Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TBG Eats Versus: The Original Pancake House's $10 One-Pound Apple Pancake

Current Weight: 167.2 lbs.

Original Pancake House Website

My son, Jalen, was born on February 7, 2004. He was nine weeks premature and spent more than a month in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU).

I'm confident that there are few places on earth quite like the NICU. Before entering, parents are required to scrub from their hands to their elbows under a faucet that's set to one water temperature: scalding. Inside the NICU – and I can still hear it to this day –dozens of heart monitors incessantly chirp, each one beeping out of sync with every other monitor in the room.

Rows of tiny new lives with tubes snaking through their noses and mouths, each one assigned a numbered "bed" that takes identification precedent over their names. (For those wondering, Jalen was #54). The children here are intangible patients to their parents. If they cry, you can't comfort them. Someone else determines when they can go home. And, don't let any of the kids' heart rates dip below normal. The ensuing monitor alarm will do bad things to your heart.

Things were a tad stressful for Mrs. Bootleg and me during this time. We visited Jalen every day* and often ate meals at one of the surrounding restaurants. It was at one of these eateries that I first met The Original Pancake House's enormous Apple Pancake.

* - Full disclosure: I should mention that while Mrs. Bootleg visited Jalen in the NICU every day, I actually missed ONE day. It was a Thursday night and I was up against the deadline for my weekly music news column. Mrs. Bootleg has never, EVER let me forget this, despite – at the time – giving her explicit permission.

I wrote about my first Apple Pancake encounter on February 27, 2004. And, as long as y'all solemnly promise to: (1) not read past the intro (2) ignore the nonsensical references to Scott Keith and Shallow Hal and (3) not give me grief about all the dead links, I'll provide a (live) link to the piece
right here.

Six years ago, I finished approximately one-quarter of this apple-cinnamon Millennium Falcon. Since then, I've learned – among other things – how to eat for
six straight hours. It's the rematch, Original Pancake House. Let's dance.

The first step was convincing Mrs. Bootleg to join me. We were both off from work last Friday, but she didn't seem too keen to the idea. She'd actually been home for almost three weeks to this point and on this day she declared, "I need to start eating better." I reminded her that the "party of one at the breakfast counter" is an east coast concept and pretty much nonexistent out west. Somehow, my half-ass argument won her over.

Most mornings – even during the week – the Original Pancake House has quite a long wait. On this day, however, the restaurant was half empty and we're seated right away. And, like the world-class multi-million dollar athlete who needs imaginary slights, insults and disrespect from the opposition to serve as motivation, we're seated right next to the front door – guaranteeing a blast of cold air enveloping us whenever someone entered and/or exited. Oh, it was "on" before. Now, it's even more on.

Our server added fuel to the fire by overdramatizing my own order ("Ooooh, you know that's like a pound of pancake!") yet unknowingly multiplying my motivation.

The Apple Pancake took its own sweet time to come down the aisle and when it appeared, it was 2004 all over again. Everything was just as I remembered – all old school with no entrance music and the only pyro to be found was still popping from the pancake itself. Right on cue, Mrs. Bootleg went all Adrian Balboa on me ("You can't win!")

I remembered that I was too tentative last time, but couldn't remember why. I've watched enough Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel to know the best strategy is to dive in and eat fast. Immediately after my first forkful, I remembered why I ate so slowly last time. As I type this on Monday night, the top two layers of my tongue still haven't regenerated. Instead, I spent several seconds warmed by its molten glow.

NOW, it's go time! Wait, nope…still too hot.

After another minute, I'm all up in it. I start low in the middle of the plate and work my way up the zone – similar to the way Dennis Eckersley should've thrown to Kirk Gibson in 1988. But, there's no bitterness to be found here…just soft, steaming-hot apples that are equal parts sweet AND tart. The sugar and cinnamon contrast furthers the delicious dichotomy on my tongue.

The apple glaze is heavy – it has to be or else the pancake would turn into a soggy blob – and could be served by itself, topped with a scoop of ice cream. Similarly, the pancake is d-e-n-s-e. But, even with three trees of apples on top, its ubiquitous flapjack flavor can't be covered up.

I'd blazed a trail right through the heart of the Apple Pancake. My appetite was still in tact as I made my way to its outer edges. With another refill of black coffee on my belly, I veered right and wolfed down another 33%. Then, things got…colder.

With roughly a third of the Apple Pancake remaining, I noticed its temperature had dropped 100 degrees since my first bite. Caffeine and adrenaline enabled me to knock out about a dozen more bites until all that remained was the equivalent of a breadstick. Unfortunately, I'd slowed my pace to the point that the contents of my stomach skipped right past the first two trimesters.

I sipped some more coffee and even picked at Mrs. Bootleg's bacon and eggs, but by the time I went back for one last run at the Apple Pancake, my first bite had the consistency of Han Solo –
post-frozen in carbonite. I threw down my crumpled-up napkin in disgust. A frustrated white flag that our server immediately picked up on:

"Looks like you've surrendered! Well, at least you beat your wife!"

One last slap in the face, eh, Original Pancake House?

Alright then…between now and the end of the year…I want one last chance at the Apple Pancake.

Today? Uh, no…today doesn't really work for me.

I'll get back to you.

Grade: 500 (out of 5)


Jeff Hansen said...

I'm pretty sure that the breakfast place I was in in Anaheim where I had, quote, "the best breakfast of my life" was an Original Pancake House, and it was an apple cinnamon pancake.

Sadly, it was not nearly that large. I remember thinking of the pancake as being like a Skor bar; delicious as all hell, but not nearly substantial enough.

SHough610 said...

Oh how I love your posts about food. Can I be your Tony Burton (Apollo's trainer and Rocky's trainer in IV and VI)? "My stomach was like my son. When my stomach shrank, a part of me shrank. But now you're the one. You're the one that's gonna keep his spirit alive. You're the one that's gonna make sure that he didn't shrink for nothing. Now you're gonna have to go through hell. Worse than any nightmare you ever dreamed. But in the end, I know you'll be the one standing."

Jeff Hansen said...

Son of a crap! It WAS an Original Pancake House! (I finally clicked on the link at the top of the post and recognized the building.) Why was yours eleven times the size of mine?

That Bootleg Guy said...

The server mentioned that theirs is bigger and their website throws in the "items, price and preparation vary by location" caveat.

I believe there are two OPHs in San Diego and the one I go to now is a bazillion times better than the one I went to for my first visit when J was still a preemie.