Breakfast Beat

Best Bites: Melrose Restaurant Joe's Diner Serves the Perfect Pancake

The buttermilk pancakes at Joe's Diner are the real deal.
The buttermilk pancakes at Joe's Diner are the real deal. Natasha Yee
Welcome to Best Bites, a series where we celebrate not a whole restaurant or menu, but one specific and amazing dish. These bites have something to say and we are listening. Keep reading for dishes that are seriously worth the trek across metro Phoenix to find. Dig in!

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.
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Joe's Diner sits at Seventh Avenue just south of the Canal Trail in Melrose.
Natasha Yee

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.

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Joe's Diner has 1950s nostalgia for days.
Natasha Yee
Joe's Diner is a wholesome place with red upholstered booths, beige tiles, and a lonely silent jukebox sitting in a corner underneath a television displaying a photo slideshow of the menu, the more recent technology taking precedence. Fluffy eggs and crepes topped with berries flashed across the screen, and we wondered if they could hold a candle to the perfect pancakes.

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.

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After twelve years in business, Joe's Diner still serves some of the best pancakes in town.
Natasha Yee
Chai tea helped wash down the pancakes as they satiated our nostalgic appetites. Our forks pierced through the doughy masterpieces as syrup mingled with butter to form a sweet and comforting union. Part of one pancake went into a carryout box, though it only lasted about ten minutes before it was devoured.

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.

Joe's Diner

4515 North Seventh Avenue
Daily, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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Natasha is a dining reporter who loves to explore the Valley’s culinary gems. She has covered cannabis for the New Times, politics for Rolling Stone, and health and border issues for Cronkite News in conjunction with Arizona PBS, where she was one of the voices of the podcast CN2Go.
Contact: Natasha Yee