old-fashioned maple syrup. The pancakes were good. What else can you say about IHOP, really? It's IHOP. If you're looking for atmosphere or old-fashioned, genuine home cooking, you'll probably be disappointed, but when you just want pancakes, they're there for you.

At first we were kind of hesitant to come in for National Pancake Day. The IHOP website encouraged customers to make a donation to the Children's Miracle Network when they came in for free pancakes. Not that we mind giving to worthy charities, you understand, but we were worried it was going to be one of those high-pressure scenarios where the waitress comes up to your table and says, "Okay, how much can I put you down for?" And they have a sheet with boxes you're supposed to check for $10, $15 or $20. And you say, "W-well, actually, I was just going to give a few dollars..." And she gets this blank look and says, "Oh. Okay. Well...let me talk to my manager. Maybe we can get a special sheet for you." And then you're left sitting there feeling really cheap while the other customers look at you and shake their heads and say, "Did you hear that? They only want to donate a few dollars to the Children's Miracle Network. What's wrong with them? Don't they care about the children?"

Actually, it was nothing like that. There was a box by the door with a slot that you could drop money through.

This was actually the first time we'd been to this IHOP location, even though it's just a five-minute drive away. There are so many other choices. Still, IHOP did not disappoint.

IHOPPancakes

Joe here. I've always known that this day was coming, but I'd always wanted to put it off for as long as possible. When we started this blog, we wanted to explore as many different pancake houses as we could, not just national chains like the International House of Pancakes. Most of these family-owned restaurants have a character and culture that's completely unique to them, though inexperienced by passers-by and wholly unknown outside of their communities.

IHOP's steady encroachment into our communities -- now at over 1,300 locations in North America -- doesn't bother me so much as the privileged place it's taken up in our collective imaginations. When most people think of pancakes, where do their minds wander? To their local pancake house? Or to that familiar, blue-roofed destination of retirees, bored kids, goth RPG'ers, and drunken revellers everywhere? You know the answer. IHOP is cheap, quick, and within driving distance of almost anywhere in the contiguous 48 states. But how it became synonymous with gourmet breakfasts in the minds of most consumers is beyond me. Granted, many people solely consume IHOP pancakes as "hangover food" and who am I to judge them? But since most of their customers are bound to plain Bisquick flapjacks at home, getting a Rooty Tooty Fresh 'n Fruity or anything else covered in whipped cream and fruit compote is a rare treat indeed. Of course, their local "pancake house" offers the same meals, but why take a chance on something you don't know?

So here we are in 2008, cameraphone brats have reached a critical mass, independent restaurants are folding left and right as a recession looms, and real food critics are finally breaking down and taking IHOP seriously. And if their all-you-can-eat pancakes promotion wasn't enough, IHOP has taken the next logical step and just started giving them away. Traditionally, their observance of National Pancake Day would fall on Shrove/Fat Tuesday, but apparently voting in the February 5 "Super Tuesday" primary AND finishing a plate of three hotcakes simply would be too much for the average American to do in just one day, so the holiday observance was moved to one week later.

Just to be clear, all you're getting is a plate of three regular pancakes, which hardly anyone settles for if they're sitting down for a meal at IHOP. Maybe they were counting on lots of orders for side items and juices? A kind of reciprocal altruism from customers in return for their generosity? Before I get too cynical, IHOP did raise over $875,000 this year for the Children's Miracle Network from customer donations. And the hot-buttered pancakes... aren't that bad. Enjoy your choice of four super-sugary syrup flavors, or just a warmed container of original flavor. The dispensers, along with the coffee urns, now sport a stylish metallic finish. No more cracked blue plastic!

IHOPCoffee IHOPJuice

All we purchased were two glasses of orange juice -- one small, one large -- though they were practically the same size. It probably wasn't freshly-squeezed, but what did you expect?

This was my first visit to IHOP in a few years, and probably my last for a while. Still, it's good to come back and see that it's really not the dive that I remembered it being. All the same, it's a big world out there and anyone who loves breakfast would do themselves a favor to venture outside of their comfort zone and try something different for a change. You can enjoy IHOP for what it is, but support your local family restaurants, too. Don't worry, Cliff isn't going to hunt you down. Though it looks like he could if he wanted to.

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