Some (me) liken it to the Super Bowl, Oscar night, and New Year's Eve all rolled into one. Others (my editors) see it as a self-indulgent waste of space that could be put to better use -- like maybe reviewing a restaurant. Still the Flapjack Flip-Off is steamrolling into its third successful year, which may not seem such a long time, but keep in mind that when we began there was no South Beach Wine & Food Festival, tuna in soft packaging, Joe Millionaire, or 50 Cent. For those of you who missed the first two events, here's the highlight reel:
2001: S&S Restaurant in downtown Miami triumphs over the "Original" and "International" pancake houses. The brand-new Clarke's Diner on South Beach comes in last and leaves town. Mild bouts of gastrointestinal discomfort.
2002: Superstar Kyle MacLachlan makes a surprise appearance at the Biltmore Hotel, which goes on to defeat Denny's and a quintet of diners. I gain three pounds.
Third Annual Flapjack Flip-Off
All great competitions provoke controversy, so it's only natural that the Flapjack Flip-Off received some flak after last year's event. Some criticized the judging committee (me) for being swayed by the Biltmore's staggering starpower. Others wondered why the nominating committee (me) would pit a swank hotel against dingy diners (as Wilt Chamberlain once observed, "Nobody roots for Goliath"). The rules committee (me) has remedied both situations by banning attendance by Hollywood types, and reverting to a lineup of competitors with more equally balanced assets.
We've ushered in other exciting changes as well, most notably a more global focus -- this year's contestants stretch from South Miami to Aventura. We've also bestowed a new name to our Grand Prize award, which will herewith be known as The Mrs. Beeton Trophy, for the cookbook author who in 1909 became the first person to acknowledge in print that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs."
Otherwise the game remains the same: plain buttermilk flapjacks only, the quality of cakes being the main criteria for judgment. Secondary considerations may include price, service, maple syrup, coffee, garnish, whether or not the waiter knows what a pancake is, and a whole host of other complicated factors.
Time to proceed with the pancake pageantry -- or, as our Log Cabin Maple Syrup and honorary Philips' Milk of Magnesia sponsorship third annual Flapjack Flip-Off official opening cry goes: POUR IT ON!
The Better Stick to Latkes Award goes to Katz Deli of Aventura, which apparently doesn't follow this rule of thumb: If you can slip a flapjack under the door, it's not fluffy enough. Katz's cakes were flat, dry, and lukewarm, served with plastic-packed single-serving butters and plastic single-serving "syrup" that didn't even contain maple flavoring. Oy vey! Price: $3.95 for two pancakes; $4.95 for three; 3565 NE 207th St., Aventura; 305-936-9555.
The Allies, Shmallies, They Still Don't Know Pancakes Award goes to Balans, the popular London-based Lincoln Road restaurant. Perhaps they make a mean bubble & squeak, but these flimsy flapjacks were as dry as a Monty Python skit and possessed a regrettable touch of Churchillian toughness. Served with plastic-packed butters and artificial maple syrup -- though pecan crumbs and powdered sugar on top were a nice gesture. Price: Breakfast special Monday through Friday offers three pancakes with juice, coffee, and bacon or fruit for $4.95; weekends it's $6.95; 1022 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-534-9191.
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The Big Bucks No Butter Award goes to Café Cardozo, whose pancakes were the prettiest, possessing a gorgeous golden color on the outside and a bright white interior. Unfortunately they had an unpleasantly oily griddle taste, and were accompanied by fake maple syrup in a cheap plastic take-out container -- and no butter. Price: $7.95 for three-stack with two sausages and ample fruit salad -- by far the most expensive deal. Coffee was also exorbitantly priced at $2.75, and refills hard to come by; 1300 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-695-2822.
The Good For the Grove Award goes to Green Street Café, because, let's be honest, Coconut Grove doesn't boast a whole lot of fetching dining options -- even for pancakes. Green Street's flapjacks were a dull, dark brown color, but hot, moist, puffy, and possessive of the proper hint of salt to play against the sweet faux maple syrup. Bonus points for decent cup o' joe, good service, and foil-wrapped butter. Price: $4.95 for two pancakes, $6 for four; 3110 Commodore Plaza, Coconut Grove; 305-444-0244.
The Best Pancakes Made By a Coffee Company Award goes to: Jimmy's East-Side Diner, which doesn't keep any secrets -- cartons of Superior Coffee brand buttermilk pancake mix are stacked beneath a counter in the dining room. It's not like the other diners and restaurants in town are sifting flour, cracking eggs, and pouring buttermilk into homemade batters, and, as it turns out, Superior makes as good a mix as Bisquick or Aunt Jemima. Maybe better, as these were flavorful, softly textured, steamy cakes, slightly yellowish in hue, accompanied by a jar of maple-flavored syrup, plastic single-serving butters, and cups of strong, hot coffee (Pillsbury brand?) cheerily refilled. And refilled. And refilled. Price: $3.95 for three-stack; 7201 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-754-3692.
And now ... The Mrs. Beeton Trophy goes to Deli Lane Café, whose fluffy, floppy flapjacks were delicately griddled, beautifully browned, subtly imbued with vanilla, and emitted little puffs of steam as they arrived at the table -- clearly the pancake champions of the Flip-Off (and the lowest priced). Also the only hot cakes to come with softly whipped butter; maple syrup, though imitation like the rest, was freshly filled to the brim of a sparkling clean pourer. Congratulations to Deli Lane. Unfortunately there is no cash prize, nor even an actual trophy to be handed out, but the publicity value of winning this prestigious contest is inestimable -- plus, if I ever find myself back in that neck of the woods, I promise to return the menu I took. Price: $2.95 for three pancakes, $3.95 for five; 7230 SW 59th Ave., South Miami; 305-665-0606 (also located in downtown Miami).