They're sweet and comforting, best enjoyed in stacks, oozing with maple syrup, and topped with a generous portion of butter. We're talking about pancakes, of course, the staple breakfast food that pervades our favorite childhood memories.
If you're looking for some of the finest in town, Joe's Diner on Seventh Avenue in Phoenix's Melrose District is the place to go.
The bright yellow-painted diner proclaims on its website to have the "Best pancakes in Phoenix," a lofty declaration. Back in 2011, Phoenix New Times pitted the griddle cakes at Matt's Big Breakfast against the homemade pancakes at Joe's, declaring Joe's the ultimate winner.
But it's been over a decade since then, so we decided to check on the claim.
Though the menu tempted us with classics like the Denver Omelette and lunch offerings like croissant clubs and tuna melts, we stayed true to the original plan.
The buttermilk pancake short stack was just as glorious as one could hope: not too thick or thin, at once fluffy and soft with just a hint of salt, soft butter seeping into every crevice as the syrup lent a glorious sweetness.
Servers floated from table to table, refilling coffees while diners chatted and noshed on their eggs and lunch fare. But one voice rose above the others, telling kitchen stories and laughing with guests.
It was Joe Seriale himself, the charming owner of the little diner, who opened the restaurant with his wife and business partner Joan in 2010. The classically-trained chef worked at luxurious resorts and on private yachts prior to settling down at the modest from-scratch kitchen in the quirky and creative Melrose neighborhood. He came by to introduce himself, shaking hands and asking if it was our first visit.
"The blueberry pancakes with lemon curd are our specialty," he said, pointing to the half-gone short stack. But we were hesitant to mess with a classic.
At the host counter, with full bellies and inquisitive minds, we tried to figure out the secret recipe. Joan listed off some combination of buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda, and other ingredients. And then she spilled a full confession: the batter is fermented. Similar to sourdough bread, the pancake batter begins with flour, milk, and a starter, which helps it rise as it sits overnight.
The conversation didn't get too technical, and we definitely Googled "fermented pancake dough" when we got home. But for the optimal pancake experience, don't try this at home kids; Joe's Diner does it right. Next time, we're going straight for the tall stack.
4515 North Seventh Avenue
Daily, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.