Cafe Reviews


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.

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Howard Seftel