Dozen Best Pancakes
We Orleanians feel as if we own the patent on Mardi Gras. But in fact the day is celebrated in many other places around the world. Our version is an inheritance from France. The English-speaking world has a different take on Shrove Tuesday. (They even have a different name for the day!) It involves pancakes.
Everywhere in the British Isles, Mardi Gras is Pancake Day. The most famous event is in Olney, Buckinghamshire, where the women run a race while carrying a pan with a flapjack in it. Part of the rules require them to flip the pancake twice with just a jerk of the pan and at the beginning and end of the race. The same contest takes place in Liberal, Kansas, whose pancake-flippers compete against those of Olney.
If you’re thinking that this sounds stultifying compared with Mardi Gras, you’re right. But the idea of pancakes for breakfast on Mardi Gras sounds good. When our kids were little, we once had a Mardi Gras pancake party for their friends. We served three syrups: purple (boysenberry), green (Log Cabin with green food coloring ) and gold (Steen’s light cane syrup). I don’t think anybody made the connection with the old tradition, but they liked the pancakes.
There was a time when pancakes were a much bigger deal than they are now. The most famous New Orleans pancake house of all time was Joe Riccobono’s Buck Forty-Nine Pancake and Steak House, the ancestor of the Peppermill. They had locations all over the city, and from early in the morning they served an extensive menu of pancakes made every which way, with a rack of many different syrups. If this sounds like IHOP, believe me that it was of vastly superior quality.
Here are the dozen best places around town to have pancakes now.
1. Mattina Bella. Covington: 421 E Gibson. 985-892-0708. The best basic pancake served in any New Orleans area restaurant. With good reason: there’s a family connection here to the old Buck Forty-Nine, the West Bank location of which owner Vincent Riccobono used to run. Fluffy, perfectly browned (see above), great flavor even before you add the syrup.
2. Blue Plate Cafe. Lee Circle/Lower Garden District: 1330 Prytania. 504-309-9500. Pancakes are a big deal here, with many configurations and add-ons. The Bonaparte version, with three fruit sauces, is the best. The pumpkin pancakes are terrific, too.
3. Peppermill. Metairie: 3524 Severn Ave. 504-455-2266. The child of the old Buck Forty-Nine, the Peppermill makes the same pancakes, if not in as many varieties. Excellent basic item, though, a strong part of its terrific breakfast offering.
4. Riccobono’s Panola Street Cafe. Carrollton: 7801 Panola. 504-314-1810. The Peppermill’s owner Vincent Riccobono (a different Vincent Riccobono from the one at Mattina Bella) has an expanded pancake selection in this corner cafe. You can get a buckwheat cake here.
5. Tiffin Inn. Metairie: 6601 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-6602. The Tiffin Inn is the closest approximation to the Original Pancake House, a nationwide franchise that sets the standard for pancakes in these United States. They make more different kinds of pancakes than any other local eatery, including the superb German and baked apple pancakes. I wish the place were a lot less dreary.
6. Ruby Slipper Cafe. Mid-City: 139 S Cortez. 504-309-5531. ||CBD: 200 Magazine St. 504-525-9355. ||Marigny: 2001 Burgundy St. 504-525-9355. The hottest chain of breakfast places keeps expanding around town. Although the talk is mostly about the saucy egg dishes, they also turn out fine flapjacks.
7. Coulis. Uptown: 3625 Prytania. 504-304-4265. Well-made flapjacks come in malted and buckwheat versions, both unusual and good. Lots of fillings and toppings to choose from.
8. 5Fifty5. CBD: Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal. 504-553-5638. The all-day restaurant of the Marriott Hotel serves a big breakfast. On the menu is a unique item I’d like to see spread to other restaurants: Creole cream cheese pancakes.
9. Russell’s Marina Grill. West End: 8555 Pontchartrain Blvd. 504-282-9980. I think the pancakes at Russell’s–available in forms ranging from the sticky-sweet to the very healthy–is the best part of their famous breakfast menu.
10. Mother’s. CBD: 401 Poydras. 504-523-9656. Like everything else here, they sling an immense pile of flapjacks at you. No bacon: you eat the house’s great ham with breakfast here.
11. Surrey’s . Garden District: 1418 Magazine. 504-524-3828. ||Uptown: 4807 Magazine. 504-895-5757. Surrey’s two Magazine Street cafes are better known for things like fresh-processed juices, fruit, and granola. But they handle the traditional stuff well, too.
12. Fat Hen Grocery. Uptown: 7457 St Charles Ave. 504-266-2921. Well-made basic pancakes, eclipsed in fame by the unique womelettes (an omelette baked on a waffle).