Pancake House and I were born on the same year. I grew up with it, and it with me. At some point in both our careers, we sold out. We had to; it’s simply the way one copes with change.
Like me, it’s going through something of a midlife crisis, though it’s a toss-up who’s managing it better.
Because I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to have my children grow up on the strange but impossibly irresistible combination of a syrup-drenched waffle with a morsel of juicy pork sausage (an outlandish combination that’s replicated in our predilection for dipping McDonald’s french fries in our ice-cream sundaes), I would take my two-year-old daughter to our nearest branch, tucked away facing a back courtyard of Rockwell’s Power Plant Mall.
Here, she was introduced to the joys of exploding tacos, the kind that shatters into a million bits when you try to eat it properly. (They now have an item on the menu called Taco Salad, which is basically pre-exploded tacos.) There was a time we would be at Pancake House almost every weekend.
Around that time, I started working for Rogue Magazine, then under a previous ownership. In the best journalistic tradition, work started sometime around mid-afternoon and, on a slow day, ended around dinnertime. On the week when we closed the magazine, going home at three or four o’clock in the morning was customary.
Also in the best journalistic tradition, we ate unhealthily. At around late afternoon, we would all begin feeling hungry, but no one wanted to be the first to say anything about it, because then he or she would have to choose the restaurant and be in charge of having food delivered.
Eventually we came to rely on Pancake House, simply because it was the only restaurant within a few kilometers’ radius of our office.
Our relationship became so close that our managing editor would simply call the kitchen and ask for our usual orders. I had the same thing, a Salisbury steak (pronounced sah-lis-berry), for almost six months before getting tired of it.
I can point to my back issues of Rogue and tell you which ones were powered by Pancake House.
Our breakup came when they introduced a centralized delivery service. Suddenly, we weren’t allowed to call the local branch a few doors down and ask them to bring the food over. We had to call a centralized call center and talk to a new person every day. Not only did they never get it right, but it took them an eternity to transmit the request to the local branch.
The other day, just as my second child reached the age when I began taking my firstborn to Pancake House, I decided it was time to introduce yet another toddler to the addictive mixture of lightly fried carbohydrates drenched in butter and syrup.
Pancake House at Rockwell has moved out of the mall to the ground floor of the building next door, and undergone something of a facelift. Gone are the movie posters and the brightly colored plasticky banquettes; there’s a faux-timbered ceiling and stucco murals on the walls.
I don’t mind the cosmetic changes. Much as I’m into nostalgia, it was time for a change.
But as for the food, change has come—and for the worse. The coffee was so tepid that the creamer (note that they did not deign to offer me actual milk) simply clumped up into a big floating nugget of slimy powder and refused to amalgamate. The toast that came with my country breakfast wasn’t toasted, which goes against its ontology, making it simply bread.
It wasn’t just one occasion. On another day, the arroz cubana I ordered came with a flat disc of egg white with a yellow smudge where the yolk used to be. Having an egg run on the frying pan can happen to anyone; if one has any pride at all as a chef, you don’t carve out the broken yolk and serve it anyway.
The plantains weren’t fried, and were hard and woody. Service at Pancake House has never been great in general, but the staff seemed composed of waiters who were very interested in something on the wall just a few inches to the left of my head, and there was nothing I could do to distract their attention.
I’m writing this not because I want Pancake House to fail; it’s like my direwolf or horcrux or avatar, and I simply cannot imagine life without it. I want the management to fix it, at a radical level.
One gets the feeling of cooks and service staff sleepwalking through the manual, moving from one payday to the next. The world of casual sit-down franchise restaurants is something I have no experience with, but the staff, while uniformly polite and accommodating, seems to be as indifferent to the identity of the restaurant as to the well-being of its customers.
This is an impassioned plea to the management to rescue the restaurant, and with it all my vanilla and caramel-scented childhood memories and those that I want my children to have as well. —CONTRIBUTED