Flapjack Flip-Off VI
When it comes to contests, the number six has historically portended unexpected outcomes. The sixth Summer Olympics, for instance, were to take place in Berlin in 1916 but were canceled because of World War I. Cavalcade copped top prize at the sixth annual Academy Awards in 1933, and nobody has seen it since. The Miami Dolphins' perfect 1972 season ended imperfectly when they lost the sixth Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, baseball's perennial sad sacks, defeated the Detroit Tigers to win the sixth World Series. That last event occurred in 1909, the same year cookbook author Mrs. Beeton proclaimed, in print, that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs." Which brings us to Flapjack Flip-Off VI, the annual competition in which a quintet of unwitting participants grapple for the Holy Grail of griddlecakes, the Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy.
This year's inclusion of blueberries marks an unprecedented departure from hitherto one of our most basic tenets: plain, unadulterated buttermilk pancakes only. We are not doing this to shore up sagging interest in a "meaningless, repetitive, self-indulgent mockery that has less relevancy than a Yanni concert," as an editor I know puts it, but because we of the Flapjack Flip-Off Committee recognize the importance of keeping up with rapidly changing times. As I believe Aunt Jemima once said: "He that gets hurt will be he who has stalled." Plus I really like blueberries.
Otherwise, the rules remain the same: Pancakes are judged on taste, texture, color, thickness, and the flapjack steam factor (FSF), which works on a sliding scale of zero to ten zero signifying no steam emanating from the cakes, ten implying so much vapor you cannot see the imaginary panel of pancake experts sitting across the table. Additional factors taken into account include price, service, quality of coffee, quality of fake maple syrup, garnish (creativity as well as powdered-sugar-dusting skills), and what kind of mood I'm in. Our intricate point system operates very much like that used at the Olympic speed-skating competition, one difference being that if any line cook shows up in sequins or wears a single red glove to signify a dove beak, considerable penalties will be incurred.
Before we proceed with the ceremonies, a quick recap of past highlights:
2001: Underdog S&S Restaurant in downtown Miami pulls an upset victory over the "Original" and "International" pancake houses.
2002: Renowned actor Kyle MacLachlan and his newlywed bride appear at the Biltmore Hotel Flapjack judging (breakfasting at a table nearby). The landmark hotel, fueled by celebrity presence, goes on to defeat Denny's and a clique of diners.
2003: South Miami's Deli Lane Café narrowly outpoints competitive cafés and brings home the Mrs. Beeton.
2004: Special "on-the-road" edition flings the Flip-Off from Dania Beach to Boca Raton. Miramar Diner steamrolls the competition.
2005: The Rascal House Deli takes top prize amid grumblings over judges being unduly influenced by doggy bags of leftover pastries and onion-pumpernickel rolls.
And now, Pepto Bismal proudly presents the Clabber Girl Baking Powder official Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off 2006 opening cry: "Let's berry them!"
The Palestinian at a Bar-Mitzvah Award goes to Cafeteria in South Beach, because that's what I felt like as waiter after waiter, and busboy after busboy, passed me by and by and by. Fifteen minutes elapsed before I got attention and a menu, five more before my morning cup of coffee (practically grounds for disqualification!), and another fifteen minutes before the thin, tough, lackluster, lukewarm pancakes appeared: a three-stack teeming with canned blueberries and encircled by cold canned blueberry sauce (FSF: 2). Fake maple syrup packed full fake maple flavor, and substantial points were awarded for far and away the best garnish: fresh blueberries, luscious lemon cream, powdered sugar, and bright green mint leaf. Ultimately, however, it amounted only to fine icing on an icky cake. Three flapjacks with strong cup of coffee, tax, and automatic eighteen percent gratuity: $12.70.
The Thank God the Past Is in the Past Award is sent back in time to JJ's American Diner, located on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables. JJ's motto, "The way things used to be," serves as a reminder that in the old days you would call a restaurant to inquire whether they served blueberry pancakes, they would answer in the affirmative, and then you would drive through godawful traffic for 45 minutes, only to arrive and be told the blueberry delivery had yet to arrive. That was a surprise, as was learning there used to be no such thing as powdered sugar or butter, so JJ's retro-pancakes are plainly served on a plate, accompanied only by a jar of maple-flavor syrup (apparently real maple syrup wasn't yet invented). The flat, fluffless flapjacks were only moderately warm (FSF: 5) and possessed extra-crisp brown crusts as if dry-cleaned rather than griddled. People, and life, were slower way back when, so it is only natural we had to wait an interminable period for plates to be cleared and the check to arrive. JJ's received points for attention to detail in re-creating the past, as well as for having an oldies rock station tuned in with only one track working, so songs such as "Stairway to Heaven" played without drums, bass, or lead singer. Full order (four-stack), cup of weird-tasting coffee, tax, and tip: $14.29! (Two-stack would have been $2 less.)
The Not-So-Original Sin Award goes to the Eleventh Street Diner in South Beach for its use of Aunt Jemima "Original Syrup" caramel-color corn fructose without even the pretense of fake maple flavoring. Flapjacks were large and puffy, if a little dry, with this year's highest FSF: a very hot 9. Judges, though, were repulsed by an overwhelming cluster of canned blueberry filling in the middle of each cake, which made the stack more like blueberry pie with pancake crust. Lack of garnish did not go unnoticed. Big two-stack (which constitutes a full order) with so-so joe, tax, slack service, and automatic fifteen percent tip: $12.76.
The What Kind of Crêpe Is This? Award is bestowed upon the Daily Creative Food Co. a new casual-fast breakfast-and-lunch spot on Biscayne Boulevard in honor of it setting a new flapjack record: slimmest pancakes ever served. Yet very tasty! Like thick crêpes, they were richly flavored with eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla phony maple syrup was not needed at all. Big points for being the only contestant to use real blueberries, and a solid FSF of 8: After placing my order at the counter, flapjacks were brought hot to the table by one of the cooks (bonus points for that personal touch). Caveat: Only regular pancakes are listed on the giant menu posted up front, so you must request the berries but the staff always has them on hand and is happy to oblige. Three-stack, jolting cup of java, tax, tip: $8.50. Best jack for the buck.
The Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy is presented to ... tum, tum, TUM, tum ... Green Street Café in Coconut Grove. Outside seating was pleasant as can be, service was stellar, the coffee sublime. Pancakes were the thickest, softest, moistest, and tastiest, scored an FSF of 8, and came with a conservative yet nutritionally sensible orange wedge garnish and foil-wrapped Land O'Lakes butter pats. Lack of fresh blueberries seemed the only miscue, but berries were drained of syrup and properly proportioned to batter. And then a plastic bottle of mapleless "pancake syrup" came to the table. Judges were flabbergasted; it was like watching Michelle Kwan skating a perfect 10 and then purposefully doing a belly flop on her last jump. Still, the flapjacks were fantastic, and in light of the less-than-inspired competition, Green Street is this year's undisputed champion. Four-stack, coffee, tax, and automatic fifteen percent gratuity: $10.60. (Two-stack would be $1.50 less.)
Thank you all for attending. Next year, God willing, bananas.
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