This is turning out to be the Year of Important Decisions. Already the Supreme Court has handed down much-discussed rulings on immigration and health care, and in a few months voters will determine the next president of the United States. Plus of course Katie dumped Tom. All controversial decisions with lasting and far-reaching implications (think of poor Suri!).
But the most consequential deliberation of all may yet be one that stirred heartfelt emotions and even provoked acrimonious accusations among members of the traditionally unflappable Flapjack Flip-Off Committee:
Does maple syrup belong on chocolate chip pancakes?
The pro-maple faction was led by a woman we shall refer to as Committee Member A, who wiped tears from her eyes while citing precedent set by her grandmother Bessie's chocolate-glazed maple-pecan pie. The opposition was voiced by Member B, who mustered as firm a tone as possible when declaring, "Maple and chocolate go together about as well as Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner!"
Member B is getting on in years.
Still, the majority agreed to eliminate maple syrup as a consideration for this year's special Chocolate Chip Smackdown. Judges remained focused on flavor, fluffiness, and value of flapjacks, with other evaluations such as chocolate chips, butter, coffee, service, setting, seating, and any intangibles that might present themselves — in the past they have included a waiter prematurely discarding a temporarily unattended newspaper, and an unscrupulous valet attendant.
Our proud if unwitting participants this year are Denny's, Eleventh Street Diner, Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing, New York's Big Apple Deli, and Wagons West.
So let's get started (or as Member B often says, "Enough shilly-shallying!"). We humbly present, along with our sponsor Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chips (suggested motto: "Almost tastes like quality chocolate!"), the Official Mrs. Beeton 12th Annual Flapjack Flip-Off. (Mrs. B is our patron saint for her assertion 103 years ago that pancakes "must be regarded as somewhat beyond the capabilities of average digestive organs.")
The battle cry has sounded: Flips ahoy!
Denny's ("America's Diner") is presented with the Pale as a Republican Award for its tepid taupe flapjacks. Fluffiness wasn't an issue, but the exterior of the griddlecakes were slightly fork-resistant — like a skin. Plus the flavor was floury and bland. Soft whipped butter helped a lot, as did numerous chips, but these are not prize pancakes. Cups of hot coffee were refilled with vigor, which compensated somewhat for the average quality of beans. On the plus side, the bill was almost $4 less than the others (numbers do not include tax). Pancakes: $3.75. Coffee: $1.99. Total: $5.74.
The Chocolate Discs With Pancake Chips Award goes to the Eleventh Street Diner in South Beach, which delivered what appeared to be a pile of regular pancakes with merely a few mini-chips sprinkled across the top. However, once cut into, the interior of the cakes proved to be so riddled with chocolate that it was only the batter on top that bound them together. The result: too sweet and hardly enough nonchocolate pancake to register in terms of taste. Whipped butter was again a welcome garnish, and coffee was hot but middling. Pancakes: $7.99. Coffee: $2.35. Total: $10. 34.
We confer the Willie Nelson Would Eat His Pancakes Here Award to Wagons West Restaurant. Big points for ambiance, because this Pinecrest diner, which opened in 1981, oozes old-timey charm via its lengthy wood-based counters, wood-benched booths, and general country-store feel. They don't make places like this anymore, but, alas, they still do make pancakes like these. Which isn't to say the three jacks weren't hot, soft, and sweetly laced with chocolate chips. In fact, the plate of pancakes here is superb and service is topnotch. Less than stellar "butter" and weak coffee put judges off, but the overall deal is solid: Three pancakes, coffee, and a small glass of orange juice cost $7.95. Chips are an extra $1.50. Total: $9.45.
New York's Big Apple Deli is presented with the partially prestigious Mrs. B Nothing-to-Be-Ashamed-of Runner-Up Award for a steamy-moist three-stack flecked with a reasonable ratio of chips. Butter came whipped to a light, gossamer consistency (first year in FF history that none of the contestants handed out single-serves). Service was pleasant and the coffee only passable, but the pancakes were near exemplary. Pancakes: $8.95. Coffee: $1.95. Total: $10.80.
The Mrs. Beeton Flapjack Flip-Off Trophy is honorably bestowed upon Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing for a thoroughly unique white chocolate chip pancake with banana cream. One very large flapjack is folded in four so it resembles a stack when served. This griddlecake was moister than the rest and imbued with a subtly sweet, delectable vanilla flavor. The melted chips created little accents of white chocolate; the banana cream proved an ideal pudding-like pairing. Coffee is commercial Colombian served in a paper cup, but it's not like the competitors poured Blue Mountain. Most important, the pancake is undeniably Beeton-worthy. Pancake: $8.95. Coffee: $1.75. Total: $10.70.
What restaurants will be unlucky enough to be chosen for Flip-Off the 13th? Tune in next year.