Pancakes are so simple. A little milk, some flour, a few eggs, a bit of butter — and you’ve got yourself a breakfast meal that historians say has been savored since prehistoric times. Yes, before our ancestors could even write, they apparently were whisking up batter and digging into a stack of pancakes. It’s not known whether they drizzled maple syrup on their flat cakes.
If only they could have gotten their hands on the pancakes that brunch and breakfast lovers can avail themselves of today in North Jersey. Yes, those fluffy spheres of deliciousness are wonderful unadorned (hold the syrup, please). But then again those disks of downy dough also can be embellished nowadays with, well, the kitchen sink: ricotta cheese, cannoli cream, cheese, bacon, chocolate chips, breakfast cereal and, this time of year, pumpkin puree.
We scouted the region for the fluffiest, most comforting, most satisfying, most creative pancakes — unadorned and adorned — and here, fellow pancake lovers, is our list of the region’s best.
Original Pancake House, West Caldwell and Edgewater
When your pancakes are loved by idolized American chef James Beard, you can be pretty sure they’re scrumptious. Beard, the cookbook author and teacher whose foundation grants the most prestigious culinary awards in America, had selected the Original Pancake House as one of the top 10 restaurants in America. The franchise began life in 1953 in Oregon. Today, it has more than100 locations across the county.
Two are in North Jersey. The first was launched in Rutherford in 1993 by Peter Rentzis, whose son, Demitri, today owns it; while Demitri’s brother, Philip, runs the Edgewater location, which opened in 2016 (it was originally in Fort Lee).
According to Demitri, when his dad, a veteran restaurant owner, went to the company’s flagship restaurant in Oregon to inquire about owning a franchise, he didn’t need much persuading. He was sold soon after he learned that it took nine days for the company to ferment its buttermilk batter, that it used only high-quality ingredients and, most importantly, that the pancakes were delicious. “He tasted it and that was it,” Demitri said.
“Our rule of thumb is never change your quality,” said Demitri.
Demitri said that the kitchen uses flour from a special mill in Utah, fresh-grade AA eggs, and honey-cured bacon from Salt Lake City (the bacon plays a starring role in the restaurant’s bacon pancakes).
Although it’s a “pancake house,” the franchise is well known for its oven-baked omelets and its Dutch Baby, a tall souffle-like pancake. And its pancakes, of course, especially its apple pancake, a single large pancake smothered with sautéed Granny Smith apples and cinnamon sugar that is baked in the oven and wears a rich cinnamon-sugar glaze. “Every couple of minutes we are making our own whipped cream,” he said.
However, Demitri said, the top-selling item at his franchise is the chocolate chip pancake.
Why chocolate chip? “Kids love chocolate chip the most, and this is a family restaurant,” Demitri said. “It’s a no brainer.”
Go: 817 Bloomfield Ave., West Caldwell, 973-575-9161 and 15 The Promenade, Edgewater, 201-366-4065, originalpancakehousewestcaldwell.com.
Granny’s Pancake House, Hamburg
Asked what makes the pancakes at Granny’s Pancake House so good, general manager Jordan Walker didn’t go into a litany of the stellar ingredients Granny uses but simply said, “We’ve been here for 26 years. We’ve been doing pancakes for a long time.”
In other words, the kitchen crew of this popular breakfast-and-lunch spot has perfected its pancake-making skills. The perfection is further enhanced, according to Walker, by the “love and attention we add.”
The pancakes are made from scratch; your choices are buttermilk, whole wheat and multigrain. The latter, Walker said, “has a lovely cinnamon-y taste.”
And you can order a batch anytime of day. “It’s breakfast all day here,” Walker said.
Cynthia Pacillo, the chef and owner of beloved breakfast restaurant Cyndia’s, can’t help herself. Whenever she whips up a batch of ricotta pancakes, she’s got to have one herself.
“They’re so delicious,” said Pacillo. “They barely contain any flour. They remind me,” she said, “of Japanese pancakes” — those airy, custardy, souffle-like hot cakes served in Tokyo cafes. Pacillo serves hers with a dollop of apricot preserve.
Pancakes are a big seller at Cyndia’s, Pacillo reported — especially on Sunday.
“Saturday is more of an omelet day,” she said. “Sunday is insane with pancakes.”
“I think people are still in the healthy eating mode on Saturday. By Sunday, it’s what the heck.”
On Sunday, they’re likely to devour Pacillo’s super-popular cinnamon roll pancakes, fluffy flapjacks blended with cinnamon swirl (brown sugar, cinnamon and butter) and glazed with a cream cheese and butter icing.
“They are decadent, insanely good,” she said. “They could be a pastry.”
A made-to-order breakfast pastry. Enjoy them with a hot cup of coffee.
Guzzo’s BakeHouse, Haworth
Baker Ralph Guzzo’s family has been in the baking business for generations. Both his grandfather and his father owned bakeries. Any wonder then that he has taken his granddad’s beloved cannoli recipe to further jazz up the fluffy pancakes he serves at his quaint six-month-old spot in Rutherford.
“Our cannoli recipe goes back about 70 years,” Guzzo said.
He pipes the well-tested cannoli cream between his homemade pancakes and tops it with pieces of cracked cannoli shells to, he said, “give it texture.”
“They are popular,” Guzzo said.
Popular too is the “Triple Threat” pancake, a sweet-tooth’s dream-come-true made with Oreo cookies, cookie dough and Nutella, encircled by a layer of vanilla cream “for a bit of freshness on the plate,” Guzzo said. “We kind of layer it like a cake.” But it’s not cake, right? It’s a pancake; so, okay to have as your first meal of the day. Or lunch.
Unless of course, you’d rather have something a bit lighter, a bit less sugary, a bit more traditional. Then consider ordering a stack of mixed berry pancakes. They may not have the same razzle-dazzle factor as an Oreo-cookie-dough-Nutella pancake, but strawberries and blueberries are pretty darn delicious (and, might we add, nutritious).
Go: 298 Park Ave., Rutherford; 201-939-7668, steveandandreas.business.site.
The Love of Grub, Clifton
Chef and owner Tracey Travers’s pancakes are so fluffy that a stack of three stand 5-inches tall.
“I don’t know the science of it and you can’t see it rise, but if it doesn’t rise when you flip ’em, you know something is wrong.”
Nothing is wrong with Travers’s well-loved pancakes. She makes her own buttermilk, her own batter. “No pancake mix out of a box, that’s for sure,” she said.
She offers traditional pancakes and specials almost every week. The other week it was apple cinnamon pancakes, lush with sliced apple. Sometimes it’s an intense banana pancake. “I mash the banana and put it in the batter,” she said. “That way you get banana flavor in every bite.” Want strawberries, blueberries or chocolate chips in your pancakes? Done.
Travers said she got her pancake recipe from a funky, little restaurant in Key West called Blue Heaven, “my favorite place in the world.” She loves its quirky, mismatched look so much that she filled her space with different sized tables, different colored chairs and even placed a a 7-foot statue of a pirate outside her door. Blue Heaven had a wonderful backyard too. Indeed Ernest Hemingway, a Key West resident, would box in its courtyard. No word whether he ate the restaurant’s pancakes.
Steve & Andrea’s, Rutherford
Steve Spano will tell you that Steve & Andrea’s, his 47-year-old modestly priced breakfast and lunch spot in Rutherford, is known for its pancakes. “It is our number one bestseller. People come from all over for the pancakes.”
He is not surprised. After all, he uses his mother’s recipe for his very thin pancakes — and she was a terrific baker, Spano said. “I still haven’t found a bakery that bakes as good as my mother,” he said. Her pancakes are unusually thin, crepe-like wonders, thanks to the extra liquid Spano pours into the from-scratch made batter.
Spano’s mom’s pancakes can be had with fresh blueberries, strawberries, bananas or chocolate chips. .
Go: 298 Park Ave., Rutherford; 201-939-7668, steveandandreas.business.site.
It’s not often that your find an alum of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America cooking in a diner-like cafe. But Carver Parrish, owner of Carver’s in Denville, is indeed a CIA alum, as well as the baker at this quaint 13-year breakfast and lunch spot.
Everything in his place is homemade — the bread, the tarts and, of course, the pancakes. Get two large buttermilk pancakes with your choice of breakfast meat or choose the multigrain made with wholegrain seeds and almonds. Or, this time of year, there’s apple oatmeal or pumpkin pancakes. “We run them right through the holidays,” Parrish said.
Go: 38 1st Ave., Denville; 862-209-1464, carversdenville.com.
Toast’s mantra is “Peace. Love. Pancakes.” You can spot it on the T-shirts the waitsaff wears.
The mantra telegraphs the feel and essence of this popular diner-like spot with its kitchy and bright decor, friendly staff and, yes, great pancakes.
Owner Any Russo Harrigan uses her dad’s recipe for her wonderfully fluffy disks (her dad used to own a diner). Try the red velvet pancake, not just for its pleasing taste, but its artful design: it has a spoon stenciled with powdered sugar on top. Don’t overlook the shredded-carrot pancakes made with coconut and raisins. Can’t digest gluten? No problem. Toast offers a made-with-nut-flour pancake.
Go: 700 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair; 973-509-8099, montclair.toastcitydiner.com.
LT Bar & Grill, Hackensack
Michelin-starred French chef and restaurateur Laurent Tourondel may be best known for his burger, but don’t underestimate his pancakes.
“His pancake recipe is well known in the industry,” said Andrew Bazzini, executive chef at Tourondel’s 46th restaurant, LT Bar & Grill in Hackensack. His other spots include L’Amico and Skirt Steak in Manhattan and LT Burger in Sag Harbor. “It is classic. He’s been using it for 20 years.”
At LT Bar & Grill, there’s only one pancake on the menu, make that the brunch menu — and it’s a doozy. Christened Pancake & Banana Flambe, the dish consists of double-stacked pancakes drenched in a banana flambe sauce made with rum, brown sugar and caramelized bananas, with a generous piping of Nutella and candied pecans on top.
“Though it sounds super heavy, it doesn’t come across as an overbearing dish,” Bazzini said. “Something about it just works.” It is, he said, “extremely popular.”
Go: The Shops at Riverside, 390 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 551-287-6333, tbarandgrill.com.
Brownstone Pancake Factory, Englewood Cliffs and Edgewater
Come hungry, very hungry, to Brownstone Pancake Factory — and don’t forget your smartphone. Its famous over-the-top, humongous pancakes are Instagram “like” bait. A few examples: Fried Oreo cheesecake, a pile of near-frisbee-sized buttermilk pancakes baked with Oreos, topped with chunks or cheesecake and fried Oreos and drizzled with chocolate sauce; the Jersey chicken and cheddar, another pile of X-large buttermilks flecked with bacon, jalapeno peppers and cheddar cheese and topped with crispy chicken fritters and a hearty scoop of sour cream; or the brownie sundae, a tower of chocolate chip pancakes sporting a warm nutty brownie a la mode yet (vanilla ice cream, in fact) and doused with chocolate and caramel sauces.
But the pancakes, fans will tell you, are not just wild, insanely creative and photogenic, but good.
Here is one Yelper’s testimony: “The fluffy pancakes with strawberries, bananas, and chocolatey Nutella was a decadent breakfast treat! I was in a food coma not even half way into the meal. Good thing my sister helped me finish it.”
- The Corner, Montclair. We’re not the only fans of The Corner’s pancakes. Yelp rated them the best in New Jersey. The pancakes are pillowy with a thick texture and topped with poached apricots or berries. Warning: Odds are you’ll have to wait on a line to get your teeth into them come weekend. The Corner is very popular neighborhood spot. 115 Grove St., Montclair; 973-783-2400, .thecornermontclair.com.
- Willow & Whisk, Wyckoff. The fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes are so humongous — three giant disks as big as their plate — that general manager Anna Bischoff told us she has never seen anyone finish a serving. Nevertheless, it’s her go-to, when, she said, “I’m being bad. It is so good.” 319 Franklin Ave., Wyckoff; 201-425-9931, willowandwhisk.com.