It seems pancakes these days fall into two categories: staid and boring or over the top. The former are your typical buttermilk cakes—made in house or out of the package—often hitting your stomach like a lead weight.
The latter are dolled up with flavoured whipped creams and sugar-laden toppings or fillings. Some examples from just one restaurant’s menu: “brown sugar-baked bananas”, “streusel, butterscotch chip and caramel-filled”, “Oreo-filled” “Bailey’s and Kahlua swirled”, “pumpkin-pie filled”, “Frosted Flake cakes.” This is as bad as all those syrup-infused coffees.
How about just putting fresh fruit on top or making something light and flavourful like lemon ricotta cakes, with blueberries? Really, you can’t go wrong with blueberry pancakes. At least, pancake houses could show some creativity that doesn’t put you into a diabetic coma.
To provide some guidance of what can be done to make cakes hot again, here’s what a couple of innovative Vancouver, B.C. cafes are doing. The second featured place does have some sugar bombs in its lineup, and its portions are a little (okay, maybe way) over the top, but I like what it’s doing otherwise.
The *Red Wagon Restaurant is a cozy little diner, with stucco/wood-paneled walls and a slightly grimy texture that fits right into the East Hastings neighbourhood. I could go for the usual eggs and whatever. But is there any choice when I can order a stack of pancakes layered with pulled pork and topped with, get this, Jack Daniels maple syrup? I don’t know why more eateries don’t concoct signature dishes that stand out like this.
And boy, is this one unique—the salty, moist, almost too rich pulled pork perfectly complemented by the syrup’s sweetness. As for the flavourful Jack Daniels, I just hope the alcohol has evaporated before the syrup slides down my throat. After all, it’s scarcely 9 am, and they’ve got this .05 limit in B.C. Nothing like rolling into the day, I say.
The Red Wagon Restaurant
2296 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
Weekdays 8 am-9 pm, weekends 9 am-9 pm
At *Jethro’s Fine Grub, the bottom of the menu contains a warning: Please Eat Responsibly. No kidding. The two-stack banana pancakes, flopping over an enormous platter, weigh in at 2-1/2 pounds. In two years, the waitress says she’s only seen four people finish them, one a woman marathon runner.
Jethro’s is a clean, bare-bones place, with only about eight tables and usually a lineup if you’re not there early. They do serve omelettes and eggs Benedict, but I’d suggest just going straight to the delicious, unusual French toast and pancake offerings. French toast items include fragrant, thick-cut slices of challah bread or chocolate chip banana bread, both baked in house. The pancake selections range from banana cakes stuffed and topped with caramel, pecans and streusel to ones with a shot of espresso and dark chocolate chips. Okay, those are the sugar bombs. There’s also ones stuffed simply with strawberries or bacon. But likely what’s most requested at Jethro’s is takeout boxes for all the leftovers.
Jethro’s Fine Grub
3420 Dunbar Street and 3455 Fraser Street (cash only at this location), Vancouver
Daily 8 am-4 pm
Road Food for Thought: I’m not sure when it happened, but it seems every respectable diner now offers pancakes with real maple syrup, whether it’s from Vermont or Quebec. Though I don’t like it when they pour it on the cakes before serving.