Flapjack Flip-Off IX: Special Hoity-Toity Hotel Edition

Hotcakes are hotter than ever, but we at Flip-Off Headquarters humbly refrain from taking all the credit; we're probably only 80 percent responsible, 90 tops. Of course there are those who attribute the palpable surge in pancake popularity to it being one of the few foods that working class Americans can still afford to eat. There may be a butter pat of truth to this, but the Flapjack Flip-Off, now in its' ninth year, has been tireless in attempting to boost the battercake back to its' rightful position atop the stack of American breakfast icons. It is this effort that has led us to being recognized, if not widely, as one of the planet's grandest griddlecake events.

We are not, however, the oldest. That dubious distinction belongs to the Pancake Race in Olney, England, held every year since 1445. In this endlessly repetitive recreation, the townspeople line up, skillets in hand, waiting for the "pancake bell" to ring – at which point they "race" 400 yards to the church while simultaneously flipping and catching the cakes in their pans. After the victor crosses the finish line, the village folk dutifully file into chapel for services followed by a gleeful community pancake picnic.

Is anyone else feeling nauseous?


Flapjack Flip-Off IX

Area 31 at the Epic Hotel: 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, 16th Floor, Miami; 305-424-5234; area31restaurant.com. Breakfast daily 7 to 10:30 a.m. Canyon Ranch Grill at Canyon Ranch: 6801 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-514-7000; canyonranch.com. Breakfast daily 7 to 11 a.m. Eos at the Viceroy: 485 Brickell Ave., 15th Floor, Miami; 305-503-4400; viceroymiami.com. Breakfast daily 7 to 11 a.m. Pool Plaza at the Gansevoort: 2305 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-604-1000; gansevoortsouth.com. Breakfast daily 7 to 11:30 a.m. Vida at the Fontainebleau: 4401 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-535-3241; fontainebleau.com. Breakfast daily 7 to 11 a.m.

Flapjack Nine shines a spotlight on flannelcakes flipped at a quintet of unsuspecting restaurants housed in new hotels (or in the case of the Fontainebleau, refurbished). This gives us a glimpse at some new places; plus Miami isn't exactly chockablock with quaint breakfast nooks serving whole-grain pancakes made from scratch. So, we reasoned, during these dire economic times, hoity-toity hotel management groups will be extra-motivated to make really fantastic flapjacks. And if not, at least we would get to eat in plush surroundings instead of crappy pancake houses.

As always, johnnycakes were judged according to taste, texture, steaminess, fluffiness, value, and hue. Points were awarded or removed for incidentals such as service, ambiance, viscousness of syrup, brumousnous of brew, cute monikers affixed to menu items, and so forth. One new rule, instituted following a regrettable incident at last year's Flip-Off, automatically disqualifies any restaurant if a waiter clears the table and disposes of a judge's newspaper while he is using the restroom.

And now Unilever, makers of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and the new I Can't Believe It's Not Maple Syrup Or Even Maple-Flavored, in conjunction with the American Food Conglomerate Tax Haven Association, is proud to present the Official Mrs. Beeton's Ninth Annual Flapjack Flip-Off (Mrs. B. is our patron saint for her prescient assertion, made in print exactly 100 years ago, that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs").

Ready to sift through the competition? Baaaaatter up!

The Recession? What Recession? Award goes to Pool Plaza at the Gansevoort for its $19 pancakes and $5 cup of coffee, which with tax and automatic 20 percent gratuity brought the bill to $31.30: a new Flip-Off record! The tough, chewy flapjacks were as skinny as the tab was fat. Maple syrup was the real deal (as would be the case with each of this year's competitors); no butter was served. Powdered sugar and ripe strawberries and blackberries looked pretty, coffee was poured hot and strong, service was sound, and the morning's misty ocean created a dreamy panorama at poolside. Still, let's not sugarcoat this: These were not good pancakes at any price.

Vida at the Fontainebleau is bestowed with our Cracker Jack Award for its dry-as-Saltines flapjacks that were barely warmed (and butter, brought only by request, was ice-cold). A portion of one of the pancakes was darkly browned (burned, really), but the trio was layered to hide the blunder. It's not nice to try to fool a Flapjack judge. The waitress was wonderfully swift on refills of coffee, a tasty organic blend so mellow it took three cups to get a second eyelid open. Ambiance is pleasant enough if one sits by the curved wall of windows, but owing to what was described as "broken glass" (presumably one you drink from, for the panes appeared to be unshattered), patrons were seated at nearby tables instead — excepting your anonymous Flip-Off judge, who was inexplicably escorted to a dimmer, emptier adjacent room. Could it have been the bowtie? Pancakes, $14; coffee, $4; with tax and auto-18 percent gratuity, $22.86.

The Never Assume a Rancher Makes Good Pancakes Award goes to Canyon Ranch Grill at Canyon Ranch. The "whole-wheat" hotcakes had a pleasant taste but weren't thick, steamy, or especially wheaty — they seemed to possess only enough of the sturdy grain to inhibit fluffiness. All taste and no texture makes flap a dull jack (though optional blueberry or banana-walnut versions at least add moisture, as does lots of maple syrup). Service was attentive, the indoor room was comfy, and the outdoor patio was sparsely appointed — but with a fetching ocean view. A cup of mixed ripe fruit salad on the side earned big points. So did the rich, spicy organic coffee brewed with beans from Santa Fe (steamed milk on the side). The price was right too (relative to the competition): pancakes, $8; coffee, $4; with tax and automatic 18 percent tip, $15.24. But these flapjacks were simply not worthy of the holy grail of griddlecakes.

Area 31 at the Epic Hotel receives our esteemed Mrs. B Nothing-to-Be-Ashamed-of Runner-Up Award for its distinctive buttermilk pancakes — so densely buttery and moist one might wonder if flour is even involved in the preparation. A divine, crêpe-like vanilla flavor played delectably well with warm maple syrup and three types of burstingly ripe berries — black, blue, and straw. Organic Guatemalan coffee was potent and piping-hot; the butter and dining room were too chilled (though the latter offers a lovely 16th-story vista). The staff was extremely friendly and efficient, and the price proved reasonable (it was the only place that didn't add gratuity to the bill). Cakes, $10; joe $3; with tax and voluntary 20 percent tip, $16.97.

The Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy goes to Eos at the Viceroy. The most gorgeous buttermilk pancakes in Flip-Off memory, they were strikingly striated in golden bronze hues and so puffy that at first glance the trio appeared to be a quintet. Scattered atop the sugar-powdered cakes were caramelized apples, candied walnuts, and rum-macerated raisins; on the side came a tray with maple syrup, softened butter, and rum sabayon that was neither airy nor necessary — but a generous gesture nonetheless. Sumatran coffee, served in a French press pot, was dark, murky, and potent enough to make espresso seem wussy. Perfect. Service was impeccable as well, and the early-morning vista from Eos's 15th-floor terrace was strangely peaceful. Griddlecakes go for $14, coffee is $5, and with tax and 18 percent auto-tip: $24.44. Steep to be sure, but at least the Viceroy can now justify the price by letting guests know these have been deemed the very finest Miami hotel flapjacks money can buy — and they have the Mrs. B to prove it.

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