Category Archives: pancakes

Give Pete’s Breakfast House a Chance in Ventura, California

Fabulous short-order cooks pumping out breakfasts at Pete's Breakfast House in Ventura, California

Fabulous short-order cooks pumping out breakfasts at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura, California

*Pete’s Breakfast House (“All we are saying… is give Pete’s a chance”) is as much about the experience as the food, good as the latter is. The diner-like place—not far from the surfing beach in Ventura, California—is slamming busy on a Saturday morning, but I slide right into a vacant counter seat, one benefit of travelling solo.

“It’s like this every morning,” the guy beside me says as he finishes off a plate of corned beef hash. The unfazed waitresses chat with customers and leisurely take orders. By contrast, the kitchen area beside me is an orchestrated frenzy of movement, a team of cooks steadily plunking steaming plates onto the counter, and one guy feeding the toaster like a San Francisco parking meter.

I get the pancake sandwich—with bacon atop two buttermilk blueberry cakes (they’re always better with blueberries) and, underneath, two over-easy eggs.

Blueberry pancakes over eggs. Yum!

Blueberry pancakes over eggs. Yum!

“Do you want your eggs on a separate plate? Some people don’t like them touching,” the waitress offers. No, let’s stack everything together; the wet oozing of elk yolks into thick pancakes actually works surprisingly well.

“You want more coffee?”
“When you’ve got a sec.”
“That’s not going to happen today.”

Surfers of all ages and sizes congregate on Ventura's beaches

Surfers of all ages and sizes congregate on Ventura’s beaches

Here's what oceanside camping looks like outside Ventura

Here’s what oceanside camping looks like outside Ventura

Pete’s Breakfast House
7055 East Main Street, Ventura, California
Daily 7 am-2 pm

A Hearty Pancake Sandwich and a Gigantic Meat Sandwich in Salt Lake City

 

They're rightly called "Heavenly Hotcakes" at Penny Ann's Cafe. These have bacon and eggs in the middle

They’re rightly called “Heavenly Hotcakes” at Penny Ann’s Cafe. These have bacon and eggs in the middle

After eating a tofu scramble in Salt Lake City the day before, I’m ready for some real eggs and bacon, better yet piled between two pancakes. At *Penny Anns Cafe, they’re called “Heavenly Hotcakes”, with good reason. Yes, they’re platter big but fluffy and flavourful, thanks to the use of sour cream in the scratch-made batter. So good that even after I’m full and the remains have cooled, I can’t help nibbling. Though I must draw the line when I’m offered a slice of one of the many pies baked in the kitchen each day.

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Five Best Calgary Stampede Breakfasts

Mmm, pancakes. You can eat them every morning for free at Calgary Stampede breakfasts throughout the city

Mmm, pancakes. You can eat them every morning for free at Calgary Stampede breakfasts throughout the city

Beef and beer. The two primary food groups of the Calgary Stampede, right? Well, remember what your mother said about the most important meal of the day.

Yes, that means Stampede breakfasts. Yee-haw! They’re an important cultural component of the annual shindig—western hospitality served up with chuck wagons, sizzling grills and some two-step dancing.

Best of all, for budget-conscious road trippers, they’re mostly free. In other words, no chafing the back of your hand to pull the wallet from those crisp new blue jeans. In fact, one can carbo load gratis for all 10 days of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

Mind you, there’s not a lot of variety to this diet: day after day of pancakes, sausages and orange juice. But did I mention, they’re free? About the only cost is a worthy donation to the Calgary Food Bank through the Put the Boots to Hunger campaign, affiliated with a number of breakfasts.

The only problem is trying to decide which breakfast(s) to attend. There’s got to be well over 100 of these flapjack fests on offer every year. Seemingly every community association, shopping centre, charity, corporation of note and, of course, politician hosts their own. So, as a public service, here are five Stampede breakfasts worth putting on your calendar.

1. Ismaili Muslim Community Breakfast – This will blow your mind. The best Stampede breakfast is hosted by Calgary’s Ismaili Muslim community. The food (especially the spiced eggs and lentils) is sublime, the temple tours enlightening and the organization so efficient I’d happily let these people run the world. Is it any wonder this is the faith of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi? This year, the “breakfast” is taking place at sunset to mark the “breaking” of the “fast” (ie breakfast) of Ramadan.

Serving up great eggs and pancakes at the best, most unusual Stampede breakfast, hosted by the local Ismaili community

Serving up great eggs, lentils and pancakes at the best, most unusual Stampede breakfast, hosted by the local Ismaili community

Ismaili Muslim Community Breakfast
1128 45 Avenue N.E. (SE corner of McKnight Blvd and Deerfoot Trail); lots of volunteers to direct you to free parking and shuttle buses
Saturday, July 5, starts at 8:30 pm, breakfast served at 9:52 p.m.

2. Calgary Caravan Breakfasts – The Stampede Carvan Committee is a team of volunteers that puts on two-a-day Stampede breakfasts throughout the city. Besides breakfast, these folks arrange native hoop-dancing demonstrations and visits from the Stampede queen and princesses. Perhaps the best of these, from an intimate, community perspective, is at Britannia Shopping Plaza, where after wolfing down breakfast on a hay bale, you can work off the calories with a lovely walk on Brittania Drive overlooking the Elbow River.

Britannia Shopping Plaza
815 49 Avenue S.W
Friday, July 11, 9-11 am

3. CBC Calgary – The Caravan Committee also coordinates CBC Calgary’s early-morning Stampede breakfast, now in its 25th year, with co-host Calgary Co-op offering gluten-free options. Mingle in CBC’s sun-dappled parking lot while watching a live broadcast of the Calgary Eyeopener and grooving to some great musical talent.

CBC Calgary
1724 Westmount Boulevard NW (along Memorial Drive)
Thursday, July 3, 7-9 am

4. Community Natural Foods – As a health-food store, it’s not surprising that Community Natural Foods boasts the greenest Stampede breakfast. This ranges from gluten-free, vegetarian and organic options to encouraging participants to bring reusable plates. Think natural, local sausages, real maple syrup and the freshest orange juice I’ve had at any of these breakfasts.

Community Natural Foods – Chinook Station Market
202, 61 Avenue SW
Saturday, July 12, 7-10 am

5. Fluor Rope Square – If you’re staying or visiting downtown, just wander down to Olympic Plaza, across from City Hall. Each morning, the cooks go through 150 gallons of pancake batter and 500 pounds of bacon, all cooked on smoking griddles at the back of real chuckwagons. After wiping the syrup from your lips, try your feet at square dancing and watch the daily native parade.

Fluor Rope Square
Olympic Plaza (corner of 7 Avenue and Macleod Trail SE)
Saturday July 5 and Monday July 7 to Saturday July 12, 8:15-10:30 am

Unless you’re well connected, you may have to pull some wedding crasher stunts to get into the most exclusive Stampede breakfasts. I’m talking about private parties, where law firms, investment bankers, oil companies and the like treat their clients to a fine morning gathering, perhaps enhanced with a little sauce. Obviously, these soirees aren’t advertised. To get a glimpse of how this world turns, you may have to peer into the windows of participating restaurants like River Café, on Prince’s Island, which serves guests fresh pastries, free-range eggs and house-made granola. Of course, first-class pancakes are also on offer.

My Best Road Trip Meals of 2013: Part 1

Even the hard-working cooks have fun at Pete's Breakfast House in Ventura, California

Even the hard-working cooks have fun at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura, California

What happens when you hit a couple of hundred independent diners, cafes, coffeehouses, bakeries and breweries in the western U.S./Canada in one year? An ambulance ride to emergency? Fortunately, no. Instead, I got to discover some great places to eat and drink, run by some seriously committed, wonderful people. Here are the best of 2013, in two parts.

Best Breakfasts

My best 2013 breakfast is the day’s locovore omelette at Chow in Bend, Oregon. Perfectly prepared, it features chicken-apple sausage, caramelized onions and local chanterelle mushrooms and cheese. What puts it over the top is the choice of three bottles of house-made sauce of varying intensity, so good I buy two bottles to go.

My best 2013 breakfast is the locovore omelette at lovely Chow in Bend, Oregon

My best 2013 breakfast is the locovore omelette at lovely Chow in Bend, Oregon

Pancakes: The pancake sandwich—bacon atop buttermilk blueberry cakes and, underneath, two over-easy eggs—at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura, California. Great vibe ups the ante.

Delicious blueberry pancakes over eggs at Pete's Breakfast House in Ventura, California

Delicious blueberry pancakes over eggs at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura, California

Breakfast Sandwich: Sometimes, all you want for breakfast is an egg or two between two slices of a bready product. But at Tweets Cafe in tiny Edison, Washington, the breakfast sandwich is a work of art, with a mini salad on top, a slice of melon bursting with flavour and perfectly cooked eggs and ham atop a home-baked biscuit.

The breakfast sandwich in the hands of an artist at Tweet's Cafe in Edison, Washington

The breakfast sandwich in the hands of an artist at Tweet’s Cafe in Edison, Washington

Off the Radar: How about a breakfast burrito of smoked turkey, avocado, egg whites and a hash patty, chased by an invigorating iced drink of protein powder, espresso, peanut butter, banana and chocolate? It’s all on the healthy menu at D’Lish Drive Thru in Scottsdale, Arizona, along with a free dose of off-the-wall friendliness.

This excellent AZ Burro is one of many creative, healthy breakfast choices at D'Lish Drive-Thru

This excellent AZ Burro is one of many creative, healthy breakfast choices at D’Lish Drive-Thru in Scottsdale, Arizona

Best Coffee

In a year when I visit the coffee meccas of Seattle and Portland, it’s a roaster/coffeehouse in little Lethbridge, Alberta that serves my two best cups of coffee, one by Chemex, the other by Aeropress. Cupper’s Coffee & Tea‘s slightly darker roasts are so good, I’ve been ordering their shipped beans instead of just roasting my own.

Cupper's owner Al Anctil and the sophisticated roaster he helped build

Cupper’s owner Al Anctil and the sophisticated roaster he helped build in Lethbridge, Alberta

     Honourable Mentions: The espresso at Portland hole-in-the-wall Spella Caffee holds my tongue in a lingering, smoky embrace. My best coffee experiences are in Seattle’s also tiny Moore Coffee Shop—where I sink into a leather chair and savour a fine Americano served with a square of complimentary chocolate—and the funky vibe of Lux Central in Phoenix. I also have to include Nobrow Coffee Werks, in the coffee mecca of Salt Lake City (just joking) for the most sophisticated brewing machine, the Steampunk, I’ve ever seen.

Joe Evans and the very latest in custom-brewed coffee at Nobrow Coffee Works; I'd say this is high brow

Joe Evans and the very latest in custom-brewed coffee at Nobrow Coffee Works; I’d say this is high brow

Best Bakery/Café Santa Fe’s Clafoutis has a full-fledged menu, but it’s the ethereal croissants, brioche and baguettes, along with great coffee, that bring me back for more at this elegant, oh-so-French café.

A stack of baguettes amidst all the creative elements at Clafoutis in Santa Fe, New Mexico

A stack of baguettes amidst all the creative elements at Clafoutis in Santa Fe, New Mexico

      Honourable Mentions: Last year’s pick, La Baguette, in Revelstoke, B.C., keeps knocking it out of the park with things as simple but outstanding as Healthy Bread, its take on toast. San Francisco’s famed Tartine Bakery & Cafe lives up to the hype with brioche bread pudding and gorgeous gougère.

Gorgeously gooey gougere at Tartine Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco

Gorgeously gooey gougere at Tartine Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco

Best Sandwich The sandwich is a road-trip lunch staple, but it’s rarely raised to an art form like the Oxacan— shredded mole chicken, avocado, goat cheese and apple, served on lovely seed-crusted ciabatta—that I’m served at the fantastic Curious Kumquat, way out in Silver City, New Mexico.

This shredded mole chicken sandwich makes the drive to Silver City, New Mexico well worthwhile

This shredded mole chicken sandwich makes the drive to Silver City, New Mexico well worthwhile

     Honourable Mentions: My steak sandwich at Longview Steakhouse, in the ranch country of Longview, Alberta, is really a huge, superb strip loin on an overwhelmed single piece of bread, though the latter does soak up all the juices. In the heavyweight sandwich battle, my mortadella with all the fixings at Compagno’s Delicatessen, in Monterey Bay, California, reaches a sleep-inducing draw with the turkey-bacon monster at Sandwich Spot, in Palm Springs, California.

I gave half of this monster, fab $8 creation from the Sandwich Spot to a passing street person in Palm Springs, California

I gave half of this monster, fab $8 creation from the Sandwich Spot to a passing street person in Palm Springs, California. Kept us both fed for a day

Best Burger

A tie: Bobcat Bite has left its character-filled old adobe building and morphed into Santa Fe Bite, but it’s still pumping out its signature green chile cheeseburgers. Diablo Burger sources its natural, lean meats from open-range ranches near Flagstaff, Arizona. Both places offer their thick patties medium-rare.

The name and the location's changing, but there's no disguising these fantastic green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite

This fantastic, medium-rare green chile cheeseburger, at Santa Fe Bite, is at least three inches thick

     Honourable Mentions: In the Asian fusion category, my fine wagyu burger at Bachi Burger in Las Vegas is edged by the Loco Moco—a Kobe patty over rice and Japanese mushrooms and topped with a sunny-side egg—at Carino Bistro in Calgary, Alberta.

Who needs a bun when you can have a Kobe patty atop rice and Japanese mushrooms at Carino Bistro in Calgary, Alberta

Who needs a bun when you can have a Kobe patty atop rice and Japanese mushrooms at Carino Bistro in Calgary, Alberta?

Best Vegetarian

Yes, I probably eat more burgers than salads on the road, but I’m by no means averse to vegetarian or even vegan so long as it’s tasty. It’s no surprise that in the running capital of Eugene, Oregon, healthy folks head to Morning Glory Cafe for tofu scrambles, black-bean burgers or my baked squash mounded with chanterelle mushrooms, brown rice and goat feta.

This baked squash mounded with goodies made for a healthy lunch at Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene, Oregon

This baked squash mounded with goodies makes for a healthy lunch at Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene, Oregon

Best Pizza

Among the many contenders, my top pick is Pizzeria Seven Twelve, in Orem, Utah, where the focus is on fresh and simple but creative ingredients like hand-pulled mozzarella, house-made sausage, roasted fennel and a thin, bubbly crust with a nice tangy flavour from the sourdough starter.

Simple, house-made ingredients make this sausage and fennel pie a standout at Pizzeria Seven Twelve in Orem, Utah

Simple, house-made ingredients make this sausage and fennel pie a standout at Pizzeria Seven Twelve in Orem, Utah

     Honourable Mention: At neighbourhood pub The Flying Goat, in Spokane, Washington, my Kiernan pie is layered with Italian sausage, heavy cream, an over-medium egg and some truffle-oil tossed arugula.

Italian sausage, heavy cream and truffle-oil tossed arugula add up to a winner at The Flying Goat in Spokane, Washington

Italian sausage, heavy cream and truffle-oil tossed arugula add up to a winner at The Flying Goat in Spokane, Washington

Best Salad

Salt Lake City’s gorgeous Finca creates a work-of-art beet salad, with a velvety house ricotta base, a ring of beet chunks and a middle tower of argula topped by macerated strawberries and toasted almonds.

This arranged beet salad, at Finca, is almost too pretty to eat... almost

This arranged beet salad, at Finca, is almost too pretty to eat… almost

The 5 Strangest Things I Ate and Drank on Road Trips in 2013… Good Mind You

The centrepiece of this gorgeous appetizer at Kama'aina Grindz is those pink pieces of grilled spam

The centrepiece of this gorgeous appetizer at Kama’aina Grindz, in Everett Washington, is those pink pieces of grilled spam

When I’m road-trip dining or drinking, it sometimes takes a sizable leap of faith to order something completely off the tastebud charts. But such adventures often lead to memorable culinary discoveries. Here are five that stood out in 2013.

For me, spam conjures up long-repressed memories of canned luncheon meats from when something healthier like, say, baloney was unavailable. So I’m curious to see what noted chef Dean Shinagawa can do with an updated version, called spam musubi, at his new, *Kama’aina Grindz in Everett, Washington. And I’m floored to find it, dare I say, delicious, the soy-marinated “meat” crisply grilled, perched atop rice and wrapped in seaweed—a 1960s’ sushi square if you will from this Hawaiian-Asian master. Needless to say, this spam dish is beautifully presented and a $5 bargain appetizer. The only thing I can ask, Dean, is where were you 40 years ago?

Kama’aina Grindz
2933 Colby Avenue, Everett, Washington
Monday to Thursday 11 am- 7 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
Kama'aina Grindz on Urbanspoon

I’ve heard of blackened fish and blackened chicken. But blackened soup? Or bamboo charcoal dark miso ramen, to be more precise. In Asian cultures, charcoal powder is considered a tonic for digestion, skin problems and aging. But the flavour? At Motomachi Shokudo, a top Japanese ramen house in the west end of downtown Vancouver, the soup is delightful—beautifully presented in a large ceramic bowl, with curled noodles, a soft-boiled egg and barbecued pork. But the revelation is the dark, pungent broth, highlighted by the smoky charcoal powder.

Charcoal soup at Vancouver's Motomachi Shokudo. Much healthier and better tasting than it sounds

Charcoal soup at Vancouver’s Motomachi Shokudo. Much healthier and better tasting than it sounds

Motomachi Shokudo
740 Denman Street, Vancouver
Daily noon to 11 pm, except closed Wednesday
Motomachi Shokudo 元町食堂 on Urbanspoon

A lot of culinary innovation is happening on the food-truck scene. So it’s no surprise that Portland, with some 700 stationary food “carts”, is at the forefront. Of the many interesting cart creations I sampled on a recent Portland visit, perhaps nothing overcame my “not bloody likely” reflex quite like PBJ’s Grilled, which you may have deduced stands for grilled peanut butter and jam sandwiches. In my case, it’s the award-winning grilled Oregonian—a medley of challah bread, Oregon hazelnut butter, Rogue Creamery blue cheese and house-made marion berry jam (duck is an add on). Don’t know why, but it lives up to the cart’s motto: “Deliciously addictive.”

Keena assembling my  hazelnut butter, blue cheese and marion berry jam sandwich at PBJ's Grilled

Keena assembling my hazelnut butter, blue cheese and marion berry jam sandwich at PBJ’s Grilled in Portland

PBJ’s Grilled
SE 12 Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard (also at 919 NW 23 Street), Portland
Tuesday to Sunday opens at 11 am. Closed Monday
PBJ's on Urbanspoon

I’ve had chiles added to chocolate. So it was probably just a matter of time before they showed up in one of my beers. It’s actually on a Portland sidewalk, where I encounter Burnside Brewing brewmaster Jason McAdam grilling some Scotch bonnet peppers and peach halves on a little Weber charcoal grill. They’re being used to dry hop a version of the brewery’s Sweet Heat Ale, which when sampled definitely has some citrus notes, along with a searing punch to the back of my throat.

Grilled  peaches and Scotch bonnets for a spicy, citrusy beer at Burnside Brewing in Portland. What will they think of next?

Grilled peaches and Scotch bonnets for a spicy, citrusy beer at Burnside Brewing in Portland. What will they think of next?

Burnside Brewing
701 East Burnside Street, Portland
Monday to Thursday opens at 3 pm, Friday to Sunday at noon
Burnside Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Talk about fusion, or maybe confusion. How about some booze and barbecue added to breakfast? At The Red Wagon Restaurant in Vancouver, it’s the stack of pancakes layered with pulled pork and topped with, get this, Jack Daniels maple syrup. The result is filling and unique—the salty, moist pulled pork nicely complemented by the sweet bourbon syrup. I’m just hoping the alcohol has evaporated before I hit the mid-morning streets.

How about some pulled pork layered between these  pancakes, with Jack Daniels maple syrup as a sweetener?

How about some pulled pork layered between these pancakes, with Jack Daniels maple syrup as a sweetener?

The Red Wagon Restaurant
2296 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
Weekdays 8 am-9 pm, weekends 9 am-9 pm
The Red Wagon on Urbanspoon

Vancouver’s Pancake Parade

Jethro’s Fine Grub offers an extensive list of pancakes and French toast on its breakfast menu

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.

How about some pulled pork layered between these  pancakes, with Jack Daniels maple syrup as a sweetener?

How about some pulled pork layered between these pancakes, with Jack Daniels maple syrup as a sweetener?

The Red Wagon Restaurant
2296 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
Weekdays 8 am-9 pm, weekends 9 am-9 pm
The Red Wagon on Urbanspoon

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.

There's another monster pancake lurking beneath this banana-studded linker at Jethro's.

There’s another monster pancake lurking beneath this banana-studded lunker at Jethro’s. By the way, this is another customer’s order.

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.

So that I'm not anchored to my chair, I actually opt for Jethro's lovely, much lighter challah-bread French toast.

So that I’m not anchored to my chair, I actually opt for Jethro’s lovely, much lighter challah-bread French toast.

Jethro’s Fine Grub
3420 Dunbar Street and 3455 Fraser Street (cash only at this location), Vancouver
Daily 8 am-4 pm
Jethro's Fine Grub on Urbanspoon

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.