Flapjack Flip-Off VII: Bananarama!

There are seven days of the week, wonders of the world, colors in a rainbow, points on a sheriff's star, digits in a phone number, dots on a common ladybug's back. The Egyptians had seven gods, the Phoenicians seven kabiris, the Persians seven sacred horses, the Parsees seven angels opposed by seven demons. Snow White had seven dwarves. "Lucky seven" corresponds to the number of continents and seas on the planet, articles in the U.S. Constitution, bones in a mammal's neck, and orifices on the head. We count seven deadly sins — one of which, gluttony, we will be getting into soon enough. How many astronauts in NASA's first manned space program, books in the Harry Potter series, liberal arts, and chakras? Right you are. Seven likewise represents the pH level of pure water, the number of steps Buddha walked at birth, the integer on Mickey Mantle's muscularly pinstriped back. God sanctified the seventh day. Took a breather. Rumor has it he sat down for some pancakes that were so good it put him in Seventh Heaven. Yup: It's time for Flapjack Flip-Off VII!

It is not just the magical nature of the number that has all of us here at Flip-Off Headquarters as bubbly as a yeasty blini batter. This year's Bananarama theme promises to be our most provocative since last season's Special Blueberry Edition. All such fruits and add-ins were forbidden for our first five Flip-Offs, which of course pleased pancake purists. But we of the FFO Committee are keenly aware that gimmickry and incessant change are nowadays a requisite of doing business in the public arena, in no small part due to a younger readership with the attention span of Snoop Dog after his morning toke. Speaking of which — those who forget Flapjack Flip-Off history are doomed to repeat it, so here is a quick recap:

2001: Underdog S&S Restaurant in downtown Miami upsets the "Original" and "International" pancake houses to take home the inaugural Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy (Mrs. Beeton having been a cookbook author who in 1909 wrote that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs").


Flapjack Flip-Off VII

Eleventh Street Diner, 1065 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-534-6373. Breakfast daily, 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Pelican Cafe, Pelican Hotel, 826 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach; 305-673-1000. Breakfast daily, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Bagels 305-892-2435. Breakfast daily, 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Jimmy€™s East Side Diner, 7201 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-754-3692. Breakfast daily, 6:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

J.J.€™s American Diner, 1450 S Dixie Hwy, Coral Gables; 305-669-2698. Breakfast daily, 7:00 a.m. to midnight.

2002: The Biltmore Hotel (boosted by celebrity Kyle MacLachlan and his new bride breakfasting at a table nearby) defeats Denny's, diners, and some other dives. Critics call it a "mismatch."

2003: South Miami's Deli Lane Cafe narrowly outpoints a clutter of cafes.

2004: Special On-the-Road Edition whips the Flip-Off from Dania Beach to Boca Raton. Miramar Diner is proclaimed the winner, and promptly closes for renovations.

2005: Rascal House Deli takes top prize amidst grumblings over judges being unduly influenced by doggy bags of leftover onion-pumpernickel rolls. Within the year, Rascal House announces that it will be shutting down after 53 years in business.

2006: Green Street Outdoor Lounge & Restaurant in Coconut Grove snatches first prize in the Blueberry Edition, even though they use a normally disqualifying "breakfast syrup" free of even fake maple flavoring. The Québecois, incidentally, refer to this imitation product as sirop de poteau ("pole syrup"), implying that it has been made by tapping sap from telephone poles.

Excepting the inclusion of bananas, the original rules remain the same: Pancakes are judged upon taste, texture, color, thickness, sense of humor, and the flapjack steam factor (FSF), which works on a sliding scale of zero to ten — zero signifying no steam emanating from the stack, ten indicating that upon looking up from a careful inspection of each pancake, my glasses were so fogged I couldn't see the waitress rolling her eyes. Additional considerations include price, service, coffee, and quality of fake maple syrup. It might be added that our esteemed panel of judges is merely human, and thus unfairly subjective opinions, inexplicable mood swings, and plain old morning crankiness can, and do, affect final tabulations.

We encountered a slight problem: Very few restaurants serve banana pancakes. Even those that swear they do, don't. The Original and International Pancake Houses prepare them, but after the first Flip-Off these chains were banned from further competitions (the Rules Committee citing Olympic precedent against participation of professionals). So this year's contestants are not places we suspected might have the best banana hotcakes, merely those that have them, period. If there has been one constant throughout this annual quest for the holy grail of griddlecakes, it is the observation that Miami-Dade is the worst county in America for those seeking a decent breakfast of any sort.

But enough beating around the batter: The ConAgra Corporate Organization of Conglomerate Industrial Food Companies, in conjunction with Pepto-Bismol, Proudly Presents the Official Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off 2007 Bananarama Opening Cry: READY! SET! PEEL!

The Yes, We Have No Bananas Award is presented to PUERTO SAGUA RESTAURANT in South Beach. "Do you serve banana pancakes?" was the first question asked over the phone. "Yes," was the answer. "Are you sure you serve banana pancakes?" was the follow-up query. "Yes," the voice at the other end insisted. Later, in person, when it became clear that no banana pancakes would be forthcoming from the kitchen: "I didn't hear 'banana.' I thought you just said 'pancakes.'"

The Yes, We Have No Bananas Runnerup Award goes to MO'S BAGELS & DELI in Aventura. Pretty much the same scenario as Puerto Sagua. Much longer drive. Goddammit!

The If These Were Any Drier They Would Be a Fire Hazard Award honors the ELEVENTH STREET DINER's desiccated discs of slightly salty, blandly flavored jacks (FSF: 7). Decent cup of joe, and bonus points given for quick refills, properly softened butter pats, and best flapjack-eating environment. Bonus points detracted for Smucker's Breakfast Syrup devoid of even fake maple flavoring.

The They Go ON TOP of Corn Flakes, But INSIDE of Pancakes Award is tossed in the direction of PELICAN CAFE, whose epicurean Einsteins of the kitchen simply scattered sliced bananas atop the pancakes instead of within. Cakes were dry, sordid affairs (FSF: 5) paired with a pourer of fake syrup. No butter offered, nor glass of water (serving pancakes without water is specifically forbidden under rules set forth in the Geneva Conventions' little-known Breakfast Addendum). Service was friendly; coffee less so. On the plus side, flapjacks were attractively striated in mahogany hues.

The Getting Batter All the Time Award is given to J.J.'s AMERICAN DINER, which attempted a valiant comeback after its humiliating defeat in the blueberry battle of last season, when we complained that their hotcakes seemed "dry-cleaned rather than griddled." Perhaps because of that description, this time around the kitchen made sure to authenticate the cooking method by passing out pancakes pockmarked with black crud from the grill. Otherwise it was a much improved showing. The large, floppy flapjacks tasted a bit biscuitlike (Bisquick mix?), with a noticeable spike of vanilla, and were the only ones we encountered with double banana action — warmly cooked inside, cool slices on top (FSF: 8). Maple syrup boasted full, faux-maple flavor. Freshly brewed coffee, too, which earns double points.

JIMMY'S EAST SIDE DINER takes the I Didn't Know Pancakes Came in This Color Award for its yellow griddlecakes gilded with slices of banana. Nicely done — smoothly textured, steamy (FSF: 9), served with soft aluminum-wrapped butter pats and a glass pourer of mock maple syrup. Fairly strong coffee, and alert service, too. Still, in regards to the ideal banana pancake, there really should be a difference in color between the banana and the pancake.

And The Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy is proudly presented to ... BAGELS AND CO. , for the fluffiest of flapjacks, golden brown with white, marvelously moist interiors speckled with sweet, softly cooked circles of banana (FSF: 9). So impressive a stack that one could, and did, ignore so-so coffee and the plastic squeeze-bottle of Log Cabin Original Syrup on the table (maple syrup is listed as one of many minor ingredients). One caveat: The menu offers only banana-nut pancakes, so you'll have to request an omission of the nuts.

Heartfelt congratulations to our winner. There is, regrettably, no monetary award (or at least not directly, although a number of former contestants have made out like bandits via defamation cases against us). Be that as it may, Bagels and Company possesses sole bragging rights as the premier purveyor of pancakes until a new establishment is bestowed with the Beeton beacon of excellence during next year's Flapjack Flip-Off VIII. Eight, as you may well know, is the number of pawns on a chess board, pinches to a teaspoon, bits in a byte....

Eleventh Street Diner, 1065 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-534-6373. Breakfast daily, 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Pelican Cafe, Pelican Hotel, 826 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach; 305-673-1000. Breakfast daily, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Bagels & Co., 11064 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-892-2435. Breakfast daily, 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Jimmy’s East Side Diner, 7201 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-754-3692. Breakfast daily, 6:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

J.J.’s American Diner, 1450 S Dixie Hwy, Coral Gables; 305-669-2698. Breakfast daily, 7:00 a.m. to midnight.

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