Each year for over a decade now, we have embarked on a dyspepsia-inducing quest in search of the finest flapjacks in town. S & S Diner won the first annual Flip-Off in 2001 and was duly handed the prestigious Mrs. Beeton Trophy (Mrs. B. being our patron saint for her prescient in-print assertion 102 years ago that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs"). Victors since have been the Biltmore Hotel, Deli Lane Café, Miramar Diner, the Rascal House Deli, Green Street Café, Bagels & Company, the Original Pancake House, Eos at the Viceroy, and Sky Grille in the Bank of America Tower.
Let skeptics who scoff about the meaninglessness of a Mrs. Beeton award note that in the context of an exceedingly challenging restaurant business, all but one of our former Flip-Off winners is still profitably flipping cakes.
The game remains the same: Appraisals are heavily skewed toward flavor, fluffiness, and value. Quality of butter, maple syrup, coffee, and service likewise come into play, as can background music, style of flatware, cleanliness of rest rooms, and whether or not my lower back pain is acting up. Even in this high-tech world, judging pancakes remains an inexact science.
This year's eight unwitting contestants are Jerry's Famous Deli, Tudor House Restaurant in the Dream Hotel, Jackson Soul Food, First & First Southern Baking Company, Sweet Point Bakery & Cafe, City Hall Restaurant, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, and Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House.
Without further adieu, our sponsor Log Cabin (motto: "The syrup, not those crazy gay Republicans!") is proud to present the Official Mrs. Beeton 11th Annual Flapjack Flip-Off:
The Last & Last Award goes to First & First Southern Baking Company. Our cornmeal-blueberry pancakes arrived as a pair of seemingly regular white flour pancakes with blueberries. Our waitress took them back to the kitchen to be prepped with cornmeal (I later noticed the menu description saying "with a hint of corn meal," but I didn't see or taste that hint). The resultant duo of corn-based jacks was dry, mealy, and crumbly. Worse, one of the two was blackened on top. Points were accrued for friendly service, a potent cup of joe, and authentic-tasting maple syrup. Ironically, we tasted the regular pancakes before they were swapped for the all-cornmeal version and found them to be very soft and fluffy. Barriers to the Beeton, however, were raw interiors and the difficulty of ordering them a la carte: The pancakes come only as part of a lumberjack breakfast along with two eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, sausage, and a fruit cup for $9.45. You can get the pancakes alone... but they will still cost you $9.45! Cornmeal-blueberry cakes, with two strips of bacon: $7.25. Coffee: $2.15. Total: $9.40.
The Pancakes Without Soul Award is presented to Jackson Soul Food for its no frills/no thrills presentation: Three pale, fluffy, flavorless flapjacks on a white plate. Artificial maple syrup and foil packets of some butter-tasting spread were served on the side. Staff hospitality and being served a thermos of piping hot coffee made breakfast a pleasant experience, but these griddlecakes were not great. Pancakes: $3.95. Coffee: $2. Total: $5.95.
Winner of The Not Famous for Its Pancakes Award is Jerry's Famous Deli. Our efficient if no-nonsense waitress brought a short stack (2) that wasn't steamy hot, but warm enough to absorb butter from tin packets. These pancakes possessed so uniform a medium brown color that they almost looked spray-painted. While thicker than most others, they were not especially puffy. All in all, it's a solid rendition, but certainly not Beeton worthy. Alongside: maple-flavored syrup and hot, decent coffee. Pancakes: $7.95. Coffee: $2.95. Total: $10.90.
Sweet Point Bakery & Cafe takes The Sweet And Pointedly Thin Award. A surprisingly strong showing for this quirky Midtown Miami café: Three skinny, flaky, steamy hot pancakes were sprinkled with powdered sugar and imbued with a sweetly alluring taste. On the other hand, like the rest of this year's competitors, they lacked the lushness of great pancakes; baking powder has apparently fallen from favor. Two crisp strips of bacon are served alongside, as are foil packets of butter and a carafe of artificial maple syrup (also available with berries blended in). Service came with a smile; the strong, hot Colonial-brand coffee came with little plastic containers of half & half. Pancakes: $7.50. Coffee: $2.50. Total: $10.
The Genuinely Cold Award goes to Michael's Genuine Food & Drink: The "baked 9-grain" entry, shaped more like puck than pancake, was moist, flavorful, and bursting with the mild crunch of grains and seeds. Organic maple syrup was peerless, as was fresh creamery butter — except the butter wouldn't melt because the pancake was downright chilly and served on an equally chilled plate. It arrived just a couple of minutes after we ordered it, which led to speculation that it had been a "mistake" from another table that was returned to the kitchen. In any event, this gratifying dome of cooked grains is just too un-pancake-like to be a Flip-Off champion. Coffee, on the other hand, was the best brew we encountered: Lobster Butter Love, an ultra-smooth espresso blend from RoosRoast Organic Free Speech Coffee. This breakfast is available only during Sunday brunch. Pancake: $7. Coffee: $3. Total: $10.
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The Curds The Word Award gets handed to Tudor House Restaurant for its quintet of luscious lemon ricotta pancakes. So soft, so tender, so tasty — moistened with ricotta and flecked with just a hint of lemon. Diners have a choice of lemon curd sauce, confit of cherries, or a combination of the two on top. The curd was deliriously delicious with the cakes, making the real — and real good — maple syrup superfluous. Only quibble is that the five flapjacks were small, light, and somewhat insubstantial — especially for $14. In fact, one order of pancakes, coffee, tax, and automatic gratuity tops $20. The coffee was excellent, cups refilled with gusto by our waiter. Service here was amiable and better than at the aforementioned places. More importantly, so were the pancakes. Pancakes: $14. Coffee: $4. Total: $18.
The O-B Oh-My, Love This Pancake Pie Runner-Up Award is conferred on the new Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House for its O-B Oven Pancake. The rich-yet-delicate flavors begin with honest ingredients: organic flour, buttermilk, sour cream, and free-range eggs (deep yellow yolks nearly crowing from nearby breakfast plates). Then the cake gets baked in an eight-inch cast-iron skillet and delivered hot to the table — so light and eggy it's almost like a marriage of pancake and custard (more specifically, it has a lot in common with the German baked pancake called Pfannkuchen). Vanilla and sugar are applied with a light touch; if you crave more sweetness, real Vermont maple syrup is served alongside. Another option is to get a fruit filling (banana, blueberry, strawberry, or pineapple-pecan) baked in ($3). Our personable waiter was spot-on and poured yet another rewarding cup of coffee — a blend of freshly roasted Arabica beans from Central and South America. The oven cake here was a real serious contender — if it had been just a little bit more like a traditional flapjack it could have taken home the Mrs. B. Pancake: $9. Coffee: $2. Refills: $.50. Assuming one refill, total: $11.50.
And finally... the coveted Mrs. Beeton Trophy is proudly presented to... City Hall Restaurant for one of the best piles of pancakes we've had in years. The steamy-hot flapjacks were lusciously flavored with sugar, vanilla, and seemingly a good deal of butter. They did not taste at all like flour, but rather like delicate if pumped-up crêpes. They were much more tender than the competing stacks. Real maple syrup is served alongside, as is a miniskewer of ripe pineapple, a raspberry, and two blueberries. Our waiter was pitch-perfect and thoughtful enough to bring over some of the restaurant's maple-pecan butter (normally used with the nightly bread basket), which paired perfectly. Sunburst patterns of light golden-brown hues made these the prettiest pancakes too. Toppings of cinnamon apple, bananas Foster, or mixed berries are available. Lavazza coffee was great. Served only during Sunday brunch. Pancakes: $11. Coffee: $2.75. Total: $13.75.
Stay tuned for next year's Flapjack Flip-Off XII: Flips Ahoy! The Chocolate Chip Smackdown.