Flapjack Flip-Off X: Miami's best pancakes
The decade has seemingly flipped by faster than a griddlecake in midair. Since S & S Diner won the first annual Flapjack Flip-Off in 2001, we've become acquainted with 21st Century icons such as BlackBerry, Bluetooth, Blu-ray, iPad, al-Qaeda, and Facebook — yet the majority of Miami restaurateurs still haven't figured out how to get hold of real maple syrup.
There have been far too many highlight-reel moments to describe in this space; those outside the small but excitable Flip-Off fan base (known as Flippies) will have to take our word that past events have been more than gripping. Yet while each year brings surprises anew, the rules have remained steadfast — excepting a few changes here and there. Appraisals remain heavily weighted toward flavor, fluffiness, and value, but other factors also come into play. For instance, if pancake striations display a gorgeous golden hue, judges will duly take note. And should these striations display an image of the Virgin Mary, judges will have their mimosa privileges immediately rescinded.
Points can likewise be accumulated or removed according to quality of syrup, garnishes, butter, coffee, service, ambiance, and whether I'm given a good table. Speaking of which: We of the Flapjack Committee often refer to our Flip-Off as "the Contest With a Conscience" — partly because it sounds a lot better than "The Contest That Causes Constipation," but also because we freely allow that our inherent humanity, flaws and all, is inescapably entwined in the decision-making process. During FF8, for instance, Icebox Café's points melted away when a waiter cleared the table and tossed a judge's newspaper while he was using the restroom. At other times, restaurants have been penalized for anything from a member of the waitstaff not wearing sensible shoes to one of the judges simply experiencing an erratic mood swing.
We of the Flapjack Committee are not getting any younger.
And now our sponsor, Sweet'N Low — makers of the new "Sugar-Free Fat-Free Cholesterol-Free Low-Sodium Pancake Mix" (motto: Using yesterday's chemicals to build the pancakes of today), helped along with small contributions from readers like you, and smaller still from Blini Importers Union 815 — is proud to present the Official Mrs. Beeton Tenth Annual Flapjack Flip-Off (Mrs. B. being our patron saint for her prescient in-print assertion, made 101 years ago, that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs").
Picnic Miami picks up the coveted On Second Thought, Maybe I'll Have Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack Award, because a boom-boom soundtrack at 11 a.m. proved only slightly less distracting than ESPN sports highlights flashing across a screen the size of the actual playing fields. In keeping with the Picnic staff's tradition of being quaintly erratic, our waitress inquired how we'd like the eggs when we asked for pancakes — even though the menu simply read "pancakes." Yet the three-stack was fresh, steamy, thin, tender, and sweet — sort of like what you get when you prepare the Swedish pancake mix sold in supermarkets. Very tasty, though oversnowed with powdered sugar. Coffee poured from a fresh pot was good and strong. Overall, the pancakes were solid if unconventional, but the ambiance was horrid — like a picnic basket of breakfast goodies unpacked in a sports bar during disco night. Three (thin) pancakes, $6; coffee, $1. Total: $7.
The Where You Bean? Award goes to Uva 69 for its "vanilla bean pancakes" sans vanilla beans. The fresh, thin (read: flimsy) two-stack was prepared from homemade buttermilk-based batter. A presentation mistake — overlapping the hotcakes rather than stacking them — allowed the heat to dissipate quickly. The garnish was an unripe strawberry in strawberry sauce, softly whipped butter, and faux maple syrup. A big cup of newly brewed, excellent coffee greatly pleased the judge. Service was solid, and the outdoor seating, somewhat secluded from Biscayne Boulevard, was comfy as could be. Two pancakes, $6.95; coffee, $2. Total: $8.95.
The Stars and Snubs Award is bestowed upon Morgans Restaurant. A small selection of minipastries is brought to each table during weekend brunch, the sort of generous gesture generally good for generating a few extra Flip-Off points — unless, of course, the only table not to get these pastries is that of the esteemed judge. A snub like this is much worse than pastries not being offered at all (the sound you hear is penalty flags hitting the ground). We ordered the regular pancakes rather than a signature raspberry-studded version in order to maintain consistency among the competitors. The four-stack of "flat cakes" was, indeed, flat; somehow many of this year's contestants omitted baking powder from their batters. Tasty? Check. Pleasant vanilla aroma? Check. Moist and tender? Check and check. Additional pluses include authentic maple syrup; softened butter; fresh, potently brewed coffee amiably and regularly refilled; and Louis Aguirre of Deco Drive fame. Louis became just the second supercelebrity to attend, if unwittingly, a Flapjack Flip-Off event; the first was Kyle MacLaughlin, who sat at a nearby Biltmore Hotel table with his wife the night after their wedding, during FF2. Star power is one of those intangibles that can only enhance a contestant's chances. On the other hand, I would have really liked one of those pastries. Four (thin) pancakes, $10; coffee, $2. Total: $12 (by far the priciest stack).
The Bagel Emporium receives the How Come There Are No Holes in the Center of These? Award for a surprisingly strong two-stack of good, old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes that were the widest, largest jacks — steamy and moist too. Butter was soft, maple syrup was fake, and coffee was on the weak side, but it was hot and the cup replenished with vigor. Service couldn't be better. Ambiance is appropriately pancake-house-ish, especially for a bagel joint. Two pancakes, $5.95; coffee, $2. Total: $7.95.
The winning griddlecakes were found stacked in the sky: Our Tenth Annual Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy is proudly presented to Sky Grille, located on the 11th floor of the Miami Tower. Aramark Food Services has run the breakfast/lunch cafeteria for years, but who knew the outfit made such impeccable pancakes? Fluffiest by far, the finely crumbed cakes were richly bronzed in color and served straight off the grill. Beautiful. So was service, or shall we say "self-service," for you grab a tray, march to the station of your choice, and politely ask breakfast chef Joaquin to prepare whatever. Pancakes are sold by the piece, just $1.29 each — the best Flip-Off deal of this or any other year. The "double black, double caffeine" joe, one of a few Java City coffees lined up in large dispensers, packs a jolly jolt — extra points for offering choice of milk or half-and-half. Peerless accommodations encompass a wide array of plush seats with panoramic views of downtown Miami. Outdoor patio tables offer the same vista, but alongside ponds and fronds. We shaved a couple of points off for very weak maple-flavored syrup, but otherwise this was an impressive victory. One can only hope the Miami Tower folks acknowledge the honor by lighting up their three-tiered building in the luscious hues of pancake, maple syrup, and butter. These colors really do meld together quite pleasingly. Two pancakes, $2.58; coffee, $1.69. Total: $4.27.
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