Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Richard Walker's Pancake House, Schaumburg

Richard Walker's Pancake House
1300 N Roselle Rd
Schaumburg, IL 60195-3646

July 18 and 21, 2009


Richard Walker's Pancake House boasts three locations nationwide, two of which, fortunately enough, can be found in Illinois. With restaurants in Schaumburg and Crystal Lake, Richard Walker's remains a north suburban institution. Based on word of mouth alone, there's no reason to believe that the microchain couldn't open more locations across our fine Midwestern agglomeration. But I suppose there's something to be said for avoiding the temptations of oversaturating the market and inadvertently soiling one's own brand name. Focusing on a handful of restaurants is probably better for both the customers and the employees, anyway.

The first branch of Richard Walker's opened in 1989 in Schaumburg, where we finally visited last week for the first time. The restaurant itself sits in a rather unassuming strip mall, occupied by a sports bar, a flower shop, a used CD store, and a Planned Parenthood Express (surely the subject of the same "do they offer drive-thru abortions?" jokes every day). There's a small outdoor seating area near the entrance, well-occupied by customers during both of our visits. Inside the foyer you're greeted by pleasant classical music, and the staff was quick to greet and seat us as we walked in. The interior is lavish and clean, adorned by typical pancake house decor (mirrors, fake plants along the ceilings, stained glass) but also 19th century paintings, adding a touch of class to your meal.


The menus at Richard Walker's have a sprawling, fold-out design, somewhat visually imposing in its sizable presentation of items. It's quite possible that their selection is quite comparable in size to most other breakfast restaurants but the flip-style menu just feels bigger than most book-style ones you'll find at other restaurants. On my first visit I ordered freshly squeezed orange juice (some of the best I've had anywhere) and the blueberry and sour cream crepes.

RichardWalkersDrinks RWBacon

My crepes were tender, warm, some of the best I've had in quite some time. The cup of fruit compote was a little on the small side but this was only compared to the heaps and mounds of toppings that many restaurants drown their dishes in; the serving size was more than enough to satisfy. Its description on the menu ("Juicy Blueberries Mixed with Sour Cream and a Dash of Triple Sec makes this a Berry Delight, Sprinkled with Powdered Sugar and a Side of Blueberry Compote") is tempting enough, matched only by its presentation on the plate, as you can see. As we were leaving, a curious customer at the next table over stopped me to ask me just what it was that I'd ordered.


Our first visit nearly lived up to the expectations we'd had for it. I say nearly because during the three years that we've been running this blog, no restaurant has received recommendations as enthusiastic as the ones we've received for Richard Walker's. So it's an understatement to say that we had high hopes going in, perhaps too high to be satisfied by a single visit. And besides, there were too many other things on the menu we wanted to try, so we returned three days later for another early afternoon breakfast. Hopefully three years of surveying the local pancake scene would have refined our palates and left us in a better position than most to evaluate the offerings and the experience of this respected restaurant. I can't speak for my better half but personally, I really don't know if my epicurian sensibilities have matured at all since I was making Pilsbury pancakes in the microwave as a middle schooler.

On my second trip, I ordered the 49ers flap jacks. Due to the name I was expecting some kind of old-fashioned pancakes, made with buttermilk or grits or other "hearty" ingredients that our hard-working ancestors relied on for sustenance as they tirelessly panned and dug for gold in the shadows of the Sierra Navadas. In reality, these kind of pancakes are nothing like that. I'll defer to Wikipedia for the clearest description of flapjacks (flap jacks, FLP JKS, etc.) I can find:

There you have it, a well-known breakfast favourite for centuries that I'm only beginning to understand. The texture on these was very interesting: a crispy layer ala Swedish pancakes, the chewy stretchiness of crepes, but the satisfying bulk of a normal pancake. Quite an interesting twist on something I thought I knew inside out.


I think we got our money's worth on both of our visits. Despite the lengths they go to to provide a premium breakfast and an attractive atmosphere, their prices seem comparable to most breakfast restaurants. Then again, unlike "gourmet" hamburgers, hot dogs, or pizza, there seems to be a limit that people will pay for common breakfast foods, no matter how well they're prepared. At any rate, we enjoyed our time at Richard Walker's and will certainly return in the future. But don't take our word for it. Check out their website and see it for yourself. Now if only their webmaster would proofread the title bar. Richard Walker's Pankcake House? I guess no one really needs proofreaders anymore.

Ayinsan here. On my first visit to Richard Walker's I got the banana pecan pancakes. Actually, I think the menu called them flapjacks, which is odd considering that they're not anything like the flapjacks shown above. They're really just pancakes. But they were delicious. Probably among the best pancakes I've ever had. And I approve of their generous use of powdered sugar. Most pancake restaurants will just give you a little grudging sprinkle, but it looks like these pancakes have been sitting under a tiny snowstorm. Or perhaps a snowman sneezed all over them. No, the snowstorm metaphor is probably better.


The bananas were fresh and chewy, which is also very important. Nothing ruins a good plate of pancakes like an overripe, mushy banana. And the pecans...well, it's hard to screw up pecans, I guess. But these ones were fine. Service, needless to say, was excellent. Richard Walker's lives up to its reputation. On both occasions, we were seated right away, and our servers were quick, attentive and polite.


On our second visit, I decided to try something non-pancake, so I got the pecan waffle. Yum. Not much to say about it: it's a waffle and it's got pecans (both on top and baked inside). But it was quite tasty. What else to say about Richard Walker's? Well, there's an interesting painting on the wall of a woman walking through a field with a scythe. I'm not the sort of person who usually pays that much attention to wall-art in a restaurant, but somehow this captivated me. What is she doing with that scythe? Is she just off to cut some corn stalks, or whatever it is you're supposed to do with a scythe? Or does she have some more sinister purpose for it? Only you, the viewer, can decide.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Egg Harbor, Geneva

Egg Harbor
477 South 3rd Street
Geneva, IL 60134

June 25, 2009


When we went to Egg Harbor in St. Charles, Swedish Days was in full swing, meaning there were rides and craft fairs all over the place and the streets were packed with people who seemed to believe that "having the right of way" means "having a magical, invisible force-field that protects you from all harm." As such, we had to navigate around roving packs of fair-goers, all blissfully unaware of my car's presence.

Once we got there, however, there was plenty of free parking in the vicinity. The restaurant entrance is kind of tucked away in a little alcove, easy to miss, but once you get inside, the atmosphere is friendly and cheerful. It was pretty busy, but we were seated right away and our waitress came within a few minutes. She was quite competent, even if she did mistakenly address us as "ladies"...a simple slip of the tongue for which she apologized profusely. But it does bring up an interesting point. Servers will often address a mixed-gender group as "guys," as in, "What can I get for you guys?" But the reverse doesn't seem to be true.


I got the blueberry pancakes with eggs and bacon. Good stuff, though nothing mind-blowing. The eggs and bacon were pretty standard fare, the pancakes were a notch above standard. And they came with a little side of blueberry compote. I love compote, even if it's probably one of the least appetizing words in the English language.

Joe here. I've been to Egg Harbor at least a half dozen times in the past two years thanks to my parents, who've slowly but surely drifted away from their regular residency at Colonial Cafe (where they were monthly, sometimes weekly regulars throughout the late 90s and into the first half of this decade) to new digs at the Geneva EH location. Nothing against Colonial, I'm sure. I think they just needed a new scene. This happens to all of us and it's nothing to be afraid of.

Nestled away in a classy, upscale shopping centre (the lavishly-named
Dodson Place) on Third Street near the Geneva Metra station, Egg Harbor brings you closer to Geneva's haut monde where you can shop for anything from fine wines and silk undergarments to $500 baby strollers. In this setting you might expect the dishes at Egg Harbor to be just as fittingly costly but the prices aren't unreasonable, which is to say that breakfast at Egg Harbor is going to be just as expensive as it is anywhere else these days.

The dining room is spacious and sunny, with lots of windows and a high ceiling. There's a patio outside, though I've never seen anyone using it. The atmosphere is inviting, a modern twist on the "country kitchen" vibe that lots of restaurants stick to. A warning to all alektorophobes: there are paintings, figurines, and various effigies of chickens all over the walls and shelves, so you may to steer clear. There are colored pencils at each table, but I don't think you'll get any paper unless you come with a few kids in town. I suppose you could ask for some, or just bring your own if you prefer. Better still, bring along some paints and a small canvas if you really want to pass the time until your food arrives. I never leave home without my watercolors and a telescopic easel. Should you go this route, the spaces between the tables are just wide enough for to set up everything you need. Just don't wash your brushes in the restroom sinks. You wouldn't want to take advantage of their hospitality, after all.

One thing I've always appreciated about Egg Harbor is the friendly service. This starts as soon as you walk in the door, though on busier mornings the lobby can get very crowded (and loud), so don't take offense if you're not greeted right away. The staff is always eager to please and willing to get you whatever you need. My family usually makes a few requests for extra water and/or coffee whenever we visit, and they're almost always quick to grant them with a smile. The servers are cheerful and polite. I don't even mind being mistaken for a woman by any of them; two years and counting at my current receptionist job and there's nothing anyone can say to further emasculate me. Five days a week, I'm just one of the girls! Why not go ahead and make it all seven?

I ordered the basic pancake combo, complete with three delicious cakes, sausage links, and poached eggs, which I almost never order even though they're probably my favorite kind of eggs. Altogether, a satisfying but not overfilling breakfast. If you want to stuff yourself until you burst, you've come to the wrong place. "Chew your food!" my grandmother would have yelled at you. "Taste it!" We rolled our eyes at her old-fashioned ways but as time passed I've grown to understand the true meaning of her words. Had she already discovered the truth?


There are fifteen different Egg Harbor locations. Which one is right for you? Try them all and find out!