Mini Review: Japanese Pancake Balls

Moto Azabu Sushi Bar & Grill, in Marina Del Rey, CA has reopened under social distancing guidelines, and is the perfect place to have your temperature taken and wear a mask in between sunny, sushi bites. I’ve been here several times and this was the first time I noticed Japanese Pancake Balls on the menu. The pancake signal rang out, and I answered.

They were cute. Four perfectly browned pancake balls with veggies and octopus inside, topped with bonito, seaweed flakes, pickled ginger, mayo, and “special sauce.”

The balls tasted like pancakes, maybe slightly more fried. The octopus inside was tasty, and all the toppings worked well. We may never know what the special sauce contains, but the whole appetizer was flavorful with a savory, complex mouthfeel.

JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Slightly sweet and definite pancake flavor, plus octopus bites.

Mouthfeel: A little bit crunchy, a little bit creamy, a lot of delicious.

Size: Four large pancake balls.

Presentation: Nice small-sized ingredient stacking on top.

Price: $6

Location: 517 W Washington Blvd 2nd Floor, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

The Nighthawk Saga Continues: Takeout Celebration Stacks Part Two

 Obviously, I am going to keep eating Nighthawk pancakes. How could I not? 

Nighthawk and I have a delicious, yet complicated relationship. They were my first pancake loves of Los Angeles, and it’s hard to forget those early days of “super fucking delicious pancakes that elate your taste-buds in ways you might not have thought possible.” Then I had to end things due to poor pancake behavior. Then I decided to give them another chance and was pleasantly surprised, for the most part.

That brings us to May of 2020, in which we find ourselves in the midst of an actual pandemic, which is something we all used to read or watch disaster porn about (well I did), but never truly expect to live through. It also brings us to my annual celebration of another trip around the sun which called for a pancake celebration. 

My three person Quarantine Crew (who shall remain masked and anonymous) and I decided we would venture out to Nighthawk for takeout pancakes. Actually, I decided, because #birthdayrules. We were immediately shocked by the normalness of Venice Beach; people were biking in big groups and others were strolling mask-less without a care in the world. It was wild. We picked up our pancakes and to-go Candied Bacon Mary’s and got the hell out of there. 

I have acknowledged that takeout pancakes are going to have a tough time competing with the dining-in experience. So with that in mind, these sweet potato pancakes that don’t taste like sweet potatoes were excellent, but not outstanding.  They were perfectly fluffy, perfectly moist with an on-point mouthfeel, but something was missing.

Maybe it was the fried chicken, which was nearly inedible. Because this is an integral part of this dish, Nighthawk lost points on the TastyStacks scale (which has been adjusted to account for pandemic takeout times).  It was pretty sad, because Nighthawk used to have really fucking good fried chicken. 

The Candied Bacon Mary’s here are outstanding; they pack a spicy and exciting punch. I was thrilled we could get them for takeout. One person in my three person Quarantine Crew strongly disagreed with my taste buds on this and didn’t even want to finish his, which was a win-win for me.

Obviously, I am going to keep eating Nighthawk pancakes. How could I not? 

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Delicious stacks of almost-heaven.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy and moist. 

Size: Standard Nighthawk three-piler. 

Presentation: Great. How do people like my re-plating skills?

Price: $17

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

J Nichols Kitchen: Takeout Celebration Stacks Part One

For a variety of reasons, all pandemic related, the pancakes needed to be takeout and I couldn’t even bring them to the beach to eat them.

J Nichols Kitchen, in Marina del Rey, serves a menu item called “Pork & Pancakes” that I had to have.  Described as “pancakes layered with house-smoked bbq pork, maple pecan butter, and a sunny side up egg” this seemed like the perfect excessive way to celebrate my second year in LA. Also, I learned nothing from my previous piled-high meal.

For a variety of reasons, all pandemic related, the pancakes needed to be takeout and I couldn’t even bring them to the beach to eat them. This was probably for the best because who likes sandy pancakes?  Takeout pancakes are risky. The temperature is no longer perfect once you get home to eat them. You may have to re-plate them for photos. Pancake life is tough.

The pancakes themselves were great. The mouthfeel was an explosion of taste in all the right ways. They were fluffy and buttery rich. The house-smoked bbq pork was delicious. The egg…was an egg. 

It was all too much for a pancake, or three small but hefty pancakes. I ended up scraping off the bbq pork and eating it separately. There was enough for a whole second meal. I thought there was too much bbq sauce and scraped that off as well, to a small abandoned pile on my plate. 

The lesson here is that just because you can top your pancake (or waffle) with every fucking thing you want, doesn’t mean you should.

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: There’s no denying these pancakes were excellent.

Mouthfeel: Pretty damn good, see “explosion of taste” comment above.

Size: Pancakes were appropriately sized for their richness, though there was too much bbq pork and sauce on top of them.

Presentation: Meaty and messy.

Price: $17

Location: 4375 Glencoe Ave, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Bru’s Wiffle: The Inaugural Waffle Post

Back in early March, when it was still fun to watch the movie Contagion and go to crowded restaurants, I ate at Bru’s Wiffle in Marina Del Rey. Bru’s Wiffle specializes in waffles, making this the very first TastyStacks waffle review.

The waffle combinations here are wild. I don’t know how anyone can make a decision or expect to not be in a food coma. The full menu is worth reading if you are into dessert porn. In brief, they serve every kind of sweet or savory waffle explosion: Banana Split, Red Velvet, Churro, the King (peanut butter, banana, bacon), Green Salsa, Golden Goat, Huevos Rancheros, and the list goes on. 

The savory waffle combinations all come with fried chicken. If you’re thinking the “Chicken on Fire”  waffle that comes with onions, peppers, jalapenos, cheese, “blazing sauce,” and fried chicken might be too much, you would be correct. I was tempted to try it because of the spice implication. For some reason, the waitress asked if I wanted to add eggs to this already monstrous combination and I said yes.

Our waffles arrived and all looked like they were on steroids, with the exception of my date’s waffle. Regular readers will remember him from his “no foreign objects” preferences.  Holding true to this, he went with the basic Chicken and Waffles combo, which is the way to go.

The fried chicken and waffles on their own are both very good. They don’t need to be drowned with toppings. It’s too much for even the most sturdy waffle to handle. There are only so many toppings you can dump on before you start asking “what’s the point?

The Chicken on Fire waffle combination was disappointingly not spicy. There was too much sauce which was a turn off. There was also too much cheese, which is not something people usually complain about. All in all, I wished I had gotten the basic Chicken and Waffle combo (“Dwight’s Special). It was fun to order a truly egregiously topped waffle, but the flavors didn’t hold up, it was overwhelming and not in a delicious way.

JUST THE STACKS – 6.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: The score is mainly for the basic chicken & waffles, which are very good on their own. Points were subtracted because of the excessive ingredient dumping on most of the other waffles and false spice advertising. 

Mouthfeel: Basic chicken & waffles had as close to a perfect mouthfeel as you can get with waffles and the fried chicken was well done and crispy.

Size: Massive. My order veered into egregious and overwhelming territory.

Presentation: Fun!

Price: $12.95 – $18.95

Location: 3105 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

TastyStacks Turns One!

A brief rundown of my year in pancakes – pour yourself some syrup and enjoy.

For everyone who asks me what my favorite pancakes have been so far, I always mention Nighthawk, but with a caveat. Nighthawk was my absolute favorite, and also my first review. Then I had to break up with them, and it was not because of my shoeless date. Then Nighthawk redeemed themselves and has been back in my pancake cravings ever since, with only slight suspicion.

I ate a lot of mediocre pancakes, including an all-you-can-eat pancake date with a time limit. I had several really bad pancakes, some of which forced me to create the category “Not Pancakes.” I’ll save you the trouble of clicking that link and let you know that Erewhon makes raw vegan bullshit pancakes that are flat and circular shaped but are most definitely not pancakes. And Birch Benders, which makes one of my favorite protein pancake mixes, totally misses the mark on what makes a pancake with their dreadful “Keto Cups.” Hard pass.

I ate a ton of protein pancakes and pretended to be a runner. Just kidding, I have never pretended to be a runner, though I have finisher medals that say otherwise. You can let me have this humble running brag, as running is basically my kryptonite.

Finally, I had a lot of delicious pancakes and met a handsome pancake purist along the way (only excessive syrup allowed) who didn’t mind when I accidentally flung pancake pieces at him. I look forward to another year consuming delicious carbs and contemplating mouthfeel. And remember, you should never have trouble cutting pancakes.

Pre-Pandemic Pancakes: Home Run Happiness

Slightly sweet and full of impeccable pancake flavor, these shocked me with how good they were. 

In pre-pandemic days, when you could still eat inside restaurants and breathe in people’s faces, I had pancakes at Clutch and Coffee in Torrance, CA. These weren’t just pancakes though, they were really fucking good pancakes. Spoiler alert: I’m giving them a 10/10 on the TastyStacks scale. They are only the third restaurant ever to achieve this mouth-happy rating. The other two are Shoop’s and Nighthawk.

Back when you could travel in large groups I came here with an army of seven, including myself. Doesn’t that seem incredible now? And also maybe no longer allowed depending on where you live? Anyways, the point is we met at Clutch and Coffee at 8 am, which is exactly 10 minutes before it gets crowded.

I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t in the mood for pancakes that morning. Luckily, I’m dating someone who offered to get an order of pancakes as his breakfast so I could try them.  He went with the Buttermilk Pancakes but the menu also offers Strawberry, Blueberry, and Banana Cream Pancakes.

They arrived in a large fluffy stack of three with powdered sugar and butter on top. I took a bite before my date drowned them in syrup and was taken aback by how good they were. I also instantly regretted not getting my own plate.

They were perfectly fluffy. The mouthfeel was a luscious surprise of bliss, much like my date. They didn’t need syrup or any extra “foreign objects” and therefore easily scored the highest level on the naked test. Slightly sweet and full of impeccable pancake flavor, these shocked me with how good they were. 

More good news! Clutch and Coffee is still open for pickup and delivery. They are sadly outside my delivery range at the moment, but maybe they aren’t outside yours! 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Surprisingly perfect happiness.

Mouthfeel: Deceptively delicious.

Size: Large and fluffy and beautiful.

Presentation: Three marvelous stacks with powdered sugar and a dollop of butter on top.

Price: $7.95 – $9.95

Location: 1321 El Prado Ave, Torrance, CA 90501

Paula’s Pancake House: Solvang’s Well Known Pancake Gem

I tend to want to envelop my pancakes in strawberries though, so maybe the amount they use is reasonable.

Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang, CA is known for their their thin, crêpe-like Danish pancakes. I came here on a Sunday morning date which is obviously the most crowded time to go. You would think there were no other cafes or restaurants nearby serving breakfast. There are, but I don’t know if they serve pancakes. To be honest, this place had been on my radar for awhile, but I didn’t want to drive to Solvang by myself, so I convinced my date to drive me. Win-win!

Once we were finally seated, our appetites had become immense and we promptly over-ordered a variety of breakfast food. Our food platters arrived and I thought the pancakes looked lovely. My date thought the whipped cream looked “sad” which I disagreed with. I have seen some tragic whipped cream on pancakes, and this wasn’t that. I also ordered them with strawberries, which went against my dates’ “no foreign objects on pancakes” policy. This meant I got all the strawberries, so it was another win-win.

The pancakes were solidly good, but I don’t think there was anything outstanding about them. They tasted like thick crêpes (but not quite the traditional pancake) and were slightly sweet on their own. The menu describes them as “World Famous Danish Pancakes” and they can be ordered with blueberries, warm cinnamon apples, Danish sausage or ham, or even simple powdered sugar and butter.

Paula’s also serves regular pancakes (including a variety of fillings) and Whole Wheat and Honey Pancakes, which I didn’t get a chance to try. I’d like to go back and order an entire pancake variety spread someday.

Overall, this place is a little too touristy which I found off-putting, but I did thoroughly enjoy my pancakes. The strawberry quality was good, though I think they could have used more. I tend to want to envelop my pancakes in strawberries though, so maybe the amount they use is reasonable. Paula’s also has excellent bacon, some of which I tucked in my purse for a snack on the drive home. 

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Solidly good. Slightly sweet and creamy.

Mouthfeel: Delicate and pleasant.

Size: Large.

Presentation: Two healthy-sized thin pancakes, topped with whipped cream (which may or may not have looked sad) and strawberries.

Price: $8.50 – $11.75

Location: 1531 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463

Country Touch Cafe: More Than a Touch Too Chewy

Immediately, I knew there would be trouble. You should never have trouble cutting a pancake.

Country Touch Cafe, located in Torrance, CA is an adorable hole-in-the-wall diner with delightfully decorated mugs and charming decor which include painted saws hanging from the wall. As lovable as this place is, it is not a good place to order pancakes. In fact, it is a bad place to order pancakes.

I came here on a date with the aforementioned blue-eyed space guy (who I guess was not terribly put off by my food flinging) and we both ordered omelettes. I was unable to resist trying their pancakes too, labeled only as “Hot Cakes” on the menu.

I tried to cut a piece of pancake with my fork, which should be easy to do, but was challenging. Immediately, I knew there would be trouble. You should never have trouble cutting a pancake. It’s a sign they will be chewy and unpleasant to eat.

I sampled a mouthful and it was bad. I tried them with butter and syrup and they were still bad. My date, who continued his disturbing pancake preferences by revealing he liked to “murder his pancakes with syrup” did so and also found them bad.

Honestly, I felt guilty because this place is so sweet. I think I ate half trying to convince myself they were not that bad. On the plus side, these weren’t as inedible as the infamous Mel’s, which is why they have a higher rating.

My date was kind about my pancake disappointment, and told me it was ok I didn’t like them. At one point, while trying to decide if his eyes were actually blue or some delicate variation I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I picked up the milk saucer instead of the syrup and proceeded to pour milk over the pancakes. Despite this extra moisture, the pancakes were still hard to cut.

If you’re in the area and craving standard diner food or maybe the Bul-Goki Omelette I saw on the menu, you should come here. I’d come back for the mugs, which I wanted to steal (but didn’t). Just don’t order the pancakes.

JUST THE STACKS – 2/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Not good.

Mouthfeel: Bad.

Size: Large.

Presentation: Standard pancake on pancake.

Price: $5.95 – $8.45

Location: 3717 W 190th St, Torrance, CA 90504

Sage Plant Based Bistro: Cornbread Cakes

…if you’re going to carb up you might as well do it right.

Sage Plant Based Bistro in Culver City, CA was calling my name one random morning in the week between Christmas and New Years when time is in limbo and no one is quite sure what day it is. Despite being a hardcore meat lover, I’ve never missed it at this vegan restaurant. They have three locations in Southern California and one of the best meat-free taco salads I’ve ever had. But today was about pancakes.

I ordered the Cornbread Jalapeño Pancakes, served with the standard vegan butter and syrup, plus avocado, black beans, and rice. I also ordered hash browns because if you’re going to carb up you might as well do it right. These pancakes are gluten-free and soy-free too if you’re keeping track of those things. 

My first bite sans butter or syrup was good but a little plain. I added butter and an appropriate amount of syrup which easily elevated these to outstanding. Imagine perfectly moist cornbread in pancake form, lightly soaked in buttery syrup, spice, and deliciousness. 

The pancakes had tiny jalapeño flecks inside and a cute little kick to them. In case that’s not enough heat for someone (me), they also added three jalapeño slices on top. A sweet, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth cornbread pancake is hard to beat. Cafe Vida, also in Culver City, comes close but is missing that punch I can’t get enough of. 

The hash browns were similarly outstanding, perfectly crisped on top. I liked that the pancakes came with black beans, rice, and avocado. It felt like a complete (and completely decadent) meal. Go here and eat cornbread the way it should be eaten – as a pancake.

JUST THE STACKS – 9.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Tasty as fuck. 

Mouthfeel: Melt-in-your-mouth happiness.

Size: Cute-sized.

Presentation: Three pancakes each topped with a delightful jalapeño slice.

Price: $16.00

Location: 4130 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

Loaded Cafe: A Burst of Berries

Some people, like my date, would argue that a syrup-moist pancake is the only way to go.

Despite swearing off eating pancakes with boys after my last failed pancake dating experience, I recently ended up at The Loaded Cafe in Lawndale, CA with a handsome blue-eyed boy who immediately impressed me with his knowledge of rockets as well as an interest in ordering lots of food.

The Loaded Cafe has six locations in Los Angeles and offers several hefty pancake options: Strawberry Banana, Strawberry Blueberry, New York Strawberry Cheesecake, and Chocolate Chip. 

I chose the Strawberry Blueberry Combo which comes with eggs, hash browns, and bacon or sausage. Places that offer pancake combos get an automatic extra point on the Tasty Stacks scale. 

My pancakes arrived in a cute stack of two topped with strawberries and a deflated mound of whipped cream. They were obviously fluffy and had a substantial amount of blueberries inside.

It was at this point that my date disclosed several disturbing pancake preferences that I tried to be open-minded about; namely that he didn’t like “foreign objects” in his pancakes. Not even chocolate chips, which is fucking egregious.  

He tried several bites, trying to excavate pancake pieces without berries. The blueberries, by the way, were excellent. They were cooked into the batter just about perfectly, which is hard to do without compromising consistency. I must have had an offended look on my face, because my date did try a loaded bite, complete with a strawberry on top. 

“I was right, that’s just unnatural.” 

Have you ever met someone so wrong about something it’s more fascinating than offensive? That’s what was happening here. 

We both agreed the pancakes had a rich buttery flavor, except when I agreed I did so by emphatically gesturing with my knife which had pancake pieces on it. Yes, they flew in my date’s direction and narrowly missed him. So maybe there will be another date. 

My only pancake criticism is that they did not pass the “naked” test with flying colors (few pancakes do) but were improved with syrup. Some people, like my date, would argue that a syrup-moist pancake is the only way to go.  Overall, these pancakes lived up to the their “loaded” namesake and were pretty tasty. They had a slightly crisped top, a high fluff factor, and an abundance of juicy berries.

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Solidly “good” and improved with syrup.

Mouthfeel: Buttery and fluffy and bursting with berries.

Size: Medium and appropriately sized for being part of a combo.

Presentation: A short stack of two pancakes, topped with powdered sugar, strawberries, and deflated whipped cream. 

Price: $11.99

Location: 15126-B Hawthorne Blvd, Lawndale, CA 90260