By KC Koonce
It should be simpleâ€”all of the ingredients are ordinary, inexpensive, and the same colorâ€”but somehow the elusive pancake is almost impossible to find. Too many people (and restaurants) donâ€™t take their pancakes seriously enough, and Upper West Siders are faced with a plethora of pedestrian pancakes.
But I take my pancakes seriously and think if we all did, restaurants would be forced to serve better ones. One need only visit the great state of Vermont for comparison.
Good pancakes, most would agree, are something we go for when weâ€™re seeking weekend decadence. We enjoy pancakes with good company, and good coffee, juice, meat, and perhaps a boozy beverage. We expect them to be fluffy, cloud-like sweet treats that weâ€™ve worked hard for all week and deserve. Or donâ€™t deserve, but eat on credit from the future workout we promise to take.
Regardless of the circumstance, everyone deserves good pancakes.
Good pancakes are light gold in color. They are soft to the touch, roughly a half-inch thick with bubbly edges; the underside is slightly lighter than the top. When you cut into the pancake it is slightly doughy, it absorbs syrup easily, and when you put it in our mouth you know you have the perfect pancake.
I like to taste the tang of baking soda, just to ensure that the pancake didnâ€™t come from a box. The slight imperfection reminds me of the care human hands took to make the pancake, like a slightly asymmetrical hand-woven carpet.
Accoutrements are as important as the pancakes themselves.
It sounds bourgeois, but there is no substitute for real maple syrup. â€œSyrupâ€ substitutes (the kinds that come in plastic bottles) contain frightening ingredients with â€œxâ€™sâ€ and â€œzâ€™sâ€ and more than 10 letters. Maple syrup is healthy and works as a great substitute for sugar â€“ for more than just pancakes. I know these are tough times, but I strongly advise against cutting corners with syrup.
To meâ€”and I know Iâ€™m not aloneâ€”coffee is an absolutely essential part of the day. Coffee is not expensive â€“ so why do so many eateries skimp on coffee? There really is no excuse for ruining the start of our days, and yet so many places do it. We deserve to feel confident that we will be served good quality coffee with brunch. I brew and drink my coffee at home before going to brunch, because a mediocre coffee on a weekend morning is one of lifeâ€™s greatest disappointments.
SAVORING THE SIDE
Pancakes can be too sweet to stomach alone, so it helps to have a salty side, such as sausage or bacon. A good breakfast sausage is my favorite. Iâ€™m always happy when restaurants make it easy to order a side. If sausage and bacon are too decadent, not many meat-eaters will turn down an offer to share your bacon or sausage. Two bites of pancakes per one bite of your side meat dish is just heavenly, and the protein will keep you full for much longer than pancakes alone.
RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE
Upper West Siders face an uphill battle for good brunch. Who wants to stand on those lines only to be served mediocrity at best? Perhaps you should just skip the idea altogether and have a burger; I recommend the Shake Shack (finally, fast food done correctly), but if you really have a craving and you canâ€™t, or donâ€™t have time to make them, I have two recommendations.
The first time I tried Community pancakes I was in heaven. They are thick and perfect and the sausages are also delicious. The unusually good coffee was a pleasant complement to the breakfast. Warning: Smack in the middle of Columbia University valley, there are obscene crowds.
Another classic pancake can be found at French Roast. The pancakes donâ€™t disappoint. The side of sausage is good and the coffee is decent (but the selection of Belgian beers is even better).
But I rarely go out to brunch these days. Even if I had a larger budget, I would still have a hard time paying for the mediocre choices. I canâ€™t tolerate half-assed coffee and pancakes, so I just donâ€™t bother.Below is an adapted recipe I like from Epicurious.com
* 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
* 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
* 2 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* Accompaniment: maple syrup
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Brush a 12-inch nonstick skillet with some of remaining tablespoon melted butter and heat over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of 3, pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake into hot skillet and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a large plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm, then make more pancakes, brushing skillet with butter for each batch.