CHAMPIONS OF BREAKFAST
Original Pancake House, 6840 East Camelback, Scottsdale, 946-4902. Breakfast hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
All my holiday eating is behind me. Literally. You can't miss it. Noshing on Chex party mix, gorging on turkey dressing and washing it all down with eggnog is not the way to usher in a slimmer, trimmer 1994. Like a certain Transylvanian count, I've had to banish mirrors from my home. But while Dracula avoided mirrors because they returned no reflection, I've turned mine over because they shoot back an all-too-ample image.
It's not easy for us food lovers to rein in our roaring dinner appetites, just because some grinch flips over a new calendar month and our gay apparel has gotten a teensy bit snug. After all, our hunger pangs are just as ferocious as ever. Fortunately, I've stumbled upon a reliable technique that dramatically dampens the lust for food once the sun goes down: Eat an enormous breakfast.
I recently made this discovery at the newly reopened Original Pancake House, whose griddle has been stilled since a fire gutted the place almost a year ago.
It seems to have been redesigned by the same skilled folks who can configure airline cabins to cram six across when there's room to hold five comfortably. The place has as much wasted space as a Tokyo subway car: staff and patrons have to do-si-do to move about the aisles.
But even with the additional seating, weekend customers will need to learn the virtues of patience. The Original Pancake House has been jam-packed. Victor Laszlo got out of Casablanca in less time than it took us to secure a Sunday-morning table.
And once seated, it seems that the problem of getting quickly fed doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up world. That's because several of the most popular breakfast specialties take about a half hour to prepare.
But as the poet almost said, they eventually get served who only stand and wait. And perhaps the cagey operators count on famished customers to be more appreciative of the fare's charms--hunger, everyone knows, is the best sauce. All I can report is that these are among the best-tasting pancakes I've ever had.
Chief among the griddled glories is the apple pancake, a holy object that merits extended Sunday worship. The menu reveals this cake's mysteries: Homemade batter is poured over saut‚ed apples and then not-quite-baked through. Then, the concoction is flipped over, glazed with cinnamon sugar and baked some more. It's outrageously good--creamy, sweet, bubbly and huge.
The Dutch Baby competes in the same league. It's a German-style pancake, a thin, light, oven-baked disk with upturned sides to hold in as much butter, lemon and powdered sugar as you want to slather on.
Nothing wrong with the more traditional flapjacks, either. The homemade batter is scrumptious, not remotely like the stuff in packaged mixes. This may be heresy, but it's so good that syrup is really unnecessary. The heavy-duty chocolate chip pancakes, for example--a generous stack of six moist, saucer-size beauties--needs additional sweetening about as much as Christie Brinkley needs an extra ten minutes on the exercise bike.
The Original Pancake House offers several pancake variants, as well. The crepes are eggier than what you'll get in France, but lovely nonetheless. The hearty Palestine version features three crepes stuffed with sour cream and a spritz of triple sec, a good way to make it all the way to dinner time for only five bucks.
The waffles are just as good; the pecan waffle is studded with tons of nuts. Pour on some syrup, and it's almost like eating pecan pie. The French toast is the only ordinary item we sampled: conceived and executed with only coffee-shop flair.
Despite the crowds and harried service, management thoughtfully makes sure that no one will expire from early morning caffeine deficiency syndrome. Coffee-bearing servers continually circle the room, keeping you upright until the food arrives, and there's a complimentary thermos of coffee for the throngs still awaiting their tables.
Good thing. You won't want to snooze through this breakfast.
Coffee Mill Brasserie, 3160 East Camelback, Phoenix, 912-9795. Breakfast hours: Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
On the ashes of the failed 32nd Street Bistro has just arisen a cheery, casual spot that looks like it will have some staying power.
Coffee Mill Brasserie serves up familiar sandwich-salad-pasta dishes for lunch and dinner. But it's the rib-sticking breakfast fare that seems to be catching the eyes and bellies of discerning locals. The place has obviously generated some quick word of mouth.
It's operated by a former manager of the Terrace Dining Room at the Phoenician. He still has some kinks to work out. At 10 a.m. one morning we visited, the pastries, scones and croissants still hadn't arrived from the Upper Crust bakery. So much for those interested in a light continental breakfast. And an overworked server admitted that they hadn't been quite prepared for the unexpected weekend breakfast rush. Hearty, tasty fare and reasonable prices will create that kind of demand.
The slim, tanned, designer-eyewear patrons from the neighborhood look like just the types to appreciate the restaurant's fresh-squeezed juices--not only orange and grapefruit, but apple, celery and carrot, too.
The full-flavored breakfast platters also stimulate good will. I love strong-scented buckwheat pancakes, and the version here confirmed my prejudices. A heaping helping of yummy apple-raisin compote plopped atop the stack added to the appeal. Syrup? Who needs it?
The waffle is also first-rate, crisp and chewy, right out of the iron. It's lightly tarted up with a few minced pecans and a dollop of butter.
If you're going to spend the day pushing a plow and not a pencil, the egg dishes are a good option. The three-egg omelet comes with outstanding crunchy, skin-on, home-fried potatoes, with lots of grilled onion.
Even better is the Northern Italian frittata, dotted with sausage, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and mozzarella, all drizzled with pesto. This comes accompanied by lightly seasoned foccacia.
Sourpusses who insist on nutrition should be pleased by the steaming bowl of hot oatmeal. It's the right thing to do, especially since it's zipped up with apples, raisins and almonds. The $2.50 tag helps make it easy to swallow.
But the overwhelming winner here is French toast. I'm not sure what the flavor secret is, but the two thick slabs of sweet, eggy bread are superb. The grilled bananas and puddle of sweet cream alongside show some inventiveness, too.
Just about the only uncompelling touch is the awful basket of thin-sliced white toast that apparently comes with breakfast orders. If I wanted bread like this, I'd have stayed home in my pajamas and fixed it myself. This kind of place should be putting out fresh hunks of baguette or sourdough loaf.
In a city full of wretched Grand Slam breakfasts, Coffee Mill Brasserie is a pleasant early morning alternative. Wake up, and smell the French toast.
La Pila, 2020 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, 252-7007. Breakfast hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Not everyone gets excited over the prospect of pancakes, waffles and French toast at dawn.
Folks looking for something a little more interesting but no less substantial should check out the delightful Mexican breakfasts at La Pila.
It's Norman Fierros' latest venture. People who recall his popular downtown spot from a few years ago can count on the same quality fare.
This is no clattering omelet parlor, stocked with bubble-gum snapping waitresses who call the regulars "Hon." Instead, there's a hushed, corporate feel to this airy place. Linen napkins, white tablecloths and smooth, deferential servers make this a good location to go over your morning presentation in peace or feed a hungry client. And you'll get off cheaply, too--nothing goes for more than $4.50.
The torta con chile is probably the most familiar-tasting breakfast item you'll find. Fast-food places could serve something like it, if they had any imagination. Two scrambled eggs come on a grilled, unmushy Mexican bun. Layered inside are strips of bacon, tomato, melted cheddar and strips of mild green chile.
If it looks like you might have to work through lunch, opt for the machaca con huevo burrito. It's filling: lots of terrific shredded beef with a bit of chile kick, rolled into a flour tortilla, along with potato, tomato, green onions and cilantro.
Huevos rancheros don't rank high on the Mexican novelty scale, but the platter here is sublime. The key is a luscious, spiky red chile sauce that bathes the eggs and corn tortillas. For some tender palates, one bite will provide the only wake-up call they'll need.
Also outstanding is the egg-topped tamale hash, with its crispy edges and perky green chile sauce. This is the dish I'd come back for.
If you're only mildly hungry, canelas con queso should fill in the cracks. It's the kind of treat you'd buy from food stands in a Third World bus station: a crisply broiled, folded flour tortilla, sparingly filled with jack cheese and coated with cinnamon and sugar.
La Pila probably won't make the prospect of crawling out of bed on a weekday morning any easier. But it will furnish enough nourishing pleasure to see you through to the 10:30 doughnut-and-coffee break.
La Pila: Huevos rancheros $3.95 Canelas con queso 1.95 @pq:Chief among the griddled glories is the apple pancake, a holy object that merits extended Sunday worship.
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