Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…Cracker Barrel!

cracker barrel

This November, I decided to satisfy my craving for pancakes by visiting a staple for many of those who both travel and love breakfast – Cracker Barrel. For me, going to Cracker Barrel is always a rare treat because there aren’t any locations on Long Island, where I grew up. Imagine my joy in discovering, then, on a recent road trip to Connecticut, that Cracker Barrel and its all day, everyday breakfast are a mere three hours from home!

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The East Windsor location is – as many Cracker Barrels are – tucked away in a parking lot next to a hotel, just off the highway. As soon as you pull in, you are greeted by the all-familiar rocking chair-lined porch leading up to the entryway. For those who have never been to a Cracker Barrel before – a problem that you need to rectify as soon as possible – every Cracker Barrel is set up virtually the same way. While it is easy to get distracted by the many adorable country-style gifts clustered cozily together at the front of the store, the avid pancake eater should take a sharp left diagonal from the entrance to reach the restaurant part of the store.

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The restaurant area of Cracker Barrel is almost universally marked by super-friendly waiters and waitresses, a casual country atmosphere, an extensive menu with low prices for enormous portions of food, and really fast service. The East Windsor location was no exception. It is worth repeating that although Cracker Barrel does have delicious lunch and dinner options, its breakfast menu is served throughout the day, so you can get pancakes anytime the craving hits.

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The menu has a variety of pancake options, from good ole buttermilk to pancakes served with a variety of fruit toppings, including apples, blackberries, and peaches. (All of these can also be easily and cheaply supplemented with your choice of meat, eggs, and/or fruit, if you’re looking for a complete pancake feast.) I went, however, for my favorite pancake on the menu: the wild blueberry pancake.

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Unlike the fruit-topped varieties, the blueberry pancakes are loaded with blueberries inside and out. They are also served with a full mini-jar of blueberry syrup (about half of which is usually left over, which you can then take home with you) and a scoop of butter.

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East Windsor’s pancakes did not disappoint. Although they looked a little sloppier in appearance than usual, because of the way the batter had been poured, the taste was buttery and sweet. A unique thing about ordering these pancakes at this location as opposed to others that I have been to was that the glass bottle of blueberry syrup had been warmed, keeping the syrup hot as I (liberally) poured it over the pancakes. The scoop of butter that was slowly melting over the pancake as I ate it was good but almost too much, in light of the buttery taste of the pancake itself; I ended up setting most of the scoop aside. My order included two large pancakes, which was more than I could finish; despite my best efforts, much of the second pancake went uneaten.

All in all, I was extremely happy with the way East Windsor served up my old favorite. I highly recommend that if you have not given these a try, you be sure to include a Cracker Barrel stop on your next road trip, especially if you’re in the East Windsor area. And don’t forget that when you’re finished with that day’s pancake adventure, you can revisit the gift shop afterward for Cracker Barrel’s own line of ready-to-go pancake mixes and syrups to take the magic home!

4 out of 5 Paul Bunyans: Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1

Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…Maureen’s Kitchen!

Hello Fancakes! I’ll start by saying thanks for the chance to write on here again. This was the push I needed to head to an incredible Suffolk breakfast/lunch spot. It’s not often I wake up early and motivated to drive a half hour for breakfast (just kidding, I had my mom drive me). Maureen’s Kitchen in Smithtown is a bit out of the way if you don’t live in Suffolk, but they have maybe the best pancakes… ever. I know that is saying much, but I’m serious.

maureens kitchen - map

(from Google maps)

On weekends this place is absolutely packed with a huge wait for not nearly enough tables. It’s best to be strategic and pick less busy times, but even if you pick a Sunday at 9AM, the wait is worth it. Walking into Maureen’s feels like stepping into a friend’s home for breakfast. And that home gives off the vibe of a diner and a soda shop combined. And that friend is obsessed with collecting anything related to cows. The cow theme is adorable and all over, from the seats to the black and white cows print motorcycle out front.

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On to the important part – the menu. This place has so much to offer. Obviously I came for the pancakes, but they have cannoli stuffed French toast, croissant French toast, corned beef hash (my boyfriend’s personal favorite), and loads of amazing omelet choices. The portions are huge and definitely worth the price. One stack consists of three big-sized pancakes that are easily enough to fill you up, and then some. Neither of us could finish our plates and we were really hungry walking in. The day we went for this review, there were two pancake specials: apple cider cranberry pecan pancakes and carrot cake pancakes. I was insanely tempted by the Oreo pancakes and the lovely bright green pistachio pancakes, but ultimately decided to pick something more seasonal.

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Mom went for the orange cranberry walnut and I picked the pumpkin walnut. The pancakes come with plenty of butter and syrup (maple syrup was an extra $1.75 so this was the fake stuff, which is my only complaint). But, we didn’t even need any syrup, they were that good (we didn’t “need” butter either, but we did use the entire amount they gave us because we’re us).

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The orange cranberry walnut pancakes had a light orange flavor and were studded with giant walnut chunks and gorgeous whole fresh cranberries. I was shocked to see fresh instead of dried cranberries and the way the three ingredients worked together was perfect. Not too sweet, not too tart, fluffy, chewy, and light.

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My pumpkin walnut pancakes were perfectly spiced. They were heavier than Mom’s which is absolutely fine due to the addition of pumpkin here, and they were perfect; lightly sweet, still fluffy despite the dense pumpkin, and deeply spiced. I’d take these over pumpkin pie any day. The walnuts again were the star. I guess we’re walnut gals.image4

(cows!!!)

All in all, this place is incredible. I’m sure the lunch menu is fantastic, but I’ve never met anyone who actually orders something other than breakfast food here. I wish there were three times as many tables in there, but Maureen’s Kitchen is worth a long wait, and I can’t wait to go back.

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5 out of 5 Paul Bunyans: Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1

Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…Dots Back Inn

Editor’s Note: Hey Cakies, this week’s ihopapotamus post is brought to you by one of the potami covering the southern region – excuse her partiality, she can’t help it 😉

Fancakes, today I’m taking you on a trip down south to the Old Dominion, the Commonwealth, the state in which five presidents were born: Virginia! And not just any part of Virginia, but the capital of the Confederacy. Richmond, Virginia, also known as the River City, is known for its famous (infamous?) history and outdoorsy lifestyle. It also has pretty good food. Oh, and lots of tattoos.

I think we can all agree that Guy Fieri’s Triple D is THE measure of good food. Richmond has a few places that have been featured on this show. One is Dot’s Back Inn. This is where I went.

Dots Back Inn is a retro-themed diner in the only nice part of the Northside neighborhood of Richmond. If you go there, don’t stray that many blocks. Lots of crack up here, y’all. Joking, but kind of not…

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(photo from the Dot’s website!)

The inside is nothing to write home about, but it is American. And cozy. I call it having their priorities in order! I do believe those are Christmas lights laying sort of disheveled all over the place. Very classy.

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They have lots of delicious breakfast food. I actually thought it was only breakfast food, but while there I learned that they have a “Rosie the Riveter Lunch Pail.” #GirlPower

Of course, I ordered pancakes. They had a ‘meat pancake’ special, but I opted for the classic blueberry. I know, I know, I just said I’m in the South – where are the griddle cakes with, like, honey and corn and grits and fried-green tomatoes on top??! Well, I decided it would be unfair to compare the superior  Southern variations on things and so I stuck with classics, for fairness.

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(blurred for anonymity…)

First of all, this place was FAST. It was awesome. We stepped in at 10 am, ordered at like 10:05, and I swear we had our food less than ten minutes after ordering.

Second of all, the pancakes were delicious. Real, perfect blueberries, beautiful melted butter, amazing texture, and great taste, of course. The outside of each pancake was perfectly crisp while the inside was soft and melted in my mouth. The sweetness was spot on for me – I don’t like super sweet. The sweetness from the blueberries was plenty, so maybe if I had gotten plain pancakes it wouldn’t be sweet enough for me. This is sweetness thing is also crucial because I don’t like maple syrup, so I need the pancakes to be satisfactory on their own. And they were.

Overall, it was a great experience. I had never been before, and it did not disappoint. I actually brought leftovers home, but before I put them in the fridge, I took like three more giant bites just to get the amazing-ness in my mouth again. Worth it.

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Thanks, Guy Fieri, for finding me my new go-to brunch place. I mean, if I lived in Richmond **COUGH COUGH** Which I don’t…

5 out of 5 Paul Bunyans: Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1

Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…Crepes & Things!

Fancakes, the never-ending quest to find new pancakes, waffles, crepes and other breakfast treats has brought me to Hoboken.  Birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra.  Neither of which is really relevant to this story, but interesting bits of trivia to be sure.  Try breaking them out next time you’re at a fancy cocktail party.  You could talk about how Old Blue Eyes always enjoyed going to baseball games, but that of course only made sense since he was a Hoboken kid at heart.  People will think you’re really clever, but not in an obnoxious or intimidating way.

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(Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio! Picture from the NY Daily News 1949…also they’re at Yankee Stadium but you get the idea)

And then, you can really razzle dazzle folks by recommending a restaurant in Hoboken where they can get a great breakfast.  Specifically Crepes & Things, located at 123 Washington Street just a few minutes from the PATH train.

crepes and things map

(from Google Maps)

Crepes & Things has a small, cozy indoor space and when the weather’s nice outdoor seating.  The people watching on Washington Street is usually a fun way to pass sometime on a lazy weekend morning.  I was there around eleven on a Saturday morning, so I had the place to myself and sat inside.

The inside does boast two amusing murals detailing the birth of both the crepe and the waffle.  The owner, a friendly Frenchman, swears the murals depict the true origins of each of these dishes.  I was willing to accept his word for it.  It felt very European of him to swear to the veracity of these somewhat legendary origins.  I also feel very much like an American tourist in Europe with my skeptical belief.  The truth of these stories does not mean enough to me to warrant my own investigation.  I’ll take the amusing story when it comes my way.  Incidentally, this is also the approach I take with every story I hear about Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.

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(birth of the waffle!)

By now you must be wondering what the crepes tasted like.  I couldn’t tell you; I got the waffle (see the rest of the menu here).  Specifically, the French Affair (le French Affair), a Belgian liege waffle topped with banana, strawberry, Nutella and a mountain of whipped cream.

Faithful readers, this thing is decadent.  I ordered it at eleven in the morning, but maybe I should have had it as dessert instead.  I think I had one bite of the waffle that was not covered with some or all of the toppings.  And it was a fairly large waffle I may add.  Mind you, the waffle being smothered in the toppings is no cause for complaint.  The whipped cream is light and fluffy, while still being quite rich.  The strawberries and banana were all quite fresh.  They had a robust flavor that I also associate with fresh fruit and how it’s supposed to taste.  Every bite of the French Affair (le French Affair) was a culinary pleasure.  My only regret is that I ate it too fast, in that I then couldn’t eat it anymore.

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The presentation is outstanding.  I watch enough Food Network to know that some chefs are artists not only in the cooking but also in the way they present it.  Chefs who can make food look like art.  In my quest for the Holy Pancake I have yet to come across a place that has done as much as Crepes & Things that has made their food look this good.  Readers, your friend Becky (because face it, this friend is always named Becky) would definitely post a picture of this to Instagram.  If the hashtag was yum, Becky would have the gist of things.

The only thing missing was a brunch drink special.  No mimosas here, which seems criminal at a French restaurant.   That and the admittedly small space are probably the only main detriments at this restaurant.

Four and a half Paul Bunyans:Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1.5

Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…the Cinnamon Snail!

One of my favorite things about New York City is the parade of small food establishments that become somewhat of a craze.  What starts out with a small faithful following, often turns into a full on foodie-fascination.  The recipe is simply: unique trendy food, a distinctive atmosphere and a funny name.  Pancakes are no exception.

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I decided to put the pedal to the food truck metal and visited one of these food crazes, the Cinnamon Snail (told you it would have a funny name).  The Cinnamon Snail is actually a roaming food truck that travels all around the NYC (and parts of NJ) serving breakfast and lunch to hundreds of hungry people each day.  They serve a 100% vegan food menu, so their truck is filled with exciting options  unlike most traditional restaurants (and food trucks).  Not only do they provide a (relatively) healthy, environmentally friendly and animal rights approved menu, but their food is delicious, so that everyone, vegan or omnivore, will certainly enjoy.  (Basically eating there is good for the world…)Of course, they prominently serve delicious pancakes on their menu.

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(the menu changes seasonally – photo from streetgrubeveryday)

Knowing that the lunch line often has a 45(!) minute wait, I made sure to arrive twenty minutes before the Cinnamon Snail opened. Not completely to my surprise, there were already two Cinnamon Snailers on line.  By the time 9:00 rolled around, there were 23 people anxiously waiting for their pancakes and other baked goods.  After the first two customers ordered (pancakes), I placed my order!  A couple minutes later, out came my fresh, warm Blue Corn Pancakes in … a brown box.

brown box

(sorry for the blurry picture – I was clearly jonesing for some pancakes!!)

Normally, when I order out for pancakes, I expect a carefully executed presentation by the chef, complete with white powdered sugar and cut-up strawberries.  But at the Cinnamon Snail, these pancakes were more about the throw-back feel of a brown paper box and (importantly) the taste.  Having never had a blue corn pancake, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I really enjoyed the traditional pancake flavor combined with the “earthy” taste of corn flour. Although I wish they were fluffier, the flavor more than made up for it.

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(PINE NUTSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS – pic from Seed Guides)

The highlight of the Blue Corn Pancakes was that it was served with delicious pine nut butter.  For those of you who have never had pine nut butter, I highly recommend it.  I love pine nuts, and butterizing them was as good as it sounds!  It was able to provide the extra flavor of butter, but with a little extra punch.  What else would a pancake be if it was not topped off with a (quite large) serving of Vermont maple syrup.  And of course, Cinnamon Snail gave me a generous sized helping, which is always a major plus!

cinnamon snail

Overall, the pancakes were above average, the pine nutter butter was great, and the overall experience of getting pancakes from a truck called the “Cinnamon Snail” was a real plus.  Although I would classify the Cinnamon Snail as a food craze, the long long lines each day demonstrate that the people of NYC love its food.

*** For those of you still wondering, the Cinnamon Snail is the name of one of its dessert options, which is essentially a large gooey Cinnamon bun!  So stop by for a pancake, but make sure not to leave without indulging in its bakery, including the donuts!!!

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3.75 out of 5 Paul Bunyans!!!:Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1PB .75

Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…the City Limits Diner!

Whenever I’m asked to guest-potamus, I start looking at the “best of” pancakes lists for New York City. (That is, obviously, after saying “yes, of course! You’re asking me if I’m willing to go eat pancakes!”) City Limits Diner in White Plains, NY hasn’t been on any of the lists I’ve seen, since it’s not actually in New York City. But lucky me, my boyfriend’s parents live nearby, so when we visit, we often get to stop by City Limits.
city limits map
(from google maps)
Breakfast at a diner always presents a dilemma: savory or sweet? Eggs and bacon (or sausage, or ham, or corned beef hash) is salty and always satisfying. There’s something magical about breakfast meats cooked on a griddle. Especially when they’re smoked in-house, like at City Limits. But then there are pancakes (or waffles, or french toast, or crepes), which I hear are good enough to be the sole subject of internet blogs.
(from puppytoob.com)Recently, I’ve solved my dilemma by just ordering both. Breakfast. Then breakfast desert. For my breakfast at City Limits, I ordered the eggs benedict. Perfectly poached eggs sit atop house smoked Canadian bacon that makes you want to grow a beard and wear some flannel (because that’s how I imagine Canadians). A hearty toasted english muffin sets a tasty foundation. And a smooth, tangy hollandaise sauce envelops it all. But since this is a pancake blog, I’ll skip a longer description of that and get to the pancakes.

CityLimits pancake with syrup
You can order regular pancakes or whole wheat griddle cakes, and toppings are available for both (strawberry, blueberry, or chocolate chip). For my breakfast desert I decided to go with the original and just do plain pancakes, no toppings. Although “just” is really not the right word. You’re not sacrificing anything by “just” getting the regular pancakes.
Like something off the pages of cookbooks and magazines, these pancakes arrive looking air-brush perfect. Golden brown and smooth on the outside. Fluffy and soft on the inside. What might be light maple syrup (but still the real stuff) complements the delicate yet indulgent flavor of these amazing pancakes. And although they’re quite large, you might feel like three isn’t enough.
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(from the City Limits website)
Since beginning my breakfast and breakfast desert trend, I’ve usually shared the sweet item with my dining companion. And it’s usually civil. But at City Limits, the pancakes were good enough to launch a competitive eating event. I did manage to savor and enjoy, but next time I’ll be getting an order all to myself.
If you are ever in White Plains (or Stamford), I would highly recommend that you go to City Limits and have breakfast (and breakfast desert). It makes and tops the “best of” pancakes list in my book.
5 out of 5 Paul Bunyans: Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1Untitled1

Off the Griddle with Ihopapotamus at…the Honolua Store

(Editor’s Note: This week, it’s MC bringing you a pancake review all the way from Hawaii!)

honolua sign

Hey Fancakes,

I went to Maui for my Spring Break (/an early graduation present from my mom) and there was a general store of sorts right next to my hotel, and it had a little restaurant/to-go place in it!  So my mom and I went for breakfast one morning, and being the good Ihopapotamus that I am, I ordered pancakes.

honolua map

 

(from Google maps)

I got banana pancakes, seemed fitting for Hawaii, but I was not a fan.  First of all, it was plain pancakes with bananas on top.  I was expecting a banana pancake, with bananas in the batter not a plain pancake with a cut up banana on top.  Second, the pancake itself wasn’t very good.  It was bland and overcooked—like the pan was too hot when they were cooked so the outside tasted a little burned to me.

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Obviously, I was pretty disappointed with it.  I’m going with 1 Paul Bunyan.  I wouldn’t order them again but they were edible.

1 out of 5 Paul Bunyans: Untitled1

honolua store

(picture of the front of the store)

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(picture of a bird that sat next to my table and stared me down for food, which when I tossed some pancake its way, more birds flocked over and stole the food and then wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave them more food)

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(side view of the menu, there was a line and it was hard to get a direct picture of the menu, which was hanging up above the counter)