They go by many names: pancakes, hotcakes, griddlecakes and flapjacks. They are at the center of American breakfast cuisine, right up there with eggs, bacon, and the unfortunately named French toast. They are fantastically easy to mess up, but when it’s cooked right, there is no beating a fluffy buttermilk pancake topped with butter and maple syrup.
As a lover of all things pancake, I decided to make it my mission to find the best pancakes that Portland has to offer. I spent a few weeks traveling to various breakfast joints and ordering up full stack after full stack of buttermilk pancakes. All of my judgements were made based on the quality of the pancakes themselves, and not on any other ingredients placed on or within the flapjacks.
4246 SE Belmont St., Portland, OR 97215
4 Sticks of butter
There is a joy involved in cooking pancakes that restaurants just cannot provide. Want your flapjacks to be burned to a crisp? Want your chocolate chips arranged to form your initials? At most pancake houses, you can make such requests when you order, but you will probably get some hesitation from your waiter. At Slappy Cakes though, you get total control.
(Photo: Tucker Gordon)
The system works like this: you order a particular type of batter (buttermilk for me, of course), toppings, and syrup, and they are all delivered to your table in containers. Next, you pour batter into the shape of a pancake, as large or small as you wish, onto the large griddle that is situated at the center of the table. Throw in all the toppings that you wish, flip the pancake, remove it, douse it in butter and syrup, and enjoy.
With the freedom of cooking however, comes simple pancake batter. The cakes taste like ones straight out of Joy of Cooking, with a good flavor overall, but a lack of fluffiness or any sort of pop. Most pancakes are a bit salty or a sweet, which adds good flavor to them, but these just split the difference.
But, it seems to me that Slappy Cakes keeps their pancake batter basic in order to add a plethora of flavors. You wouldn’t want to add bacon to a sweet pancake, would you? That’s why Slappy Cakes works. They do not have the best pancakes in Portland, but that’s not what you are paying for. When you go to Slappy Cakes, you are paying for creative, fun and exciting pancakes and flavors.
Original Hotcake House
1002 SE Powell Blvd., Portland OR, 97202
2 sticks of butter
The Original Hotcake House is one of the most popular locations for a late-night meal, being featured on the Food Network for “the best of After Hours Dining.” The appeal is obvious: open 24 hours, pretty cheap, and generous portions. However, that’s about all that the Hotcake House has going for it.
The pancakes themselves leave much to be desired. When I visited in the midst of the breakfast rush (11:00 AM on a Sunday), I received a couple cakes whose consistency resembled Gushers fruit snacks. Once I found bites that did not pour uncooked batter in my mouth, I found nothing redeeming in taste. Bland and starchy are not qualities I seek out in my flapjacks, but ones that I was unfortunately faced with in the Original Hotcake House.
If it were late at night, and I was starving and within walking distance of the Original Hotcake House, then I would go. Otherwise, I would go to one of the many other pancake destinations in East Portland in a heartbeat.
Stepping Stone Café
2390 NW Quimby St., Portland, OR 97210
3 sticks of butter
Stepping Stone Café is undoubtedly the most famous restaurant on this list. Their fame can be attributed primarily to the beasts forged in their kitchen: mancakes. These colossal titans of pancakes measure about a foot in diameter, while still maintaining a good fluffiness. They were even featured on Travel Channel’s “Man Vs. Food”. With these mancakes at their disposal, Stepping Stone exists not to simply fill you up, but push you beyond the point of feeling full. These pancakes will break you.
However, it is clear that the size of these mancakes masks their taste. Powering your way through an entire mancake proves a much more difficult task when you are confronted with their bland and starchy taste. They’re fluffy, sure, but in the same way that a packing peanut is fluffier, but much less desirable than a normal peanut. The only hope for completing “the mancake challenge” is to soak your cakes with butter and syrup until you cannot taste them anymore.
If you’re feeling hungry, I would still recommend Stepping Stone’s mancakes, for no other reason other than the challenge itself. But if you’re looking to eat a delicious pancake, keep walking and don’t look back.
Fat City Café
7820 SW Capitol Hwy., Portland, OR 97219
2.5 sticks of butter
The pancakes at Fat City. (Photo: Tucker Gordon)
Fat City Café is an East Coast diner in Portland. There are license plates and posters covering every inch of wall, a constant noise level, and just an overall sense of chaos. But it’s not deterring at all. In fact, it’s the kind of atmosphere that just makes you want to sit down and eat as many pancakes as possible.
And that brings me to the cakes themselves. I think they could best be described with the sound “eh.” To quote my dining partner, Tyler Quatraro ’13, “they’re just eh.” That is all to say, there is just nothing special about them. They are not bad, but they are nothing to write home about either. The pancakes taste very similar to their brethren at Stepping Stone, but without the colossal size. In this instance, bigger is better.
It essentially comes down to this: if you want a great pancake in Portland, there are better places to go. If you want to go to Fat City, I would suggest ordering something else if you want any sort of memory of your meal.
Bread and Ink Café
3610 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214
4 sticks of butter
Bread and Ink is well known among residents of Southeast Portland as a breakfast spot where people primarily go for their delicious waffles topped with fried chicken. However, their pancakes may rank even higher.
The plate of pancakes that you receive comes topped with powdered sugar, butter, and house syrup on the side (unfortunately you have to pay extra for the maple). Each cake is fluffy, buttery, and hits a balance between sweet and savory. In all of my trips to Bread and Ink, which definitely number in double digits, I have never encountered a pancake that was not cooked to perfection: not gooey and not burnt, but perfectly in between. The chefs here have mastered the art of adding an extra crispy layer to the outside, while still preserving the standard pancake consistency inside.
So, if you are out and about in Portland looking for the best pancake money can buy, head over to Bread and Ink on Hawthorne. You will not be disappointed.
Now, after reading this, you may be thinking a very logical question: if Bread and Ink was the best, why did it not get five sticks of butter? The answer is very simple: after all of my travels, I still believe that there is a better pancake out there. There were flaws—fixable flaws—with every single pancake that went into my mouth. Maybe that perfect pancake is at some other restaurant, waiting for me. Maybe it’s on a griddle at someone’s home (the pancakes of Hotlips Pizza owner David Yudkin are still my reigning favorites). The bottom line is this: the perfect pancake is out there still, and I am making it my mission to find it. Until then however, I will be making Bread and Ink Café my restaurant of choice for pancakes.