The Kettle: A Manhattan Beach Gem (Except for the Pancakes)

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The Kettle restaurant, located in Manhattan Beach, CA has been serving food 24 hours a day since 1973. This Manhattan Beach landmark is adorned with, you guessed it, a giant kettle and a view of the ocean, depending on where you sit. 

I have walked by The Kettle dozens of times, but as it always looks packed with tourists and locals, never gone in. I decided it was time to change that on a Saturday afternoon during peak brunch hour. 

For how busy it was, the Kettle runs like a well-oiled machine. Service was swift, and the Lemon Pancakes I ordered arrived quickly given the crowds. They were pretty to look at, with powdered sugar and sliced fresh strawberries, but that is where the compliments end.

Was there lemon in them? Maybe. There were tiny flecks of what was probably lemon zest, but ultimately the pancakes were flavorless and disappointing. I added butter and syrup, which made them tolerable, but ended up leaving the majority of them behind. The older I get the less tolerant I am of bad pancakes. How hard can this be? It makes me wonder if some people don’t know what a good pancake tastes like, or maybe they just don’t care. The opportunity for crafting unexpectedly delicious pancakes was missed here. 

The best thing about The Kettle is anything other than the pancakes (my friend and I also both ordered egg dishes which were quite good), and its ocean proximity.

JUST THE STACKS – 2/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: The best thing on this plate was the strawberries, which were indeed fresh.

Mouthfeel: These bordered on a two-ply yoga mat mouthfeel, and looking back on that previous review makes me realize I have been real fucking lax with these arbitrary numbers.

Size: Average.

Presentation: Appealing. But an appealing presentation with a sad taste makes the whole experience even worse.

Price: $13.95

Location: 1138 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Shoop’s Semi Annual Review: The Best of the Best of the Best

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…what can only be described as delicious genius…

People frequently ask me where to get the best pancakes in the LA area. The answer is, hand down and without a doubt, Shoop’s Delicatessen in Santa Monica. 

They are now the standard to which I hold all other pancakes. They have mastered the art of pancake fluff and broken all the rules about savory pancakes in what can only be described as delicious genius.

Most notable about Shoop’s is the quality of their stuffed pancakes. Many places will throw on toppings like sliced strawberries and bananas without a care in the world about pancake integrity. Shoop’s will expertly bake these toppings into the pancake. They are evenly cooked throughout, with crisped buttery edges, and pancake fluff that would make even the harshest of food critics mouth-happy. 

This round of reviews takes a bite into: the Savory Tomato Basil Pancake, Savory Salmon Pancake, and Banana Pancakes.

Savory Tomato Basil: A tried and true favorite, always outstanding, consistently amazing. I have had this many times and it never disappoints. You might think there is too much going on in one oversized pancake – it’s filled with fresh tomato and basil and topped with two eggs, pesto, and feta. But somehow it works in the best way possible.

Savory Salmon Pancake: This was not my favorite to be honest. It could be because I am a salmon snob and like my salmon grilled on a George Foreman or in a backyard in Venice only. The smoked salmon by itself was delicious, and there was so much of it! No stingy toppings in sight at Shoop’s. The pancake was similarly delicious, expert level fluff with tasty, unexpected pockets of cream cheese. But something about the combo together just didn’t work for me. Because the technical pancake skills were obvious, no TastyStacks points were deducted for this. 

Banana Pancakes: Yes, just like the song, but way better because you can actually eat these, and they are mind-blowingly delicious. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since I first tried them. They are truly a “taste sensation,” just like the menu describes.

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: FUCKING LUSCIOUS.

Size: Strikes the perfect chord between thickness and width.

Presentation: A meaty stack of three or a giant pancake with all the fixings. Mouthwatering on all accounts.

Price: $11.95-$17.50

Location: 2400 Main St A1, Santa Monica, CA 90405 (Blocks from the beach! Ample cheap parking in the back.)

All Shoop’s Reviews!

Trader Joe’s Ube Mochi Pancakes: The Purple Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

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Who wouldn’t want purple pancakes?

I finally got my hands on the coveted Trader Joe’s Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix. I saw these years ago at my local Trader Joe’s and made the mistake of not buying them. Then I didn’t see them again for YEARS…until last week. 

The magic ingredient in these is ube (pronounced “ooh-bay”), a purple yam native to Southeast Asia. It has a mild flavor that is both slightly sweet and nutty and it is often used in desserts. The most alluring ube feature is its gorgeous purple color. Who wouldn’t want purple pancakes?

These required a lot more prep work then I’m used to. And by that I mean I had to get an egg out of my fridge and melt a tablespoon of butter in separate bowls. Crazy! For what it’s worth I’m used to using Kodiak Cakes mix where I just add water. And I don’t even measure the water anymore, I just kind of splash an unknown amount in there until it feels right. 

Anyways, I followed the directions exactly and whisked together the egg, melted butter, and water. Then I combined the wet mix with the ube mix and got a lovely lilac batter, which I poured on my griddle in very satisfying purple circles.

The pancakes retained most of their lavender color despite some browning on both sides. They weren’t as fluffy as I’d like, but that might be due to my griddle, and not the mix. I’d give them another .5 to 1 point increase if I can up the fluff factor.

The taste was unexpected and delightful! They were slightly chewy and sweet and tasted like a purple coconut delight. Were they a touch too sweet for everyday breakfast? Maybe. I’m more inclined to stick with my tried and true pancake mix for regular pancake-ing.

JUST THE STACKS – 7.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: If purple had a flavor this would be it (you might be thinking if purple had a flavor it would be grape but you would be wrong.)

Mouthfeel: Sweet, chewy, and coconutty – a real delight!

Price: $3.99

Available at: Your local Trader Joe’s. Maybe. Also overpriced at Amazon.

The Friendly Toast: Quirky Breakfast Delights

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On a recent visit to Portland, Maine I was thrilled to discover The Friendly Toast had opened a local location. I fondly remember the Friendly Toast from my days of living in Boston. Known for their impressive kitschy décor (think troll collections and cat figure displays) and all day breakfast, this was an obvious choice for pancakes. I grabbed two other breakfast buds and between the three of us we ordered the perfect trifecta: pancakes, waffles, and French toast. 

I had the Monster Breakfast, which is a stack of two pancakes or French toast, served with two eggs, homefries, and choice of side meat. The “sweet cream pancakes” are also available with blueberries, strawberries, chocolate chips, bananas, as well as a variety of more extreme variations, such as Oreo Cookie, Caramel Macchiato, and King Cakes.

The pancakes arrived topped with strawberries and powdered sugar, which might be my favorite current pancake style. They tasted slightly sweet with a hint of vanilla, making for an almost lovely bite. 

What’s missing from these stacks is the fluff factor. There is something so satisfying about biting into perfect pancake fluff and it can be noticeably disappointing when missing. Thicc stacks are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they’re better able to absorb syrup and other toppings. Despite this pancake misstep, The Friendly Toast excelled at their other breakfast options.

The waffle was described (unprompted) as “phenomenal” by my handsome dining companion. It had the same slightly sweet vanilla taste as the pancakes and the perfect outside crunch, making for delicious pocket bites of butter and syrup.

My second breakfast accomplice described the French toast as “one of the best I’ve ever had”, which might be one of the best reviews she has given any menu item, anywhere. Made with thicc sourdough, the bread was sweet, and the bites were luscious. 

After trying both the waffle and French toast, it’s clear the pancakes are not the stars at The Friendly Toast, but they more than make up for that with their other options. My rating is a reflection of the average score of the pancakes (6.5), waffles (10) , and French toast (10).

Despite the lackluster pancakes, I very much wish The Friendly Toast would open a location in Southern California. I would be knee deep in waffles and mimosa flights every weekend.

JUST THE STACKS – 8.8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: De-fucking-licious.

Mouthfeel: Aside from the flimsy pancakes, the waffles and French toast qualified for fluff heaven.

Size: Generous belly-filling sizes.

Presentation: Served on colorful plates with indulgent scoops of butter, strawberries, and powdered sugar. 

Price: $10-$20

Location: 211 Fore St, Portland, ME 04101

Various other locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Fiji Airways Pancakes: Mini Review

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On the way back from some of the best pancakes of my life, I was happy to get the chance to try the pancake breakfast option on Fiji Airways. Though the previous (coach) meals on Fiji Airways had actually been pretty good, I was not expecting a lot from the pancakes.  

They were, in fact, mediocre pancakes. The real problem was that they had the taste of being reheated in the microwave too long, where some bites were too dense and hard to chew.  But I was ready to accept any small form of joy on this 11 hour flight and there were some notably good things about them. First, they came with mini blueberries which are always a joy to have in pancakes. Second, there were surprise blueberry layers in between the pancakes, which delighted me in between seat kicks from the child sitting behind me. 

JUST THE STACKS – 5.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Blueberry-ish.

Mouthfeel: Microwave-chewy texture but only in some places.

Size: Cute sized stack.

Presentation: A little grim, as you can tell from the poorly lit photos. 

Price: The cost of a round trip plane ticket from LAX/NAN/SVU.

Location: www.fijiairways.com

Namale Resort and Spa: The Ultimate Pancake Date 

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All the mouthfeels at once!

Namale Resort and Spa, located in Savusavu, Fiji has some of the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted. It didn’t hurt that I ate them on a private deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a lush jungle background all around me, next to my favorite pancake date.

The pancakes are served in cute stacks of two or three, with a scoop of sweetened coconut crumbles on top. One bite and I was in heaven. They were slightly sweet with a soft undercurrent of vanilla and coconut. The outside edges were just slightly crispy and they had the perfect inside fluff factor. I added a small amount of syrup and butter for a truly decadent experience.

Namale also serves waffles, which have the same delightful coconut vanilla taste as the pancakes. They were a touch too dense for my liking (if I were going to critique one thing) but still delectable. Served with a light and sweet coconut cream and crisped coconut chunks, these had a playful texture.

I would have eaten pancakes every morning I was there, had the rest of the food not been so delicious as well. Thinking back, the 15 hour travel time it took to get from Los Angeles to Savusavu, Fiji was a small price to pay for these unforgettable sumptuous stacks.

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Magnificent, magical, luscious.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy, sweet, soft, and slightly crispy. All the mouthfeels at once!

Size: Just right whether you get them in stacks of two or three.

Presentation: Perfect pancake colors, perfect use of coconut.

Price: All inclusive means I ate as many pancakes as I physically could.

Location: Vanua Levu, 1 Hibiscus Hwy, Savusavu, Fiji

Jiggly Pancakes: When the Hype Doesn’t Match the Bite

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“Like biting into a memory foam mattress.”

In the heart of Pasadena, CA (with a second location in San Gabriel), lies Motto Tea Café—a haven for tea enthusiasts and seekers of Japanese souffle pancakes. Their menu boasts an extensive selection of teas and beverages, as well as a variety of souffle pancakes. While they warn that the pancakes may take 20-30 minutes or longer during peak times, my visit on a late Saturday afternoon rewarded me with a relatively short wait of about 10 minutes at most.  

Japanese souffle pancakes may best be known (at least on social media) for their jiggle. These ultra-light and ultra-fluffy stacks are made by incorporating whipped egg whites into the batter. This, along with cooking the pancakes at a low heat, gives them their signature airy texture and wiggle. 

I took along my pancake tasting partner and we ordered two kinds: Nutellamisu Mousse Souffle and Matcha Strawberry Pancake. 

Both stacks were served with a small amount of fresh fruit on the side and a large amount of sauce poured over top. Visually, they were fun and good looking and whimsical. And yes, they had a very satisfying jiggle. Taste-wise, the pancakes were a little disappointing.

They were a little bland, and very eggy, and very light. While the eggy element wasn’t unpleasant, it lacked the richness found in Dutch baby pancakes (also eggy). They resembled a mildly flavored eggy cheesecake, though without the expected burst of taste. The Nutellamisu Mousse Souffle arrived half-deflated, which isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just that as soon as these pancakes come off the heat, you only have so much time to take your Instagram Tik Toks before you lose the fluff-jiggle effect. They were also overly drenched in Nutella sauce and Oreo crumbles. I admit this was my fault as I had been swayed by the social media videos of the sauce all over them, and I wanted to experience the pancakes the way they were portrayed.
I do not recommend this. Get the sauce on the side so it doesn’t overpower the lightness of the pancake.

The second stack, Matcha Strawberry Pancake, was significantly fluffier and looked exactly like it did online, sauce and all. Nestled between the pancakes, was a delightful surprise of crushed blueberries and a light cream. This souffle stack was much tastier. The matcha sauce, with its delicate flavor, complemented the souffle’s own delicateness. Though we both liked this one better, there is just something about the souffle texture that didn’t appeal pancake-wise. Unfortunately, I would not come back here for the pancakes but I would come back here for the massive tea menu.

JUST THE STACKS – 6/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: A little boring. 

Mouthfeel: “Like biting into a memory foam mattress.”

Size: Tall and thicc.

Presentation: Cascading sauce and a nice jiggle, the presentation is the high point for these pancakes. 

Price: $15.50-$16.95

Location: Pasadena and San Gabriel, CA

The Pancake Spott: Bring A Pancake Truck to Work Day

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If whimsy were a mouthfeel these would be the definition of it.

As the return-to-work debate lingers on, many employers have turned to creative work perks to encourage employees to return to the office. One of the best things to come out of this pretty stupid circular discussion, was that I had the opportunity to bring in a pancake truck to one of my former workplaces. 

There is no shortage of pancake trucks and mobile pancake stands in the LA area that specialize in mini pancakes. I reached out to several via social media and ended up hiring The Pancake Spott

The Pancake Spott pulled up in a neon pink and purple trailer, decorated with giant mini pancakes all over. I know I’m not rating truck designs here, but it really set the pancake mood. 

Because this was a catered event, each person could order, in theory, as many pancakes as they wanted. Unlimited mini pancakes! Served in portions of ten mini pancakes, toppings included nutella, caramel sauce, dulce de leche, chocolate sauce, oreo crumbles, strawberries, bananas, fruity pebble cereal, and ice cream.

The pancakes were slightly sweet on their own, like little whimsical puffs of deliciousness. Something about mini pancakes (presumably their size) allows for the perfect bite-sized bit of fluff factor in the middle. 

I am usually a pancake topping minimalist at heart but in the name of pancake research, I wanted to try the full array of toppings. For my first round I chose nutella, strawberry, and banana, which is a guaranteed trio of deliciousness. The fruit was fresh, and in large enough quantities that you actually felt like you were getting a hearty serving. The nutella topping was well portioned and didn’t overshadow the pancakes themselves.

For my second round, I started with the same winning topping trio and added oreo crumbles, dulce de leche, and a scoop of ice cream. Too many pancake toppings can definitely overwhelm pancakes, but even with my second heavily topped serving, it was somehow the perfect symphony of sweetness and decadence. 

My favorite part was that The Pancake Spott set up a gorgeous platter of pancakes, using the rest of the pancake batter they had portioned for this event. Sprinkled with fruity pebble bits and a strawberry center, I wished I had a pancake party to take it to. 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Mini bursts of deliciousness.

Mouthfeel: If whimsy were a mouthfeel these would be the definition of it.

Size: Tiny masterpieces, bite-sized wonders.

Presentation: Ten of the cutest pancakes, topped with whatever your heart desires, as long as it has been previously stocked in the pancake truck.

Location: https://www.instagram.com/thepancakespott/?hl=en

Traveling in the Wilmington, CA area, also available for catering.

Breakfast Bliss by the Bay: Sandusky Bay Pancake House

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The best of both muffin top and pancake worlds.

The best thing about the middle of winter in Sandusky, Ohio is Kalahari Resorts – one of the largest indoor waterparks in the US. The very next best thing is the Sandusky Bay Pancake House, conveniently located just down the road. 

This place takes their pancakes seriously. They have stuffed potato pancakes (three kinds including pot roast!), vegan pancakes, oatmeal cream pie pancakes, and even a giant bloody mary that comes with a pancake. After careful deliberation (pancake triage), I ordered the Blueberry Muffin Top Pancakes and the Pigs in a Blanket Pancakes. 

The Blueberry Muffin Top Pancakes, made with blueberry muffin tops crumbled into the pancake batter, were divine. This was a pancake combination I hadn’t encountered before, a surprising feat in itself. Served as a spread out stack of three reasonably sized pancakes, drizzled with powdered sugar and blueberry frosting, it was the best of both muffin top and pancake worlds. The crumbly muffin texture paired perfectly with the fluffy pancakes.

The Pigs in a Blanket Pancakes, for all my meat eating readers out there, are exactly what they sound like – sausage rolled inside a pancake, served with powdered sugar on top. Also served in reasonably sized sets of three, these were a winning combination of sweet and salty, the perfect merger of meat and pancake. More foods should be rolled up into pancakes like this.

JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Buttery blueberry muffin pancakes and savory sausages inside a pillowy pancake base with slightly crisped edges, what more could you ask for?

Mouthfeel: Melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Size: Not too big, not too small – AKA Goldilocks style.

Presentation: Spread-stack vs the traditional tall stack, allows for more universal coverage of the powdered sugar plus toppings. 

Price: $10+

Location: 4710 Milan Rd, Sandusky, OH 44870

Bonus quote presented without context by my pancake companion: “A cool day in hell when I eat a bite of pancake without any syrup on it.”

Costco Pancake Samples: Mini Review

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A pure delight amid crowds of people staring at shrimp platters 

Costco samples are back in full force and that means pancake samples! Mini pancake samples! If there is anything that can soothe spending a weekend afternoon braving the Costco crowds, it’s mini pancakes gently soaked in syrup. My local Costco was serving up Kodiak Cakes brand instant pancake mix (Original Buttermilk), which is one of my most highly rated and favorite protein pancake brands. Costco was able to expertly serve these in a grab and go style sample. A pure delight amid crowds of people staring at shrimp platters (including me).

JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Really good, Kodiak Cakes works well as any size pancake.

Mouthfeel: So cute, so sweet, so uplifting.

Size: Mini.

Presentation: Single mini pancake dredged in syrup. Not the most photogenic, but one of the most delicious mini bites out of all the Costco samples. 

Price: Free with membership.

Location: At a Costco near you, hopefully!