Richard Walker's Pancake House (San Diego)
Saturday morning after my delts, tris and bis were burning to the max, my quads quivering and my abs screaming after 400 crunchs, my buddy Chef Vinny and I decided to forego our usual post workout bagle and coffee at Twiggs and make a trip into downtown and try Richard Walker's Pancake House on Front St. between Market and Island.
It's no secret that I think the best meal San Diego does is breakfast. I was looking forward to new tastes and a new place. As we walked down Front a pulsating mob of people on the sidewalk came into view. Could it be? Was that really the spot? A line for breakfast? In San Diego?!!?!?!??
There was indeed a line and after being told the wait would be 20 minutes we queued up at the end of the line. No reservations are taken, so if there is a line, there is a line and you wait like everyone else. Richard Walker's Pancake House apparently hails from Chicago and has a reputation for doing big business and doing it quickly, otherwise known as "burn and turn". Chef Vinny and I were skeptical.
Since I never drink caffeine before working out, and being seriously in need of a morning jolt, I wandered off in search coffee. Since Starbuck's corporate policy puts a sotre on nearly every corner, I didn't have to wander far. I arrived back at the line 15 mintues later with my jolt of java in hand. We had move all of maybe 3 feet. This was not looking too promising. We talked about finding something else. But about that time Richard Walker himself came down the line handing out menus. It looked promising. We stayed.
The menu is mostly pancakes, Dutch babies, including a savory variation with veggies and havarti cheese, waffles, omeletes and some egg and dishes, i.e. eggs and bacon, eggs and corned beef hash, etc, and almost all of it is under $10. The line inched along. 20 mintues came and went, as did another 20 mintues. Ultimately the wait was nearly an hour, so much for burn and turn.
Finally we were led to a 2-top inside, right in front of the door and the cash register. Definitely not a desirable table, but I was hungry so we took it. Water and our waitress appeared before our butts were in our seats, I definitely felt rushed to order a beverage. We were also informed that once we'd decided on what we wanted to place our menus upside down on the edge of the table because that was the code that let the waitstaff know we were ready to order. An impossible task for me since I'm pretty notorious for changing my order right up until it's actually written down.
None the less I decided to go with 2 eggs over medium, sausage and 3 buttermilk pancakes. Chef Vinny thought the Southern Pecan Waffle sounded mightly good, and so did I. We agreed to split our plates when they arrived. 10 minutes later a large white plate with 4 crispy sausage links and 2 woebegotten looking eggs swimming in grease rattled down in front of me. It was looking very much like Chef Vinny had better luck ordering than I. His waffle covered the plate and was topped with a mountain of pecans and powdered sugar. Warm syrup and real whipped butter appeared, as did my buttermilk pancakes. We split our plates, I got half they waffle, he got 1 egg, 2 sausages and 1 1/2 pancakes.
Eggs are eggs, other than being cooked in too much fat, they were cooked over medium and tasted good. The sausages looked overdone but acutally weren't. They tasted great and the fact that they were crispy on the outside but still moist on the inside was a plus. But maybe I wasn't on the loosing end of the ordering stick after all. The waffle ended up looking far better than it tasted and the buttermilk pancakes were terrific.
The pancakes were light, fluffy and surprisingly tender, made even better by copious amounts of butter and warm syrup. The waffle was also light and tender, but it had a distinct weird aftertaste that equally copious amounts of butter and syrup could not abate. Neither one of us could definitively identify the offending flavor, but it did detract from the overall enjoyment of the waffle. Weird flavor aside, we did mange to worry it down without too much difficulty.
The Dutch Babies we saw going to other tables were enormous, our protions were smaller but more than adequate. Breakfast meats and hash browns are pretty much a la carte. Fresh squeezed juice is available. We ordered an OJ that never showed up.
Richard Walker's Pancake House has only been open a few weeks, I suspect they still have some opening kinks to get worked out. The space is small, the pace is fast and the place is packed. No question this is a high volume operation. I asked if they were always as busy as they were when we were there and was told business was "normal, it's usually like this". The food was good, but not good enough to keep me coming back, and definitely not good enough to wait an hour for a table. I'm not a morning person, I like my breakfast more leisurely, a lot less noisy and a lot less frenetic.
Just an update - I just tried this place today for the first time, and the line has shrunk a bit, but not much. (We were there kind of early though - 9 AM.) I was surprised by how small the place is - the tables are really packed in tight.
Overall we liked it but it was pretty crowded - we waited about 10 minutes for a table, so not too bad. My assessment is that they are trying very hard to emulate the Original Pancake House. They serve the same apple pancake, souffled with a tarte tatin topping of apples, butter and sugar. The person seated right next to me ordered it, and I was glad I had chosen something else. It looks and smells like it could put anyone into insulin shock.
I loved the hashbrowns with cheese and jalapenos - crispy and oniony with globs of melted cheese. Mmmm... They also have good thick sliced bacon, and they know how to cook it - crisp but not burned. I was craving something indulgent - so I got the dutch baby - a puffed souffle pancake with powdered sugar. I can't imagine what the dutch pancake would be like - this was the small version and it covered the plate. I made the mistake of putting lemon juice on it, then syrup - that was a very weird combination. It was much better just with syrup, though apparently that's non-traditional. James had the eggs benedict - which were good, they didn't overcook the eggs which is key.
Note to DD - I always order poached eggs in restaurants because I got fed up with the greasiness of fried eggs - sometimes they come in too much water, but you can always dry them off with toast :-)
The service was fast efficient and friendly. The coffee is good and Jorge really kept it coming. They also provide real cream for it (just like OPH) It seems like they are turning and burning on the service as much as they can, but all of those baked items take at least 20 minutes to cook, so if you order one of those you will be sitting for a while - which is fine with me. It gave me a chance to look around at everyone else's food.
The pancakes look good - they serve up a whole plate full - definitely enough to share. Some of them come with big globs of what looked like real whipped cream. The souffled egg fritatta-like dish looked a little soggy to me, but they souffle their omelettes (again just like OPH) which can make them a bit dry. Whatever you order, I highly recommend a side of those hashbrowns to share, and a side of bacon. Those were really the highlights.
No, I would say try it and form your own opinions. The food was actually good, probably better than Hob Nob. They were clearly slammed when we were there. I was watching the kitchen whle I was waiting in line for the restroom and they were really cranking out orders. Their expediter was in overdrive. We overheard one of the waitstaff tell someone picking up a to-go order that they were out of milk; that they had blown through 22 gallons of milk that morning.
That's one of the reasons I made it a point to ask if Saturday's business was typical or not, or a result of the plug they got in the Night & Day section of the U/T on Thursday. Even though they said it was "business as usual" I suspect they were experiencing an uptick in covers due to the U/T. By the time August 20th rolls around any spike from the U/T should be on the downward trend. It will probably always be busier on weekends when people have more leisure time.
I avoid Weekend morning breakfasts all together. Normally accessable places like Hash House, The Cottage, Brockton Villa, The Original Pancake House, Kono's, Pipes, etc. all have lines so long you would think they were giving the food away for free. Unless you get to these places really early (that means 5am workouts) the crowds will kill you. Like dinner on mother's day, I say stay away.
re: Captain Jack
5 am workout? I have enough trouble with 8:45 on a Saturday morning. Normally, I don't do breakfast on weekends at "name" spots either. This past Saturday was such a nice day we figured a trolley ride and walk around downtown would be a great way to spend the day.
Waiting in line for food rarely seems worth it either. That's why reservations exist. They don't call me the Dining Diva for nothing ;-). If I didn't have to wait, I would go back to try other menu items. Other than the funny taste in the waffle, the rest of the food wasn't too bad.
re: Captain Jack