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Original Pancake House [Moved from the Manhattan Board]

[Note: This started as a response to a post on the Manhattan Board. You can see the original thread at: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... --The Chowhound Team


The Original Pancake House is a somewhat expensive, high-quality breakfast chain with branches throughout the country. There are three in NJ not far from Manhattan, but the NY branches are all in the Buffalo area. (See originalpancakehouse.com for locations and other details.)

That's the short answer, but OPH is worth discussing at greater length as an illustration of a good national restaurant chain. The success of the best locations -- as with Ruth's Chris, another good chain -- comes from offering a relatively static menu of simple (but memorable) dishes prepared by well-trained cooks using high-quality ingredients.

I know jcooper's Original Pancake House on Bellvue Place in Chicago quite well, because I used to live a few doors down. Back then, at least, it was a typical OPH: food quality: A; service: B+; and decor: B+.

The small Walker Brothers subchain in the northern and northwestern Chicago suburbs is much better than the OPH average in all three categories, the primo branch in Wilmette rating, in my opinion, an A for decor (as a breakfast restaurant), A+ for service, and A++ for food. To my taste, it's the best OPH and probably the best chain breakfast-restaurant in the country. The first OPH in Portland, OR, is a solid second behind the Walker Bros. restaurants. All the others (except for a handful of locations where the service is truly pathetic -- the late, unlamented Hoover, AL, branch, e.g. -- or where the generally very good coffee is terrible -- the several branches serving percolated sawdust in Phoenix and in Orange County, CA, e.g.) are high-quality, attractive places with decent service that offer leisurely and delicious breakfast and lunch. (Leisurely takes a hit on weekends at these often-busy places.)

To expand a little on jcooper's accurate description: Again, the coffee is usually quite good. The fresh OJ ranges from very good to exceptional. The pancakes (of many different styles) are beautifully cooked and served with delicious fillings and syrups). And the meats are high quality, although I've occasionally had inferior sausage in the small Bay Area subchain. Even the butter and cream are special.

Each restaurant presumably uses the same recipes, but the Wilmette, IL, branch of Walker Brothers OPH makes a deliciously thin and eggy crepe that takes its strawberry crepes dish to a new level of food-being (I may be going overboard just a bit), and they give you their fabulous tropical (orange-based) syrup instead of the strawberry syrup. Although I haven't been to Toledo in a few years, I remember their hashbrowns as the best among the fine potato dishes at OPH, because they used very waxy red potatoes. The crepe batter at the SW 72nd St. location in Miami is not as eggy as in Wilmette, but this Miami branch appears to "fry" crepes at a high temperature in lots of that good butter, which carmelizes the sugar in the batter. "How many times did you have the Miami OPH crepes?" is one of the questions St. Peter will ask as you approach the pearly gates, so be prepared.

It's hard not to stick with pancakes, waffles, and crepes, but after a few-hundred visits you really should look into the perfectly cooked egg dishes -- including large, fluffy omelets, not the "pancake style" folded omelets (cooked on both sides before folding, to kill all traces of disease and flavor) preferred by most corporate restaurants and their lawyers.

Like everything good in this world, OPH has its detractors (and a few locations actually deserve them, primarily because of poor service but also because in some cases the kitchen staff doesn't get it -- both problems I put down to local management). Cost is often the biggest gripe, especially in Web and newspaper comments in small urban markets. An OPH breakfast is expensive for people who don't mind eating at IHOP or Denny's. It's also more expensive than good chains like Cracker Barrel and Bob Evans, and OPH lacks the really great biscuits and sausage gravy of Bob Evans and the grits, genuine country ham, and redeye of Cracker Barrel. And, of course, even the best chains fall short of wonderful local places across the country, although I'd rank the top OPH locations above breakfast at Fuller's in Portland, Lou Mitchell's in Chicago, the Frisco Shop in Austin, and the Loveless Cafe in Nashville.

That's a strong statement, and I should think it about it further, keeping in mind those pearly gates, but I do highly recommend the Original Pancake House and hope you have a chance to find the best of their best.

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  1. I haven't eaten at OPH often enough to try a wide variety of their items. Usually I choose their 49ers, which are thin like crepes and Swedish pancades, but with a chewier texture. I can make a passable immitation of their other pancakes, including the dutch baby, but the 49ers are unique (at least in my experience).


    1 Reply
    1. re: paulj

      I agree -- the 49ers are both unique and delicious. They're the one OPH pancake that I dress only with butter.

    2. There is one out in South West Broward county, Fla -- near the Lowe's off I-75. (I can't tell if that is Pembroke Pines, but I think so). Love it. Love the Swedish Pancakes, and I'll certainly try the 49'ers next time!

      1. I once enjoyed eating at the San Jose (CA) OPH daily. I'd start my morning off with a Jr. Bacon and two cups of wonderful coffee before joining the other lemmings on our commute north. Often enough a mood to try something different would hit. I tried the flagship of OPH, the Apple Pancake (a monstrous item 14" across and an inch-and-a-half high). The German pancake was also wonderful with the zing of fresh lemon cutting through the dusting of powdered sugar. The 49'ers, crape-like and delicate in taste, required little more than butter while the hearty Sourdough pancakes were best drowning in a giant puddle of that fresh-whipped butter. I never did get up the courage to sample the clam pancake, though, often wondering if anyone had ever tried one.

        The San Jose branch changed ownership. I felt it lost touch with its customer base because service and food both took hits. I found another morning stop along my extended morning march and took OPH out of my regular restaurant rotation.

        I've attempted to go back with my daughters on several ocassions. Each time, food quality was an abyssmal C, service was a D, and decor was still a B. I've noticed an expanded menu each time (and prices that have not remained static, either.) I'm still of the opinion that the San Jose branch does not understand its customers' needs.

        My visits to the first OPH, the Los Altos branch, and one in Sandy Eggo show that the core values are still there so I will continue to visit the chain in other areas.

        If you have a hearty appetite, I recommend the apple pancake. If you like to share, there's enough for three, but still bring that hearty appetite...

        6 Replies
        1. re: The Ranger

          You guys with the apple pancakes are amazing. I've never been able to finish one at the restaurant, but it does make a great dessert the rest of the week. In fact, more than once I've ordered an apple pancake to take home for just that purpose.

          I sympathize with The Ranger's depiction of the San Jose branch. I lived in Saratoga less than a mile from the De Anza location for four years and finally gave up on it for similar reasons.

          I'm also very familiar with the Sandy Eggo branch on Convoy. In fact, Sandy herself was once my waitress, and we had the following exchange:

          Me: "Are we in San Diego, or is this a suburb?"
          Sandy: [Quizzical look.] "I'm sorry??"
          Me: "Is this a suburb?"
          Sandy: [As if I had said something in a foreign language.] "SUB-urb?? I don't know what that means."

          That's a true story! But the food and coffee were quite good, and other servers have generally been competent. Too bad the Sandy Eggo County OPHs don't open at 6 a.m., as in Orange County, where I verified recently (at the Yorba Linda location) that the food is wonderful and the service is very good, but the coffee is the worst I've ever had in my life.

          1. re: Mel Gee

            I was at the one in San Diego at 6 am last Saturday....I only go at that time...no crowds...

            1. re: Cathy

              Cathy, which SD County location do you mean? I was at the one in the city of San Diego (on Convoy St.) recently, and it opened at 7. I just called, and they confirmed that their hours haven't changed.

              1. re: Mel Gee

                Well, they let us in and fed us...there were others in there also...we were out of there by 7:15 and there was a line then.....

          2. re: The Ranger

            This is the one on S. De Anza, right? Your story explains why I thought it was nothing special. You should have gone farther north on De Anza (a bit north of 85), there's a place called Holder's Country Inn that has killer omelets.

            1. re: aynrandgirl

              Yes, the very one.

              I once again gave them [the De Anza OPH branch] another shot and regretted my choice. <sigh> How can one place drop so badly?

              As far as Holder's Country Inn, I have one more convenient to me on Saratoga Avenue. Daughter-units Alpha & Beta, Spawn, and I all enjoy it. The waitresses work to make us feel comfortable and the foods hearty for a good price. SWMBO just doesn't enjoy it so it's not a regular on our restaurant rotations.

          3. At my local OPH, service is always lightning-fast, even when the place is super busy. I love the one-line concept in the lobby-everyone stands in one line, like at a bank, and you are seated in the order you arrive.

            I've tried many of the pancakes and waffles. The apple pancake can keep me full for the rest of the day. My new favorite is the Swedish pancakes w. lingonberry preserves. The cubed fried potatoes are a meal unto itself.

            I do wish OPH offered daily specials - the menu is very extensive but it would be nice to have some different options.

            Going out to breakfast is one of my favorites things to do. OPH is several notches above IHOP, and on par (in my opinion) with my two other favorite regional breakfast/lunch places - Le Peep and Hobees.

            1. I've never had a service issue at the Redondo Beach, CA location.
              My favorite dish is the homemade corned beef hash served with an over easy egg and a side of thin potato pancakes. Close to $10 but worth it.
              Assuming the one in Las Vegas is still going, it's a welcome relief from the Strip buffets and other chains.

              1. First place I hit after getting in to LA from NYC on an early morning flight was Original Pancake House in Redondo Beach. I've been missing good corn beef hash and those apple pancakes immensely.
                Apple pancake: http://static.flickr.com/93/241317000...
                Dutch baby: http://static.flickr.com/96/241317034...
                Corn beef hash: http://static.flickr.com/90/241317049...

                As good as always.

                2 Replies
                1. re: E Eto

                  E Eto writes: "First place I hit after getting in to LA from NYC on an early morning flight was Original Pancake House in Redondo Beach." Great idea, and the Redondo branch is next to a Bristol Farms -- one of the best large supermarkets in LA -- for those of you who live in the area.

                  If your late-night arrival in Los Angeles is long before OPH opens and you know the city, try the Pacific Dining Car, either downtown or in Santa Monica. It's a fine (and expensive) steakhouse that's open 24 hours. You can get excellent steak and eggs while reading one of the many newspapers available. Nerd warning: My Treo sometimes has reception problems at the downtown location.

                  1. re: E Eto

                    is that hashed browns to the right of the corned beef hash and eggs????

                  2. I agree with your premise, Mel. OPH is an exemplary chain restaurant. I think I've only eaten at three different ones. Two were terrific, featuring a staff that worked their tails off -- not just the waiters, but also the bussers and best of all, the hosts, who have empathy for those waiting in line, and truly try to be fair and good-humored. The third was only a cut above an IHOP.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      Would you mind pointing us away from the specific OPH that hasn't retained the high quality features that your previous visits provided?

                    2. Yep, it's the OPH on Charleston in Las Vegas.

                      1. The location in Madison, WI. is awesome! A++ The Monona location acn be as good but they keep the bacon pre-cooked under the heat lamps, so if you like your bacon rare you have to ask for it...B++ (service is not as good as Madison). Salt Lake City location is gorgeous, service is not as adept as WI. but they sell hats & t's! Solid B, but service should get better for they were rather new the few times I went in 2005. Overall one of the best chain resto experiences I have.

                        1. Do they still have the "Dutch Baby"? I'm not even sure how to describe it...a big moutain of crepey, pancakey goodness with a crisp outside and soft, eggy inside, dusted with powdered sugar...it was great drowned in syrup too. Probably had 4,000 calories.

                          1 Reply
                          1. Just stumbled across this discussion while googling the DC-area locations address and I had to add my two cents about the OPH in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The clientele was (we had to move away 15 years ago, but we com back every few years) a strange by amicable combination of South Side African Americans (especially on Sunday when they come in their post-church finery) and University of Chicago grad and undergrad students. For a chain from Oregon that didn't feature biscuits, gravy, or grits, it's the most southern feeling breakfast place I've been to out of the south. The food was definitely an A (taught me to appreciate good coffee, spoiled me for anything other than fresh-squeezed OJ and the 49er flapjacks (or sour dour as the typo'd menu put it, mmmmmmm.......), the decor a B (an A- when you add customer atmosphere), but the service was an A+. The waitresses reach a platonic ideal of breakfast service--fast(but not too fast), efficient, dignified, friendly but not cloying or tip-beggingly humble (because the KNEW you were goign to give them a good tip or they would hunt you down). Anyway I still get misty-eyed about it. The Wilmette branch, by comparison, had no character. The food was good but certainly not better, but the atmosphere was just too bland and suburban. I think now I might appreciate it as an artifact of 1950s Americana, but back then, it just creped me out.

                            The DC is perfectly fine as a longdistance substitute.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: John Svatek

                              How often did you make the 30-mile trip from Hyde Park to Wilmette? I was a University of Chicago student before OPH had a branch in Hyde Park, so I don't know about that one. And people do go into a restaurants with different needs and expectations. But after a hundred or more visits to the Wilmette location over the years (starting when I lived in Evanston), I can testify that the atmosphere there is anything but bland to this product of the E. St. Louis projects.

                            2. I've only ever been to the one in Portland. Used to go there all the time. Now we don't live there, but when we were back summer before last we made a point to visit. In addition to the wonderful food--although what they wanted for that glass of orange juice was frightening--they have really, really good coffee.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: revsharkie

                                The Portland location also has a nice communal table.

                              2. Nothing will ever, for me, compare to the Walker's Apple Pancakes, but, that said, The Original Pancake House in Falls Church, VA is a terrific place. The food's always very, very good, and it draws a clientele that is so mixed and wonderful and friendly, the whole experience is positive and delightful. I've never had even a so-so breakfast at TOPH here, and their corned beef special is something everyone should have at least once before they die.

                                Great place. I wish we had a Walker's, though. Them apple pancakes - YUM!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Atlantis

                                  I've lived in Arlington and Annapolis and agree that the Falls Church branch is the best in the DC area!

                                  1. re: Mel Gee

                                    Interesting. We have always really liked the Bethesda branch. My first and only visit to the FC branch didn't measure up. The service was horrible. However, it's been a while and I work around the corner, so I guess I can give it another shot.

                                    PS. the OPH on N. Federal on the Boca Raton-Delray line in Florida was always really, really good too.

                                2. I've lived in NYC since the end of 1974 but I grew up on the OHP in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. I sometimes find myself jonesing for good pancakes and have always been upset at the deplorable lack of them here in Manhattan. I was THRILLED when I saw that there was an OHP in Teaneck because friends (with car!) had just moved there. After ascertaining from my folks that the quality was still stellar at the GPW location, I hustled my friend over for a blast from the past.
                                  I wasn't disappointed. Predictably, I had the flapjacks and my friend had the blueberry pancakes. We were both over the moon (my friend doesn't even like pancakes), plus the service was exemplary--a very sweet, young, attentive waitress who in spite of her friendliness wasn't a pain in the ass. The food was exactly as I remembered it.
                                  I notice that what used to be called "German Pancake" is now the "Dutch Baby," which used to, in fact, be a smaller version of the German. I don't see corn pancakes anymore either; however, there are now chocolate chip. In addition, the menu is a LOT more extensive--back in the 70's it was pretty much limited to pancakes and waffles, eggs and meat, hot and cold cereal, and omelettes. Now there are more pancake and waffle varieties, crepes, burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc.
                                  I can't wait to go back (Dutch Baby next time). I was distressed to see that they'd been forced to cut their hours to 4 o'clock, which is sad (they're somewhat off the beaten track in that little shopping center and would be better off in a more visible location). Despite not being terribly flush at this point, I didn't find the food that expensive given the quality, size of portions (I was forced to doggy-bag it), and the fact that the price of flour has tripled recently. Great food, great chain.
                                  BTW, thanks for the heads up re the LV location--my folks live out there half the year so I'll tell them to avoid it.

                                  11 Replies
                                  1. re: MacGuffin

                                    LV has three locations; which one(s) should be avoided?

                                      1. re: MacGuffin


                                        Thanks. I did. And the broken conversation just didn't make sense which is why I asked for the precise location to be avoided. Also scrolling up on a thread doesn't tell me much, esp on a year-old thread in an industry where things can change over night.

                                        DiveFan: Assuming the one in Las Vegas is still going, it's a welcome relief from the Strip buffets and other chains.

                                        DaveFeldman: Yep, it's the OPH on Charleston in Las Vegas.

                                        MacGuffin: BTW, thanks for the heads up re the LV location--my folks live out there half the year so I'll tell them to avoid it.

                                        While Dive & Dave make it sound like OPH is good, you say you're going to tell your parents to avoid it.

                                        It still doesn't make sense to me...but I'm exhausted today. Perhaps with your clarity, you can 'splain it to me.

                                        1. re: OCAnn

                                          I've only been to the Charleston branch once, and thought it was just OK, but I can tell you that (IME) the W. Cheyenne branch is worse. They seem to be incapable of cooking crisp bacon -- service is iffy as well. Won't go there anymore. I've heard that the branch at Green Valley Ranch is good.

                                          1. re: Steve Green

                                            I went to OPH for the first time yesterday and I thought it was awful. Watery coffee, overly greasy hash browns and tasteless, dry pancakes. I don't get all the fuss.

                                            1. re: Steve Green

                                              Thanks Steve! =) Will try out the GVR or maybe even the Charleston OPH.

                                            2. re: OCAnn

                                              I'm going to tell my folks to avoid THAT LOCATION as opposed to the other two in LV given that someone had reported that it's not up to snuff. And despite its age, the thread's not all that long--30-something posts? I do agree, though, that things might have changed since it was written.

                                              1. re: OCAnn

                                                like another poster above, I too have eaten at the OPH in the South bay (on P.C.H.) and also at the Green Valley Ranch Hotel/Casino location in Henderson, NV (LV). I have enjoyed them both and feel that they live up to OPH quality and shouldn't be a negative for your parents.

                                                1. re: Big N Fat

                                                  I think you mean "MacGuffin"--the formatting is a tad counterintuitive. Thanks for the recommendation!
                                                  While I'm here, I ordered the Dutch Baby a few weeks ago in Fort Lee and was disappointed. Too high an egg-to-flour ratio and TOO THICK; it tasted more like a sweet, rubbery omelette than the German Pancakes/Dutch Babies I had growing up in Grosse Pointe. Thinner with more flour (or less egg?) produces true pancake pastry that's perfect for powdered sugar and lemon. They just didn't get this one right at all. I'm glad they didn't offer the option of the German because my disappointment would have been proportionately bigger.

                                                  1. re: MacGuffin

                                                    I had the buttermilk pancakes as a side to my main and I honestly thought they were the best pancakes I have ever eaten. When I go back I am going to order the pancakes as my main breakfast.

                                                  2. re: Big N Fat

                                                    BNF, thank you for the update & your input on the GVR location. =) "THAT LOCATION" doesn't really say anything....esp w/the "counterintuitive" formatting.

                                          2. I'm a big fan of the Original Pancake House; it's my go-to breakfast place in my travels. I've eaten at branches in eight different states all over the country. Most are very good indeed. I've eaten at a couple that are downright dreadful (including San Jose, California, and two visits to the location in Brookfield, suburban Milwaukee, where the food was woefully undercooked both times). I went to their original location in Portland and thought it was just okay, about average for the chain in terms of the food, and the decor was very ordinary and nondescript, with no hints that it was anything special.

                                            I often order the amazing, puffed-up, cinnamony apple pancake. Sometimes I get the puffed-up German pancake instead. And every once in a while, I get the Swedish pancakes or an omelet. All of these dishes are just heavenly.

                                            The six locations in suburban Chicago operating as Walker Brothers Original Pancake House really are an order of magnitude better, which is why it's the only franchisee allowed to put its own name on the door. For those who haven't visited them, all have a decor featuring lots of exposed wood and stained glass. The one in Wilmette is particularly amazing for stained glass aficionados, with huge panels of stained glass in the windows and I believe at least one original work by Louis C. Tiffany. It is also by far the highest grossing location in the entire OPH franchise. You can see pictures of some of the stained glass works in the Walker Brothers locations on their website at www.walkerbrosoph.com - click on "About Us" and then "Visit Walker Bros. Stained Glass Gallery".