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Great lengths for good PANCAKES...

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  • Emma F. Nov 28, 2001 12:24 AM

Hello, everyone!
So, I'm a pancake fiend living in a Harvard dorm, with no car but a strong hankering. Any place in Boston (South End's a bit tricky but I'd welcome suggestions), Cambridge, Somerville, Newton or Brookline is do-able; further than that, depends how good they are. Where's the best place for pancakes? Especially (mmmm) blueberry ones??

Here's what I've tried and some quick thoughts on each; feel free to air your opinions.

Johnny's Luncheonette: taste too much like the butter they used on the griddle. Pretty mediocre, though they'll do in a pancake pinch...

Rosebud Diner: Bland, tasteless, flavorless blueberries. All about the maple syrup, which at least comes in a nice personal dispenser.

Greenhouse Restaurant (Harvard Square): had these several years ago. Remember they were monster-size, pretty sweet. Actually, I think I ordered chocolate chip, and you can't exactly screw those up. Are the regular ones any good?

BC Eagle deli (Cleveland Circle): Standard. From a mix. Cheap&plentiful. Nothing special.

Zaftigs: Best I've had in Boston. Fluffy, sweet, dusted with confectioners sugar. Very cheery. Excellent quality blueberries. Could maybe do without the strawberry butter. A plus: they put the berries BOTH inside AND outside the pancakes. Too bad when they only do one, or they don't even ask...

and, yeah, IHOP: It was late, we were hungry. I think they were sort of okay. Not my first choice, though I'd take some babysittees for the clown pancake. BICKFORDS, though, is just horrid.

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  1. When my daughter was researching colleges, I visited the Harvard website dining section and found that the school has an extremely high opinion of the quality and variety of food provided to students.

    Since you're looking for good pancakes off-campus, I'm wondering...

    How is the dorm food and on-campus dining, really?

    Link: http://www.dining.harvard.edu/

    7 Replies
    1. re: ironmom

      thanks for the question! I feel so...useful!

      Hmm, well, before I start the tongue-clucking, I'll say I commend Harvard for their efforts at environmentalism. They take recycling/waste reduction/conservation quite seriously, so they're always doing environment-conscious things like get rid of single-serving containers (ketchup, mustard, syrup, sugars), use recyclable everything, keep the trash minimal. All things I care about, though they're not exactly chowhound-ish.

      And the dining rooms are all SPARKLING clean. Hardly ever even see crumbs on the tables. And the staff are realy helpful and quite friendly. And they refill things fast, so that's good.

      But, you inquire about the food...alas, it doesn't exactly sing to the heavens. Often, I find myself making bizarrely combined mutant-meals, based around what doesn't look gross.

      Quick note: I'm a freshman, so I eat in a big old dining all that serves 1600. So things will be a little more hectic/of lesser quality there. I'm increasingly heading toward the upperclass 'houses' (if anyone's interested in finding out about the Harvard housing system, I'll explain sometime), where ALL the food is of significantly higher quality. Freshman ARE allowed to do that. Keep that in mind.

      Good news: There's lots of food and an unlimited meal plan. Nothing is molding or rotting (can't say the same for my high school, certainly), nothing is old, there's always cereal and many breads, and you can always get burgers/veggie burgers/grilled cheese...far more than the old "you can always have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich..." Plus, the salad bars are way above average in terms of variety/freshness. And some of the best pickles I've ever had. And the muffins at breakfast are excellent. The pancakes have their good days (tho its sometimes depressing when they become the 'vegetarian alternative' for dinner). Pasta: okay if ya like that (I'm not a big pasta eater). The fish, surprisingly, is quite high quality, especially the salmon with corn relish. Good 'mexican cuisine,' i.e. quesadillas. And opportunities abound for creativity. There's a microwave - make your own fajita pizza! Be creative and try a baked apple! Plus you can make your own salad dressings with the bottles that abound. And at brunch, they have smoked salmon!!! Every week!

      THE BAD NEWS: Most of the meat is overcooked and covered with gooey slop that they then term "mango chutney" or some such nonsense. Tofu dishes are all interchangeable, no matter WHAT they say its flavored as. The rice is highly un-pleasing. Horrid french fries. There's not much festive twists to things: she'll find no stir-fry bars like at some schools. The cakes/pies at dessert, while their presence is appreciated, are quite hit-or-miss. Not much of a homey touch, though cooking in bulk is never simple.

      Verdict: actually, more good than bad, particularly for upperclassmen. Though if you come from a meat-starch-vegetable home you'll have to learn unorthodoxy.
      And everything could be more flavorful...though if you care a lot about food, grab the jar of garlic, pick up the olive oil, and season it up! Make creative salads. Play. Most people don't, but you can.
      Also, learn the frozen yogurt culture. It's all about frozen yogurt.

      1. re: Emma F

        I'd say that's a pretty accurate description of harvard food (I'm a senior so I've eaten my share of dining hall food). it has its off days...like a week ago when I found what looked to be a nail in my lo mein. There's some variation between the upperclass houses in terms of food. my house, for example, probably has one of the weaker dining halls. I try to improvise but there's not all that much to work with. as far as relative to other schools, I'd guess that we're decent but I still find it hard to believe that the dining services won all these awards. I once ate at Tufts and their food was way better...I guess the name carries some weight...
        nice to be back posting after having my last 2 posts censored.
        -danny

        1. re: dz

          My daughter ended up at BU. They have a lot of different meal plans there which are priced the same, but since to go back to a dorm at lunch is inconvenient, hardly anyone takes that plan. Generally, they select a certain number of meals per week or semester, and they get "points" to spend at on-campus locations for the rest of the meals. If a person doesn't spend their points carefully, they can end up running out of meals and points before the end of the semester. Somehow I feel that if I pay $3500 a year for her food (which comes to about $3.50 a meal, far more than we ate for at home) that she shouln't have to go hungry and ante up more money before the year is out.

          So I gave her my rice cooker, which she hides in her room and uses to make ramen and cook vegetables "stolen" from the cafeteria.

          I know things could be much worse. At BC they operate on a "points-only" basis. $11 for dinner, anyone? And at many colleges the students buy only as many meals as they can afford at registration time, hoping they can come up with cash at a later time when they are hungry.

          1. re: ironmom

            As a BC alumna, I just wanted to clarify this post. I don't remember many $11 meals and I only graduated a few years ago. Most came to around $5 which is what I usually spend on take out any way. The new dining hall is great and offers tons of options as well. I actually wanted a school on the poinhts system as most I looked at had better quality food and more flexibility for meal times.

            My vote for the worst food goes to UMASS Amherst. I had a friend there and meal time was the worst. The dining hall was always overcrowded and you had to each in a short time spot. If you couldn't make it at that time, then you were out of luck. Drinks were served in dixie cup-sized glasses so you either had to take 8 initially or get up constantly. I can't even begin to describe the poor quality of the entrees.

            On a brighter note, the best college food I found was at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.

            1. re: Maura

              Hopefully, the girl who spent $11 on dinner didn't do it too often.

              1. re: ironmom

                If your daughter insists on both good food and the Ivy League, Cornell is the college to look at.

                1. re: gary

                  I think she'll stick to BU, they do stirfry to order in her dorm.

    2. One place I'd try would be the Neighborhood Restaurant off Union Square in Somerville. It's a Portuguese place that has fantastic brunches; I can't say that I've paid particular attention to the pancakes, everything I've had there has been good, not to mention cheap & plentiful.

      1. I hate to say this because I think over all the place stinks but try Doyle's in Jamacia Plain.You can get there by T it is about a 3 minute walk from Green Street Station. This is about the only thing Doyle's does good. It is a great bar,but an absolutley terrible restaurant(IMHO).

        5 Replies
        1. re: ScoobieSnack

          Seth is right about Doyle's blueberry pancakes. I get a short stack and it's plenty. But I kinda like the place overall and wouldn't be quite so down on the food. It's definitely no better than mediocre but there's a lot to choose from and you're not paying much.

          1. re: Joanie

            Whoops, it was Scoobiesnack who wasn't into Doyle's.

            1. re: Joanie

              For the record, I like Doyle's; it's an honest joint for burgers, pizza, & beer, and doesn't pretend to be anything but.

              1. re: Joanie

                Deluxe TOwn DIner
                Mt AUburn Street Watertown
                bfast all day
                sweet potato pancakes with pecans-best pancakes I have ever had.

                1. re: TK

                  i agree, best pancakes ever, especially buttermilk ones!!

          2. Walk (or take the bus) about a mile down Cambridge St. to Inman Square in Cambridge and check out the S&S Deli. I haven't been there for a few years, but I recall having some pretty good blueberry pancakes there.

            Enjoy your search.

            1. This may not be convenient but it's worth the trip especially if you enjoy a classic diner. Try the Capitol diner in Lynn just off of 1-A. Great breakfasts including pancakes and other items and a great overall experience. I used to live in Harvard Square and the trip was worth it. You could even take the train from North Station since the diner is under the RR tracks (a real Edeward Hooper scene).

              1 Reply
              1. re: chuck s

                Good call with the Capital Diner, Chuck. They have great breakfast, yet because it is a bit out of the way, I forget about it. The train from North Station is the Rockport line and the bus also runs from Haymarket (Bus numbers 441, 442, 426).

              2. I am normally not a pancake lover (prefer waffles) but the best pancakes I have ever had are to be found at the end of the brunch buffet at the Blue Room in Kendall Square. Admittedly, $20 for brunch is a lot if all you want is pancakes, but they're worth it. They are small (about the diameter of a grapefruit) and thin, and manage to be fluffy without getting pasty or mealy the way so many bigger pancakes do. Speaking of which, while I love the Neighborhood Restaurant, I think their pancakes suffer from this problem. Also, the Blue Room pancakes are served with really good maple syrup. Not to mention that the rest of the brunch is fantastic.

                1. It's been a long while but I always got good blueberry pancakes at the Pour House on Boylston St. near the Pru. Damn cheap too!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Bob W.

                    What are good pancakes?

                    1. re: BLT

                      What are good pancakes. My criteria for good pancakes are relatively flexible, but I probably won't like a pancake it fails to satisfy any of them.

                      1. Texture: The ideal pancake is smoothly browned on the presentation side and stippled on the underside. The size of the pancake is unimportant, but I tend to prefer smaller pancakes to larger ones. Fluffiness is a lot less important than many people think. Some pancake recipes, especially mixes, saturate the batter with leaveners to produce an exceptionally fluffy texture. If the recipe isn't perfectly balanced, some leaveners will be left over and give the pancake a terrible aftertaste. I tend to prefer a slight chewiness, but not to the point of rubberyness. Pancakes should not be greasy.

                      Flavor: Not too sweet. If you can taste the fat the cakes were fried in, it had better be quality grease. Poor quality fat will give the pancakes an off taste. I prefer pancakes made with buttermilk to those made with sweet milk. 1) Buttermilk adds depth of flavor, 2) Produces superior texture.

                    2. re: Bob W.

                      The pancakes are still cheap at the Poor House, but they're not good. They're obviously from a mix. They're dry on the outside and doughy in the center with a slightly chemical aftertaste. Moreover, they taste like they've been fried in too much cheap fat.

                    3. 1. The Best: Blue Room. However, they are only available as part of a $20 buffet, which may be a bit much for a student. On the other hand, if I had lived near Blue Room when I was in college, I would have headed there every Sunday for their spectacular brunch and done all my eating for the week!

                      2. The Usual Suspects: Sorella's in Jamaica Plain (stunning variety but the plain ones and blueberry ones are great) if you can stand the lines; Charlie's Sanwich Shoppe in the South End; SoundBites in Somerville.

                      3. Other: Linwood (in the Fenway) used to make an amazing Baked Pancake which my brother called the best pancake he has ever eaten. A little different than what you may be looking for, however.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Simon

                        Where is this "Linwood" you speak of? I live in Fenway and go to school in Somerville. The Rosebud Diner is bitterly disappointing, all the food there sucks, much the same is true of the other authentic train car diner in Ball Square (The name escapes me...Kelly's?) Soundbites has amazing food. Their pancakes taste homemade, which is the highest praise I can offer. I recommend the three-fruit combo: strawberry-, blueberry-, cranberry-pancakes.

                        1. re: Lindsay B.
                          h
                          Heathen & Spells

                          Just wanted to mention a good kelly's diner experience.
                          We've only eaten there once, but the corned beef hash that I got there was great ( see thread below about good corned beef hash ) and Allison got a very good turkey club, quite a decent diner classic version. Never tried their pancakes though, and probably never will with soundbites down the street. Weird that it is an old diner but new to that local, unusuall.

                          1. re: Lindsay B.

                            The Linwood is on the corner of Queensbury and Kilmarnock, diagonally across from Thornton's. The BBQ place.

                            1. re: Joanie

                              That's right about the Linwood location.

                              The crazy fiancee lives one block away so we eat at the Linwood often. Interestingly, we have found that the BBQ is typically the weakest aspect of the menu. The specials (in particular the catfish firtters) are typically the best. The mashed sweet potatoes are also divine.

                              Back to the point: many months ago we went there for brunch and my brother had a baked pancake that he calls the best pancake he ever had. It was supposed to be a baked apple pancake but he asked for it without the apples!

                        2. Although I have not tried them, I bet that the pancakes at SoundBytes in Ball Sq, Somerville (on Broadway) are good. I have had their challah french toast which is great, and many people have told me that other brunch items are fantastic. They have many types of pancakes on the menu, including blueberry, and they are served w/ real maple syrup. Has anyone else been here? Are the pancakes as good as the french toast?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Dave M.P.

                            Yes, the pancakes at SoundBytes are great. However, it would be a shame to miss out on the "no place like home fries" which come with the eggy dishes. They are more like fried garlic mashed potatoes, and completely awesome. I suppose for those who don't worry about too many carbs, you could get both. SoundBytes rocks.

                          2. Actually, the apple pancake is the only reason ever to go to a Bickford's. But you have to wait, and it isn't much like a pancake at all.

                            My daughter and I used to split one baby apple pancake and a dish of ice cream for brunch on the days we were passing by a Bickford's.

                            The full-sized apple pancake is something you would sucker your friends into ordering just to see their faces when they saw what the server brought them.

                            1. Try the Paramount on Charles Street (near Beacon St.) in Beacon Hill for very good blueberry pancakes. Take the Red Line to Charles/MGH or Park Street. In the mornings it is cafeteria style...order and pay first before being seated.

                              1. I have to chime in on the Blue Room pancakes...worth it completely and pretty close to you if you go to school in Cambridge. I was so moved by the pancakes there that I asked what their secret was...not too greasy, not too dry. The chef replied: "no fancy griddle, just a well-seasoned, clean cast iron skillet rubbed with a tiny dab of veggie oil on a paper towel for non-stick action." Then...he gave me the RECIPE!! He'll probably give it to you to; it's printed up and scaled down for the smallest batch possible. It still makes like 88 pancakes, but you can freeze the extra batter and have more next weekend. So, there you have it...the BEST brunch in boston, the best pancakes, and the recipe to feed half your dorm the next time. Worth the $20.
                                Now if you could just get the hot plate to work...

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jet

                                  And the recipe IS??? The SO loves pancakes......

                                  1. re: jet

                                    Thanks for all the responses! I'm thinking I may just have to check out the Blue Room now. You guys have convinced me. mmm, maybe next Sunday...great tip about the recipe, too. I love friendly restaurant people.