Pancakes. Hotcakes. Griddle Cakes.
No matter what they’re called, they happen to be one of my favorite ways to start the morning, and when I travel around the country I make it a point to seek out the very best local places to find these breakfast staples. I personally don’t like a lot of extra stuff on or in my pancakes: whipped cream, chocolate chips, strawberry sauce, ice cream, hot fudge – in my opinion they are just ways to mask a boring pancake. A really top-notch pancake should be able to stand on its own, maybe with some simple blueberries in the batter, and always with a little help from butter and real maple syrup.
I shudder to think just how many pancakes I have consumed in my life, or how many different places I’ve visited across the U.S.A. to get my fix. But after many years of research (someone had to do it), I am now ready to declare my choices for the top 3 places to get pancakes in the country. If you travel within a 100 miles or so of any of these places, trust me, you need to check them out. But please be a serious pancake aficionado and whatever you do, don’t go to one of these places and decide you’re more in the mood for scrambled eggs or an omelet!
So here they are, the Top 3! After I discuss them, I will include a list of “honorable mentions” that offer some very good hotcakes and may be good back-ups if you aren’t able to get to one of the winning places.
#1. P & G Pamela’s Diner, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania http://www.pamelasdiner.com/
Say it three times, fast: I must get pancakes at Pamela’s Diner of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Pamela’s has 6 locations scattered around the city and nearby suburbs, and while they serve a variety of excellent breakfast and lunch dishes, their pancakes are not to be missed. These pancakes are extremely thin, almost crepe-like, and are the size of a large dinner plate. Don’t even think of ordering a short stack… go all the way. You will not regret it! What gives me goosebumps about Pamela’s pancakes is that they are crispy around the edges, like the pancakes I remember during my childhood, and yet soft and tender in the middle. And the flavor is absolutely perfect. I will let the photo speak for itself:
#2. Pancake Pantry, Nashville, Tennessee http://www.thepancakepantry.com/
Regardless of when you arrive, morning or noon, summer or winter, rain or shine, there will be a line at the Pancake Pantry. Do not be discouraged! The line really does move very quickly. My first time at the Pantry, I asked a woman ahead of me in line if it this place was really worth the wait, and she laughed and assured me that yes, I would not be sorry. That day I began a love affair with the Sweet Potato Pancakes, which are served with cinnamon cream syrup. They have to be the lightest, fluffiest and most flavorful pancakes I have ever eaten… I call them “Little Bites of Heaven”. I have tasted other varieties of the 20-some types of pancakes offered at the Pantry, but the sweet potato pancakes are so unique, so special, that now I never even consider ordering anything else. (UPDATE, Summer 2017: I just visited Pancake Pantry in August 2017 and am sad to report that do to a switch in the sweet potato base used for these pancakes, from a powder to flakes I was told, the consistency of these beautiful pancakes has changed and they are now much firmer and drier than before. I only hope they use up all the flakes they purchased and return to the original, because the new batch is a pale shadow of the prior version!)
#3. Gould’s Sugar House, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts http://www.goulds-sugarhouse.com/
There is one major problem with Gould’s Sugar House and that is that it is only open for a few weeks every year: Spring season is March and April and Fall Foliage season is September and October. But if you are anywhere near Massachusetts’ scenic Mohawk Trail in the northwestern part of the state at these times of year, a stop at Gould’s is a must. The menu is very short: pancakes, eggs, bacon or sausage. And of course, real maple syrup made on the premises is the perfect match for the perfect pancakes they serve here. Weekends during fall foliage season can mean a considerable wait, but on weekdays the lines are much shorter. Nevertheless, I’d wait in line (and browse the gift shop or watch the video about how maple syrup is made) for an hour or more just to dine on these beautiful pancakes.
The Honorable Mentions:
#4. Husk, Charleston, South Carolina
Husk is an amazing restaurant featuring some of the most innovative southern cuisine I have ever tasted. One needs to make reservations literally weeks in advance. On the brunch menu, along-side such staples as shrimp and grits, and various omelettes and French toasts Husk periodically offers gigantic oven baked pancakes that are like nothing I have ever tasted. They rise and have a fluffy consistency, almost half-way between a souffle and a pancake and they will stick to your ribs for the rest of your day, as the photo below illustrates!
#5. Cranberry Cottage, Wareham, Massachusetts
Not far from where I grew up, the Cranberry Cottage is an old stand-by and simply oozes local, New England ambiance. My go-to selection here are the buttermilk pancakes with cranberries added, a nice departure from traditional blueberries and a boost to the local economy, since Ocean Spray Cranberry Company is located just a few miles from here!
#6. Deluxe Town Diner, Watertown, Massachusetts
The original diner is located in the Boston suburb of Watertown has now expanded to a small local chain with locations in the nearby towns of Newton and Framingham. The food and the ambiance are great, especially at the Newton location where you are dining in an old train station.
#7. Original Pancake House. Multiple Locations
The original Original Pancake House opened in Portland, Oregon in 1953 and is now a national chain with locations throughout the western states, the upper midwest, and the southeast. I have personally dined at locations in Portland, Oregon, Laguna Hills and Anaheim, California, Salt Lake City, Denver Birmingham, Alabama and have always been impressed with the large selection and excellent quality of the pancakes served here.
#8. Snooze, Denver, Colorado
A local chain with locations around the Denver and Boulder metropolitan area, Snooze offers some innovative flavored pancakes. My favorite is the Pineapple Upside Down Pancake, but if you can’t decide on which variety you want, try the “pancake flight” which allows you to sample up to three different flavors of pancakes.