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

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

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

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.

Fiji Airways Pancakes: Mini Review

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

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

“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

Jacob’s Pickles: Fried Chicken With a Side of Pancakes

New York City is known for a lot of fun food things: bagels the size of your face, pizza that people argue about, and delicious corned beef sandwiches. They are not known for their pancakes. But that didn’t stop me from trying to quench my pancake cravings. 

Jacob’s Pickles was a restaurant name that came up when I asked about pancake/breakfast recommendations. I read several rave reviews and saw they had pancakes with fried chicken, a seemingly elusive menu item that I think should be much more common, and so off I went. 

Visually, Jacob’s Pickles pancake platter did not disappoint. Two luxuriously sized pancakes were covered in honey and heavily sprinkled with bacon bits. They were topped with two beautifully crispy pieces of fried chicken on top. This was a stunning plate you couldn’t help but admire. 

The fried chicken was hands down delicious and the clear star of this dish. It was crispy, juicy, and meaty – everything you want in fried chicken. (Nighthawk could learn a lot from this place.)

The pancakes on the other hand were just ok. They were soaked in honey, which created a weirdly cloying sticky taste in my mouth that I didn’t care for. I think that had the pancakes been served by themselves, they would have scored even lower on the Tasty Stacks scale. The plate was so well presented it made me want to give these a higher rating but I just couldn’t. I would definitely come back here for their fried chicken and any number of other delicious items on their menu, but would likely not repeat a pancake order here. 

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Amazing fried chicken, mediocre pancakes.

Mouthfeel: Sticky and slightly confusing. 

Size: Two huge pancakes topped with two huge pieces of fried chicken.

Presentation: Beautifully adorned with buttermilk fried chicken, bacon bits, and honey (but too much honey).

Price: $17

Location: 509 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024

Does Crunchy Food Belong in Pancakes?

Marmalade Café, a local chain whose El Segundo location I visited, has a variety of interesting sounding pancakes: Dark Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Pineapple Upside-Down Pancake, 7 Grain & Almond Granola Pancakes, and Buttermilk. My gut told me to go with the pineapple pancakes, but since I had recently had pineapple pancakes at Shoop’s (pancake mecca), I opted to go for the 7 Grain & Almond Granola pancakes. They are described in the menu as being “Smothered in crunchy granola & sliced bananas.”

I don’t think anything crunchy should ever (with very rare exceptions) go on top of or inside a pancake. It ruins the dream of pretending the pancake you’re eating is a fluffy pillow of deliciousness. Pillows aren’t crunchy. But for some reason I wanted to challenge myself and was curious how this pancake interpretation would play out. 

The pancakes arrived as described, with a heap of granola scattered on top, and a large sliced banana. A questionable presentation decision was made by whoever sliced the banana but I wouldn’t hold that against them. The pancakes smelled like freshly baked banana bread hot out of the oven. 

All in all they were soft, fluffy, mildly sweet, and pretty good. The granola was not crunchy but had softened up under the heat, which was good for me but I actually think a little more crunch contrast would have been nice. The granola also had raisins, which did not thrill me.

If I had not taken half of the pancakes home for later the TastyStacks rating would likely be better. They became very dense and heavy pancake discs. I warmed them up and they were almost slightly soggy, and no one likes a soggy pancake. Still, I would go back here to try the pancakes that caught my eye in the first place. 

JUST THE STACKS – 6.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Fluffy and mildly sweet, strong banana bread aroma.

Mouthfeel: More dense as more time passed, beginning bites were nice.

Size: The short stack has 2 sizable pancakes.

Presentation: Nice display of granola sprinkling, questionable banana tip display.

Price: $10.99 – $16.99

Location: Multiple, I visited the El Segundo location: 2014 Park Pl, El Segundo, CA 90245

Just The Cutest: Dunkin’s Pancake Minis

Dunkin’ – my East Coast Coffee Love, recently announced a new menu item: mini pancakes! Not only that, but mini pancakes with 10 grams of protein! That’s basically the same as 1.5 eggs! I fondly remember drinking Dunkin’ iced hazelnut coffee during the winters in Boston. Because I was such a hearty New Englander back then, I insisted on drinking it during 20° degree days as well. Now, if you take me camping in Mojave in April, amidst the most gorgeous desert bloom and night stars, I will shiver at night when drops to the high forties. That desert cold hits different.

Back to the pancakes – I was excited to try these. Luckily, Dunkin’ exists on the West Coast too – though not in the same substantial numbers. I hopped to my nearest Dunkin’ and ordered a tiny stack of six super cute pancakes with a side of dipping syrup for under $3.

These were solidly good. In all honesty I found them a little dry, but it’s hard not be swayed by the adorableness of these. They are so cute they get an extra point on the TastyStacks scale. Where else can you grab coffee and a tiny stack of pancakes? Other online reviews of these says they taste like mini pancakes you can buy frozen in the grocery store. That’s probably true, but in that case I’d rather just make my own pancakes at home, and completely avoid the grocery store all together – I buy my pancake mix in bulk online.

I speed watched three YouTube videos reviewing Dunkin’ Minis and learned that 1) watching people eat online is annoying and weird and 2) the consensus is definitely “dry but cute.”

JUST THE STACKS – 7.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Solidly good.

Mouthfeel: A little dry.

Size: So tiny! So cute!

Presentation: Tiny pancake sack.

Price: $2.29-$2.99

Location: Somewhere near you! Maybe!

Semi-Annual Nighthawk Review

I last had Nighthawk pancakes nearly a year ago during peak pandemic. They were takeout pancakes and they “were excellent, but not outstanding.  They were perfectly fluffy, perfectly moist with an on-point mouthfeel, but something was missing.” I recently revisited Nighthawk in Venice Beach, in-person, and dined at their newly expanded outdoor back patio.

I had just come from a particularly treacherous kayak outing, where the winds picked up just as my dad and I turned around at the jetty and created impressively rough waves for being inside the marina. A sailboat lost control and very nearly careened into us, then regained steering at the last moment. So I was covered in ocean crud and extremely ready to eat pancakes.

Nighthawk currently has a one-hour dining limit, so the food came out pretty fast. The first thing I noticed about the “Big Bird and Short Stack” was that the fried chicken, which on several past occasions has been disappointing, looked much more robust and crispy. The second thing I noticed was the scallions. Sure, scallions are a tasty addition to fried chicken, but I just don’t agree with them being sprinkled on pancakes.

The pancakes were good, but not great. The taste seemed a little off to me, and they were slightly overcooked. The dish is served with a plate drizzle of “apple-cinnamon gastrique” which I forgot to ask they omit, because I don’t enjoy the taste of it. It adds a cloying sweetness that is not complementary to the already sweet pancakes. They were not the “perfectly fluffy” pancakes I was expecting, and the mouthfeel was a little disappointing.

In a role reversal, I thought the fried chicken was better than the pancakes this time. I ate all the fried chicken, and took half the pancakes home for “the leftover test.” I am saddened to report that they did not pass. They got worse when I reheated them, and were too dense in the middle.

I feel bad giving Nighthawk anything less than an eight on the TastyStacks scale, especially given pandemic restaurant challenges, but I know these pancakes could be better. The Candied Bacon Mary on the other hand, gets a 10/10 every time.

JUST THE STACKS – 7.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Good but not great. Very good fried chicken.

Mouthfeel: A little disappointing, dense bites.

Size: Three good looking pancakes that looked fluffy but weren’t quite there.

Presentation: Excellent, even despite my scallion criticism. This looks like a stack you want to sink your mouth into.

Price: $17

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

Morongo Casino: Gambling With Pancake Basics

They looked fluffy, but of course the real test happens in the mouth.

If you ever find yourself at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa and craving pancakes, you might want to go somewhere else. Morongo is located outside Palm Springs just before the wind turbines and is well equipped with lovely poolside cabanas, a very good steakhouse, AND Panda Express, but they fall short on their pancake performance.  

The Good Times Cafe, located within Morongo, seemed promising enough for pancakes. At the very least, it seemed like they had food we could eat. On the omelette menu, you can substitute toast for two large pancakes for only $2.99, a tempting offer after a night throwing your money at $25 blackjack tables.

Visually, the pancakes looked good. They were large and golden brown. The edges were lightly crisped, and the stack was topped with powdered sugar. They looked fluffy, but of course the real test happens in the mouth.

My fellow dining companion described them best, slicing them was “like cutting into a yoga mat.” One of the most important rules of pancake eating is that you should never have trouble cutting into a pancake. It does not foreshadow deliciousness, only dread. Anyways, these weren’t terrible but they weren’t that good. Ample amounts of butter and syrup improved them, obviously. 

I neglected to take any pancake photos, or least any worth viewing, so instead please enjoy this photo of wind turbines I could see from the hotel room. 

JUST THE STACKS – 5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Extreme mediocrity bordering on bad. 

Mouthfeel: Two-ply yoga mat.

Size: Two large pancakes – good value but not good taste.

Presentation: Deceptively nice.

Price: $2.99 – $8.99

Location: 49500 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230

Protein Pancake Series: Updated Birch Benders Review

Pandemic or not, I’ve been eating a fair amount of protein pancakes. Sometimes the commute from my bed to my desk seems insurmountable and then fast, delicious protein pancakes are the way to go. 

Before I met my favorite protein pancakes – Kodiak Cakes, my jam was Birch Benders. I gave them a 9/10 at the time and described their mouthfeel as “sweet fluff and protein fairies dancing on the tongue.”

I thought they missed the mark (egregiously) with their instant Keto Cup Pancakes, and gave them the harshest TastyStacks rating of Not Pancakes. But I still assumed their regular protein pancake mix, my old tried and true, were reliably delicious.

I tried them side by side with Kodiak Cakes for a real-time comparison. I even made the Birch Benders pancake second, giving them the preheated pancake edge. Aesthetically speaking, the Birch Benders pancake looked more golden brown when I flipped it. But that’s where the positives stopped.

They were fine, kind of. If our definition of “fine” means unfluffy pancakes that do not make my mouth happy. They were more dense than Kodiak Cakes, which are perfectly fluffy every time. Their texture paled in comparison.  They were dry and disappointing. I ended up freezing the Birch Benders pancake for some day when I’ve run out of Kodiak Cakes at the same time as a zombie apocalypse and really need an emergency pancake. 


JUST THE STACKS – 5/10 TASTY STACKS  

Overall Taste: Dry and flat and boring but not terrible.

Mouthfeel: Disappointing. I cheered myself up making pancake fruit faces. Cute, right?

Protein per serving: 16g

Carbs per serving: 26g

Price:  $4+ per box

Available at: Birch Benders and Amazon. But I suggest Kodiak Cakes instead.