In the spirit of this pugnacious presidential primary season, we proudly present a special Kitchen Sink Edition of the eighth annual Flapjack Flip-Off. "Anything Goes" is the theme this year, as our quartet of unwitting restaurant contestants will be permitted to sling apples, chocolate chips, flag lapel pins, or any other irrational, irresponsible ingredients into their pancakes — and let's see what sticks!
It should be noted that not everyone on the Flapjack Committee was thrilled with this decision. A veteran member protested that permitting such frivolities would "prostitute the purity of the pancake" and blah blah blah. Needless to say, Mr. Nader is no longer with us. Change is what people in the pancake world have a hankering for, and those who ignore the writing on the wall will be condemned to a fate of — well, pretty similar to that of Fred Thompson, but without the acting to fall back on.
As always, pancakes are stacked up by virtue of taste, texture, color, freshness, fluffiness, and sense of self-esteem. Price, service, coffee, viability of the mock maple syrup, parking problems, irritating music, chatty waiters, smudged flatware, and regrettable choice of artwork have also been known to affect judgments. If after a thorough vetting of qualifications we cannot come up with a clear consensus, a secondary panel of pancake superpanelists, hand-plucked from the New Times sales department, will determine the winner based on which of the competing restaurants could be most readily suckered into signing on as a new account. And speaking of new accounts, permit us to welcome our most recent sponsor, Viagra: "Because pancake batter isn't the only thing in life you want to rise."
Front Porch Caf: Penguin Hotel, 1418 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-531-8300. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday through Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Icebox Caf: 1657 Michigan Ave., Miami Beach; 305-538-8448. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight. The Original Pancake House: 21215 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura; 305-933-1966. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Gables Diner: 2320 Galiano St., Coral Gables; 305-567-0330. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Sunday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And now, let the Official 2008 Mrs. Beeton Eighth Annual Flapjack Flip-Off Special Kitchen Sink Edition begin (Mrs. Beeton being the cookbook author who in 1909 became the first person to avow in print that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs").
The Rudy and Hillary Award for Dashed Expectations goes to presumed frontrunner Front Porch Café for its signature granola pancakes, likely the most renowned flapjacks to ever enter the Flip-Off. After getting seated at the far end of the porch and handed a menu, I was ignored — no waiter, no water, no coffee. I felt like John Hagee at a dinner party for the pope. A server eventually made it my way with beverages; the coffee was weak but as steamy-hot as John McCain's temper. Two misshapen flapjacks arrived fat and wide, garnering considerable points for being prepared from scratch. But there was only a speck of soggy almond here, a lonely oat there, and the dry, wheaty cakes needed a severe saturation in maple-flavored syrup to reconstitute into edibility (a jackhammer-happy construction crew working on the building next door provided an appropriate soundtrack). Home fries or, for sane people, fruit salad comes with the pancakes; add coffee, tax, and an automatic 17 percent gratuity for a total of $14.24 — why, that's $2 more than Mike Gravel raised for his presidential run!
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The Michigan-Florida Award is presented to Icebox Café. Flavors here flip-flop more often than Mitt Romney, as the pancake du jour changes every couple of days. The morning of my visit brought a caramelized apple-and-walnut hautecake, easily two inches thick and served upside down with crisp, caramelized crust on top and soft, apple-syrup-soaked cake below: no butter or additional syrup needed. Strawberry, blueberries, the nuts, and a split apple baked almost to a state of caramelized marmalade graced the top of the stack, plus a couple of bacon strips lay alongside. A perfect pancake! Alas, the Flapjack Rules and Bylaws Committee determined that a baked pancake is not a flapjack, and had no choice but to penalize Icebox by removing half of its points. Rules are rules, as Howard Dean likes to say. A few additional points were shaved owing to an otherwise assertive coffee getting served in a cup the size of a soup bowl — feels good to pick up, but unless you guzzle it down, you'll likely be left with a lot of cold joe. And while seated outdoors, I received virtually no attention, necessitating my going inside to order and returning indoors to pay. During the latter occurrence, a waiter finally ventured outside — and tossed my newspaper. Many, many points lost for that move, apology notwithstanding. Pancakes, coffee, tax, and tip came to $15.26, which would have been higher if not for Icebox's 20 percent weekday breakfast discount.
The Audacity of $20 Pancakes Award goes to Gables Diner. Granted, it was a five-stack, and the buttermilk cakes were piping-hot, texturally tender, sensibly studded with petite semisweet chocolate chips, and accompanied by two ramekins of real Vermont maple syrup. But the pancakes were paler than people at a Tom Tancredo rally, the taste as doughy as Mike Huckabee, and service as inattentive as Barack Obama at a Reverend Wright sermon. With hot coffee, tax, and tip, the flapjacks cost an Andrew Jackson — with no change you can believe in or otherwise. This is a price only John Edwards could think reasonable.
We would like to honor The Original Pancake House — specifically the outlet in North Miami — with the holy grail of griddlecakes: The Mrs. Beeton Trophy. We would like to, but we cannot until Icebox Café finds a face-saving way to concede. The Original Pancake House impressed with a three-stack of pecan hotcakes (which also come in a six-stack): light, fluffy, beautifully bronzed, and boasting raw pecan bits — an ideal match with butter and maple syrup. The latter was as phony as Hillary chugging a beer with the boys, but for a $1.79 surcharge, you can get a minibottle of the real stuff. Even with this addition, the final bill with tax and tip came to only $12 — by far the best deal. Service was sharp too, with coffee refills getting poured as reliably as stupid questions from the mouths of Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos.
Postscript: An agreement has been reached with Icebox Café, details of which cannot be released at this time. In unrelated news, we are pleased to announce that our 2009 competition will bring Icebox back in an exciting contest showcasing pancakes that are started in the pan and finished in the oven. So we hope to see you next year for Flapjack Flip-Off IX: Special Half-Baked Edition!