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New York, New York
March 29, 2004
I had an afternoon flight back to New York on my last day in Chicago, so two old friends and I decided to share Sunday breakfast together before I left. My friend Ryan suggested the Original Pancake House, and the three of us agreed to meet at the restaurant at 1pm. I was surprised to find that The Original Pancake House was located in the basement of what appeared to be an office park, but no one else seemed to mind the location as we found the restaurant completely full. The hostess politely took our name and correctly predicted a 30-minute wait.
Upon sitting down I observed that the dining room was mostly composed of portly, older folks who genuinely seemed to appreciate the restaurant's enormous portions and inexpensive prices, so we were all a bit surprised to notice an attractive young girl sitting alone. Of course, she was waiting for a date and he finally arrived several minutes later, talking on a cell phone and wearing a stupid blue blazer. Blue Blazer continued his conversation on the cell phone after sitting down, a move that I figure he must have picked up from a men's magazine. Whatever the origins of his rudeness, the behavior only seemed to impress his date more and this made us mad.
We decided not to let Blue Blazer ruin our meal however, and so perhaps in an attempt to boost our self-esteem, both Ryan and I splurged and selected Original Pancake House Signature Items from the menu. I chose the mushroom omelet ($7.85) and Ryan the apple pancake, but in retrospect Joe made the wisest choice by simply ordering a side of silver-dollar pancakes. The food arrived shortly thereafter and the monstrosity that was delivered on Ryan's plate nearly caused us to fall from the table. If ever a pancake resembled a living, breathing, flipping-flopping creature, Ryan's breakfast was it. The enormous size of the meal made Joe's silver dollar pancakes look petite in comparison, and the waiter, noticing the difference, laughed and said that Joe had ordered the "Little Brother" special.
Ryan gamely cut into the beast and began piling forkful after forkful of apple dough into his mouth, but he had barely finished half the pancake before calling it quits. My omelet came with a small side of pancakes, and these were very good, but the omelet itself was difficult to eat. Like Ryan's meal, it was enormous, and the egg mixture was infused with so much light, fluffy air that it no longer tasted of anything but the sherry-based mushroom gravy spread across the top.
Towards the end of our breakfast, Blue Blazer walked past with a napkin stuck to his shoe, and while it was not toilet paper, this did make him look foolish enough to increase our enjoyment of the meal. Energized by this event, Ryan attacked his apple pancake once again and managed two further bites.
From journal Chicago: City of Big Portions
by smmmarti guide
May 13, 2002
Ten o'clock on a Thursday presented open tables and adequate opportunity to linger over a third cup of their famous Kona coffee, shipped from Hawaii, but roasted locally. The Swedish pancakes had been all I remembered them to be, tender, thin, with crispy edges, to be smeared with lingonberries and rolled into tubes. A side order of scrambled eggs, cooked expertly in 93 score butter, urged nature's perfect food even closer to its claim.
On weekends, the crowds gather early at all locations. Purposely arriving before our determined time, I took my place in line which already extended beyond the stained glass door out into the cold, Chicago wind. The crowd shivered, huddled, sustained only by the sweet scents of the famous apple pancake and Dutch baby which permeated the foyer area.
Breakfast, being a one course affair, ensures that tables turn over quickly. By the time my in-laws arrived, I'd moved to the front of the line where the manager called out, "any tables for under four?" The three of us scurried ahead of the groups to a cozy corner booth where busboys who also tend to the coffee and drinks, quickly presented de-caf Kona, orange juice sqeezed while still on the vine and iced water with lemons.
No one ordered the piece de resistance, the Apple Pancake. We had noted the nutritional facts listed on the order form that said one pancake equaled 470 calories per each of its proposed four servings. Eating one of these babies would satisfy your full caloric allotment for the day (but it is always worth it). It was better before they published these unwanted facts, when the scent just grabbed you and just didn't care how fattening it was! These days, you can buy pancakes "to go," store them in the freezer and serve them on Sundays when you don't want to go out into the cold and stand in line.
But the ambiance in Walker Bros. is part of the appeal. Every locations boasts a collection of stained glass windows that would make a European cathedral envious. Dark, polished oak booths, brass hanging lamps and the homey warmth that comes from "lovin' in the oven" adds to the pleasure of the always perfectly prepared fare.
This is the sort of place that could be franchised everywhere and be a hit. But Walker Bros. seem intent on keeping it all in the family, and unique to Chicago. That's all right. I'll be back.
From journal Chicago: Heartland and Comforts