Each year for more than a decade, we have embarked on a dyspepsia-inducing quest for the finest flapjacks in town. S&S Diner won the first 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, made 102 years ago, that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs"). Victors since that time have been the Biltmore Hotel, Deli Lane Café, Miramar Diner (special Broward edition), 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 winners are 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 restrooms, and whether my lower back pain is acting up. Even in this high-tech world, judging pancakes remains an inexact science.
City Hall Restaurant: 2004 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-764-3130; cityhalltherestaurant.com. Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
First 305-577-6446; first 305-374-7661. Breakfast and lunch daily 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Jerry's Famous Deli: 1450 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-3244; jerrysfamousdeli.com. Daily 24 hours.
Michael's Genuine Food 305-573-5550; michaelsgenuine.com. Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Sweet Point Bakery : 3252 NE First Ave, Miami; 786-477-6235; sweetpointbakeryandcafe.com. Breakfast daily beginning at 8 a.m.
Tudor House Restaurant: 1111 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-4747; dreamsouthbeach.com. Breakfast daily 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.; brunch Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This year's seven unwitting contestants are Jerry's Famous Deli and Tudor House Restaurant in the Dream Hotel, both in South Beach; Jackson Soul Food and First & First Southern Baking Company in downtown; Sweet Point Bakery & Café in midtown; City Hall Restaurant, which is between downtown and midtown; and Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District.
Without further ado, 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 sampled 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 difficulty ordering the regular cakes à la carte: They 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 cakes without all of the other components — but the dish will still cost you the full $9.45! Cornmeal-blueberry cakes, with two strips of bacon: $7.25. Coffee: $2.15. Total: $9.40.
The Pancakes Without Soul Award is bestowed on 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 butter-flavored spread were served on the side. Staff hospitality and a thermos of 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 that wasn't steamy, but warm enough to absorb butter from tin packets. These two pancakes possessed a medium-brown color so uniform that they almost looked spray-painted. Although thicker than most others, they were not especially puffy. Maple-flavored syrup and hot, decent coffee accompanied them. All in all, it's a solid rendition, but certainly not Beeton-worthy. 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 café. Three skinny, flaky, steaming-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 were served alongside, as were foil packets of butter and a carafe of artificial maple syrup (which is also available with berries blended in). Service came with a smile; the strong, hot Colonial-brand coffee came with little plastic containers of half-and-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 a puck than a 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 cold plate. It arrived just a couple of minutes after we ordered it, well before the other breakfast plates, which led to speculation that it had been a mistake from another table that was returned to the kitchen and left to sit around a bit. In any event, this gratifying dome of cooked grains is just too un-pancake-like to be a champion. Coffee, on the other hand, was the best brew we encountered: Lobster Butter Love, an ultra-smooth espresso blend from Roos Roast Coffee. This breakfast is available only during Sunday brunch. Pancake: $7. Coffee: $3. Total: $10.
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The Mrs. B Nothing-to-Be-Ashamed-of Runner-Up Award is conferred upon 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, cherry confit, or a combination of the two on top. The curd was deliriously delicious with the cakes, making the real — and really good — maple syrup superfluous. The 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, and our waiter refilled cups with gusto. Service here was amiable and noticeably better than that at the aforementioned establishments. More important, so were the pancakes. Pancakes: $14. Coffee: $4. Total: $18.
And finally, the coveted Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy is proudly presented to City Hall Restaurant for one of the best stacks we've had in years. The piping-hot pancakes were lusciously flavored with sugar, vanilla, and seemingly a good deal of butter. Much more tender than the competition, they did not taste at all like flour, but rather like delicate if pumped-up crêpes (in keeping with this year's theme, they were not fat). Real maple syrup was served alongside, as was a miniskewer of ripe pineapple, a raspberry, and two blueberries. Our waiter was pitch-perfect and thoughtful enough to deliver 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 pancakes the prettiest too. Toppings of cinnamon apple, bananas Foster, or mixed berries were 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.