Keto Cakes: Birch Benders Keto Pancake Mix

These are not ideal for travel. My pancake nearly fell apart when I tried to take a photo of it next to my face.

Keto is IN and carbs are OUT. At least that’s the message I get from the Keto Corner at Erewhon in Venice, CA. Keto muffins! Keto cookies! Keto bread! All the delicious carbs you want to eat but can’t but now you CAN. Including, you guessed it, pancakes!

I am not a nutritionist (obviously) and I don’t understand how food high in fat and cholesterol is better for you than food high in delicious carbs. But in the name of keto pancake research, I tried Birch Benders Keto Pancake mix. I chose Birch Benders because they have very fucking tasty pancake mixes that have never led me astray. 

Mix, water, skillet, heat, and bam! Keto pancakes!

The first thing I noticed was a salty flavor, which was confusing. Perhaps this is to make up for the taste that went missing when the carbs took a hike. These weren’t as fluffy as full on carb pancakes either. They didn’t have that decadent buttermilk flavor that almost melts in your mouth. 

The second thing I noticed was that this was a flimsy flapjack. These are not ideal for travel. My pancake nearly fell apart when I tried to take a photo of it next to my face. This did not substantially impact my rating, but I do appreciate a sturdy stack with some heft. 

Overall these weren’t bad, and are probably a decent choice if you’re riding the keto wave, but I recommend adding chocolate chips. In the future, I don’t know that I’d choose the 11 grams of fat and 40% of my daily cholesterol intake over the 26 grams of carbs in my regular Birch Benders Protein Mix.

JUST THE STACKS – 6.5/10 TASTY STACKS  

Overall Taste: Not bad, not great. Almost pleasant.

Mouthfeel:  Slightly salty, light, and delicate. Like a cloud.

Protein per serving:  9g per 1/2 cup.

Price:  $5.99 – $8.99 for 16 oz.

Available at: So many places! Also Amazon.

Protein Pancake Series: Flapjacked

The Banana Hazelnut flavor is excellent, it’s slightly sweet and slightly nutty (much like myself).

Flapjacked was the first protein pancake brand I discovered when looking for something better than my two ingredient egg & banana pancakes. A lot of people rave about egg and banana pancakes and while it’s nifty you only need two ingredients for them, I need that perfect pancake fluff. 

Along came Flapjacked! They started off strong, with a great name, emphasizing the “Jacked” in their logo. Their mix doubles as a baking mix and I have made some delicious protein donuts from them. (You have to think about them as protein donuts and not real donuts, otherwise you’ll be disappointed.)

All you need to add to the mix is water, but you can use an egg or milk instead. Versatile! I have fond memories of making these in my tiny basement apartment in Boston especially during the occasional snow day. Snow day pancakes are a delight best experienced and not described. 

Flapjacked was my favorite until I discovered Birch Benders, which I find to have a bigger fluff factor. I recently tried the Flapjacked mix again in the name of pancake research. Also, Birch Benders doesn’t have a Banana Hazelnut flavor (hint, hint).

Half a cup gives you 20g of protein, which is plenty, unless you want to make a giant pancake. Then you need a full cup and an activity planned to put all that protein to good use. I used the Banana Hazelnut flavor and added chocolate chips. Flapjacked also has Buttermilk, Carrot Spice, and Cinnamon Apple mixes in addition to a line of Mighty Muffins, Protein Cookie Mixes, and Cookie Bars.

My pancake was not as giant as I would have liked, but that’s hardly a criticism. The Banana Hazelnut flavor is excellent, it’s slightly sweet and slightly nutty (much like myself). It’s also slightly grainy, so if you don’t like that in pancakes you might not love this mix. They’re fluffy, but Birch Benders still exceeds them in the fluff factor. Something about the texture didn’t thrill my mouth, but overall Flapjacked is a solid and sturdy choice for a protein pancake mix.

JUST THE STACKS – 7.5/10 TASTY STACKS  

Overall Taste: Slightly sweet, nutty, & grainy. Good but not outstanding.

Mouthfeel: Something was a little off in this department.

Protein per serving:  20g per 1/2 cup.

Price: $6.99 – $12.99

Available at: Amazon, the Internet at large, grocery stores.

Killer Cafe: Strong Stacks

Have these pancakes been lifting?


The Killer Cafe (open 24 hours!) in Marina Del Rey, CA has always struck me as a tourist restaurant, so I wasn’t expecting outstanding pancakes. And I didn’t get outstanding pancakes. What I did get was a giant fucking plate of pancakes. They weren’t as large as The Griddle Cafe, these were stacks you could actually work through. They were fluffy and hearty and very visually appealing. My friend described them as good value pancakes, and at $11 he was right. 

We both ordered the plain Buttermilk pancakes. You can get these topped with blueberries, strawberries, or bananas, for a slightly outrageous three dollars more. As two sets of massive stacks were placed in front of us, a woman stared in astonishment and asked a server what they were. They were quite impressive, and I guess to some people, bewildering. 

I tasted these “naked” first, without butter or syrup, and found them a little on the chewy side and not incredibly flavorful. There are debates to be had about whether pancakes should be able to stand alone or are made to be enjoyed doused in syrup or butter. 

I can see both sides to this. All I’m going to say is it’s a lot of fun to watch someone pour syrup over a giant pancake stack, sticky sugar cascading in all directions, and then dive right in and eat the entire fucking thing. Really impressive work. If I were flirting, (which I never am) I would call it really fucking sexy. 

In any case, after treating my pancakes with a healthy helping of butter and syrup, they were greatly improved. Thick pancakes soak this stuff up really well. These would also make great travel pancakes. They have the heft to withstand a decent journey.

Would I go back to Killer Cafe? Absolutely. But it would probably be for the Killer Shrimp, served in a spicy sauce that is out-of-this-world outstanding. The pancakes here just can’t compete with that. 

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Good but definitely needed the butter & syrup enhancements.

Mouthfeel: A little too chewy on their own, but nice doused in butter & syrup.

Size: Beefy. Have these pancakes been lifting?

Presentation: Impressive and astonishing to bystanders.

Price: $11 – $14

Location: 4213 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Ted’s Bulletin: Summer Stacks

The clump of berries and chocolate tasted like a clump of berries and chocolate.

Ted’s Bulletin in Washington D.C. boasts about their homemade Pop-Tarts, “Ted’s Tarts”, but because I am a rebel I ordered the pancakes. The pancakes come with eggs, hash browns, and a choice of meat. You can add blueberries, strawberries, or chocolate chips. If you’re into decadence like I am, you can choose a combination. I went with both chocolate chips and strawberries.

The pancakes arrived in a solid stack of three. For a moment I was concerned they had forgotten the semi-critical chocolate chip strawberry components. A quick check of the underside revealed they had not. It also revealed a messy clump of berries and chocolate. I did not find it aesthetically pleasing, so there’s no picture of this jumble.

The pancakes were good, but not great. The clump of berries and chocolate tasted like a clump of berries and chocolate. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not outstanding. I have had chocolate chip strawberry pancakes done right. It’s tricky but not THAT tricky. The strawberries could have been cut into smaller pieces and spread out more. The batter could have been a little less chewy and a little more on the melt-in-your-mouth side.

Overall, this is a fun breakfast place. I’d come back, but probably to try “Ted’s Tarts”. I can also recommend following it up with truffle popcorn and frosé at Commissary, but you have to watch out for that one creep who interrupts your afternoon with your friend and nearly reaches his hand into your popcorn bowl.

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: A solid “good,” but I didn’t swoon over these.

Mouthfeel: A little on the chewy side. Not the good kind of chewy.

Size: Adequately sized especially since they were served with several other breakfast items.

Presentation: Messy on the underside, pristine on the top.

Price: $10.95 – $13.95

Location: 1818 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009



Nighthawk Returns…Or Does It?

If you’ve ever thought you could lay your head on a soft stack of perfectly shaped pancakes, these would be it.

After my disastrously disappointing Nighthawk experience, I wasn’t sure when I’d be ready to go back. The opportunity presented itself to me in an unlikely way. To make an awkward story short, a guy came up to me at a show, introduced himself, and asked me out for pancakes. He was wearing shoes and everything so I said yes. Then he suggested…Nighthawk.

Before I broke up with Nighthawk, I would have agreed instantly. Was I ready to go on another date and have more sad, deflated pancakes? Even if the guy was wearing shoes? I decided that yes, this would be a good opportunity to see if my previous experience was more of a fluke than a regular thing. Sure, it helped that the guy was cute too.

I told my date about my previous disheartening Nighthawk experience, which heightened the pancake anticipation. What would the Big Bird and Short Stack be like this time? Would I get heaven cooked in batter form or a sad stack of mediocrity?

I was dumbfounded when the pancakes arrived. They were large and fluffy, with crispy fried chicken on top. If you’ve ever thought you could lay your head on a soft stack of perfectly shaped pancakes, these would be it. They looked like an old love returned to me, but I was suspicious. 

I usually refrain from taking food photos on a first date, but I couldn’t help myself this time. This was a good looking stack that needed to be documented. Luckily, my date was similarly photographically inclined. We proceeded to engage in an eye-rolling, “very LA” display of food photography.  

I couldn’t get over how perfectly sized and fluffy these pancakes looked compared to last time. As I usually do, I tried them without butter or syrup first to determine their natural mouth feel. They were good, but the magic was gone for me. Even after adding syrup and butter, I just wasn’t getting that surge of exploding pleasure. And the butter Nighthawk uses is fucking delicious. The fried chicken was also good, it was substantially crispier and more flavorful than last time. 

Unfortunately, the X factor that pushed these into a 10/10 rating previously was missing. Once your pancake crush crushes you, there’s just no going back (though you’ll notice these are still rated highly).  This is sad, but there are other pancakes out there. I know, I already found them

JUST THE STACKS – 8.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Pretty good, objectively tasty, but not outstanding.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy & pleasant.

Size: Perfect.

Presentation: Really fucking good looking.

Price: $17

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

Chain-Cakes: IHOP (Marina Del Rey, CA Location)

I don’t know whose pancakes are in the photo but they aren’t the ones IHOP is serving. I suspect this is a case of pancake catfishing. 

Sometimes when I disclose my pancake infatuation to people, they ask if I go to IHOP (International House of Pancakes) a lot. The answer is no. IHOP has done some impressive marketing in that when people hear “pancakes” they automatically think of IHOP. The truth is they have mediocre pancakes and they know it. 

That’s why they started a marketing campaign in 2018 where they fake re-branded themselves as IHOB, International House of Burgers. Flip the P in IHOP and it becomes a B. Super clever, right? A lot of people thought this was a cheap gimmick and told them to stick to pancakes. This year IHOP is telling people to check out their new “pancakes” that are really burgers. IHOP is trolling the Internet, and also your taste-buds. 

I hadn’t been to an IHOP in a long time, and as a pancake researcher it was time for an updated visit. They have a lot of pancakes that sound tasty: Buttermilk, Italian Cannoli, Mexican Churro, Cupcake, Strawberry Banana, New York Cheesecake, Double Blueberry, and Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity® Pancakes to name a few.  I chose the Build Your Pancake Combo with blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, and hash browns. 

My pancakes arrived looking small and sad. I’ve ordered many pancake combo meals and this was pretty glum looking. Take some fucking pride your namesake IHOP.  I saw someone else with a full stack that did look fluffier and more like the menu pictures, so maybe that’s the way to go. Or perhaps it’s because I decided to forgo the blueberry topping. Based on past experiences, this is way too sweet and serves to only shroud the pancake in unnecessary sugar, though it probably would have been aesthetically pleasing. I can make excuses all day for this alleged pancake house, but the truth is these pancakes are mediocre, and that may even be too generous.

My stack looked nearly nothing like the menu photo. The pancake fluff in that photo? Lovely and admirable. The pancake fluff in my stack? Underwhelming and dejected. I don’t know whose pancakes are in the photo but they aren’t the ones IHOP is serving. I suspect this is a case of pancake catfishing. 

The blueberries were not evenly distributed, but rather clumped mostly in the middle of the pancake, resulting in an automatic rating downgrade. The taste was slightly off somehow, and they were a little sticky in my mouth. No pancake fluff heaven here.

My friend ordered The Big IHOP Pancake Burger™ and reported he only caught hints of the pancake they randomly inserted in there, though the burger was good. The “unlimited fries” were the most comical part of the meal. They were served a small handful at a time in a small bowl. It was weird. The fries themselves were good, very crispy and appropriately salty. Maybe they should change their name to IHOF, and also serve a real portion of fries to get the party started.

Though I will likely never be impressed with their pancakes, I remember IHOP fondly from my childhood. They had smiley face chocolate chip pancakes that I adored and wanted every weekend. But now that I’m in my 30’s I can make my own smiley face chocolate chip pancakes that are much tastier, and much creepier. Being an adult is fun like that.

JUST THE STACKS – 5.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Underwhelming.

Mouthfeel: Not quite right. 

Size: Too small, I should have just ordered a full stack.

Presentation: Pretty sad.

Price: $6.29 – $11.59

Location: 4070 Lincoln Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Pancake Face via TastyStacks.

Chain-Cakes: The Cheesecake Factory (Marina Del Rey, CA Location)

More lemon zest please!


One of the best things about The Cheesecake Factory is the massive amount of calories they can fit into a meal. The second best thing is that they post the calorie counts so you can openly marvel at them. For example – 1,620 calories in ONE slice of Oreo® Dream Extreme Cheesecake? Fucking incredible. 

The Cheesecake Factory has several types of pancakes: Lemon Ricotta (1,560 calories), Cinnamon Roll (2,040 calories), Buttermilk (1,370), and Buttermilk with Blueberries (1,460). The downside to posting calorie counts is that I really wanted the Cinnamon Roll pancakes but for some reason could not justify the 2,000 plus calorie price tag. Instead, I opted for my second choice, the Lemon Ricotta pancakes. Were the 480 calories I saved worth it? I’ll have to go back another time to check.   

My friend, who has only ever been to The Cheesecake Factory twice(!), the second time being the time I am describing now, ordered the Monte Cristo. I know this is a pancake blog, but this dish looked delectable and I have been stuck with Monte Cristo cravings ever since. The Monte Cristo clocks in at an impressive 1,880 calories for anyone keeping track.

My Lemon Ricotta pancakes arrived in a Cheesecake Factory sized stack of three, with lemon zest curlicues sprinkled on top, and a small pile of strawberries. The strawberries weren’t super fresh, but at least they weren’t previously frozen.

Ricotta pancakes are hard to get right. These were good, but not great. The middle of the pancakes were slightly underdone. In addition, the syrup resembled sugar water in taste and consistency which is sad. I ended up only eating half and taking the other half to go.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from these leftovers. I even debated throwing them out. But I had a small taste of them cold and was surprised. They were actually kind of delightful. There was a creamy sweetness, without being overpowering. I reheated the rest in a pan and concluded that cooking them longer was a definite improvement. 

My other criticism was the small amount of lemon flavor. More lemon zest please! The tendrils that arrived on top added a nice spark, and these could have used more of them. I did not get any lemon flavor in the pancakes themselves.

My rating increased a notch due to the leftover factor. But if you’re like most people and are expecting your ricotta pancakes to be cooked correctly on the first pass, you may want to try another dish here. Maybe the Barbeque Ranch Chicken Salad for a measly 2,150 calories?

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Mediocre on the first try, better re-heated. Good sweetness level.

Mouthfeel: Creamy & quite pleasant, but too much mush in the middle.

Size: Standard Cheesecake-size, which is large.

Presentation: A good looking stack with powdered sugar on top, but the berry pile seemed a little too small.

Price: $8.50 – $11.95

Location: 4142 Via Marina, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292


Shoop’s: Pancake Fluff Heaven

If you’re eating cold pancakes and still find them delicious, you have a winner on your hands.

My friend and I stopped at Shoop’s Delicatessen in Santa Monica after determining that of the several other pancake contenders in the area, Shoop’s was least likely to have a long wait. You probably have to time this right as Shoop’s is a small place. It’s half cafe and half delightful deli with a variety of fun meats and candy. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about these pancakes, which edged my rating up to a perfect score.

If you’re a regular reader, and are thinking these were rebound pancakes, and I’m just desperate to fill the void that Nighthawk left me with, you are wrong. Yes, I was eager to feast on pancakes that didn’t taste like flattened disappointment, but I certainly never expected to find another all-star pancake so quickly. Life comes at you fast. 

Shoop’s offers an array of tempting pancake options: Buttermilk, Blueberry, Banana, Muesli, Pineapple, Cinnamon-Raisin, and Bacon. They also have a selection of savory pancakes including Tomato Basil, Pastrami Swiss, and Salmon. There are options to add eggs, meats, and veggie sausages to your pancake meal, which I always appreciate. 

My friend ordered the Pineapple Pancakes, and I ordered the Bacon Pancakes. I’m not a big savory pancake fan and I’m not convinced bacon belongs inside a pancake. For the sake of research, and because I love bacon, I ordered them.

Both sets of pancakes arrived in a lovely displayed stack of three, fanned out to emphasize their glory. The edges were slightly crisped and there was an impressive amount of bacon on display. Already visually delighted, I tried a small piece without syrup first. 

Pancake fluff heaven! I was so impressed with these. Do you know how hard it is to get a good pancake fluff photo? I gave up trying because I couldn’t waste any more time not eating them. You’ll just have to trust me that I know my pancake fluff. 

The menu says the Bacon Pancakes are “Sooo good with maple syrup” and they are absolutely correct. The combination of fluffy pancake, savory bacon bits, and sweet syrup was scrumptious.

I took my leftovers home and ate them cold later. Just fucking outstanding. If you’re eating cold pancakes and still find them delicious, you have a winner on your hands. My only criticism is that these needed more syrup than I usually use, but I think that was because the pancakes soaked it up so well due to the fluff factor. 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: Unexpectedly luscious. 

Size: Huge but not Griddle Cafe huge.

Presentation: A nice change from the standard stack, these arrive fanned out in a set of three.

Price: $10.50-$15.50  

Location: 2400 Main St A1, Santa Monica, CA 90405

Nighthawk: I Love You but I’m Not in Love with You

This was not the meaty, fluffy stack of heaven I had come to expect. In fact, there was no fluff factor to talk about at all.

I first wrote about Nighthawk: Breakfast Bar in Venice here. I extolled their pancakes, and described the mouthfeel as “exploding pleasure”. No other place has achieved a 10/10 on the Tasty Stacks scale yet. I kept going back because they were dependably delectable on all fronts. Nighthawk could do no wrong with their pancakes in my eyes. 

Well, nothing lasts forever. Not even pancakes.

I came here most recently on a first date. My date wasn’t wearing shoes. Instead, he was wearing a thin strip of cloth, that at a glance, could pass for weird sandals. This was so he would still be served at restaurants, he explained. He was also a vegetarian, which I try to be open-minded about as a card-carrying meat eater.

I ordered my usual – the Big Bird and Short Stack – which is three sweet potato pancakes (that taste less like sweet potatoes and more like “heaven in cooked batter form“) topped with fried chicken.

Of course, I had raved about the pancakes here. My date asked if he could have some and I hesitated. Share my Nighthawk pancakes? I barely knew this person. I agreed because I didn’t want to seem completely pancake crazy on the first date. I like to save that for at least the second date.   

The pancakes arrived and I could tell immediately something was off. They looked thin, like someone had squished all the joy out of them. This was not the meaty, fluffy stack of heaven I had come to expect. In fact, there was no fluff factor to talk about at all. Already anguished, I took a bite sans butter or syrup. The flavor was still there, kind of, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt as deflated as the pancakes. 

The chicken was similarly flattened into thinner than usual cutlets. There was a fried coating, but it wasn’t crispy, which is a sin in the fried chicken world. Even worse, there was very little flavor. 

I gave my date a sizable pancake piece, and I wonder if this was where things went south. These were not up to the standards I had talked about. Maybe he thought I didn’t know what a good pancake was. 

The highlight of the meal was the cookie dough butter. It’s hard to go wrong with butter but this stuff is fucking outstanding. I lathered it on my un-fluffy pancakes. They needed a boost and this helped. 

I would have taken photos of this sad stack, but didn’t want to blow my undercover pancake cover on the first date. Not that it mattered. Though I was fond of my humorous and shoe-less date, he texted me the next day that he wasn’t interested. I didn’t even get a chance to ask him his pancake opinion. I belatedly realized this was because he had been talking so much that I let him run away with the conversation which devolved into backhanded novel writing bragging and a long Coachella acid story (his).

Most importantly, will I go back to Nighthawk? Maybe. But I’m not sure my heart can take another un-fluffy mediocre pancake stack from here. 

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Disappointing, but not bad.

Mouthfeel: Something was missing. That something was the perfect pancake fluff that used to be here.

Size: The size of these was still ok, but they were so flattened they seemed much smaller.

Presentation: A very flat stack of three pancakes, topped with two very flat pieces of fried chicken. 

Price: $17 (Expensive for the unremarkable quality.)

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

Protein Pancake Series: Birch Benders Peanut Butter Protein Mix

Several minutes, a sprinkling of chocolate chips, and a giant serving of chopped strawberries later, my giant pancake was cooked to perfection.

I don’t mean to fitness brag, but after completing a 6.2 mile trail run with a group of people and being the very last to finish, I was fucking starving. I raced home (but because I live in LA it was a 35 minute race with traffic) with only one thing on my mind: pancakes. And I needed them to be fast, filling, and semi-nutritious. This meant protein pancakes. Because I was so hungry I didn’t want to chance using a new mix I hadn’t vetted, I went for my tried & true brand: Birch Benders

Birch Benders has come out with an incredible variety of options my mouth has yet to experience. I chose a new one: Peanut Butter Protein. One flick of the oven, one cup of mix, and roughly two-thirds of a cup of water later, I was already halfway done making these. The batter looked and smelled like peanut butter, which I usually try to stay away from. If left unattended with a jar, I am likely to take cheap white bread and use it as a vehicle for loading massive amounts of peanut butter on it. But it seemed doubtful I could get into the same kind of trouble with a protein pancake mix. 

Several minutes, a sprinkling of chocolate chips, and a giant serving of chopped strawberries later, my giant pancake was cooked to perfection. Part of why I like Birch Benders so much is that I have nailed the technique and find that the batter cooks evenly and deliciously every time. (Every time except the times that I get distracted and burn them, which isn’t their fault. Making pancakes, even from a mix, involves a degree of adoration and care.)

My giant peanut butter protein pancake was fluffy and slightly sweet, solid traits that I have come to expect from Birch Benders mix. Compared to the strong smell of peanut butter when I was mixing the batter, the taste was mild. It was more like a hint of peanut butter rather than a full on mouth blast. I don’t want to say it was disappointing, but this is obviously not the same thing as shoving spoonfuls of peanut butter in your mouth. It was a nice change from my usual plain Buttermilk Birch Benders mix though, and the chocolate chips brought out more of the flavor. If you’re looking for a strong peanut butter taste I’d recommend lathering real peanut butter on top, but if you’re happy with a gentle mouth hint of nutty goodness, these will do the trick. 

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS  

Image via TastyStacks.

Overall Taste: Mild peanut butter flavor but overall a solid & satisfying pancake experience.

Mouthfeel: The perfect blend of sweet fluff and protein.

Protein per serving:  16g per 1/2 cup (I usually use 1 cup).

Price:  $5.99 – $8.99 for 16 oz

Available at: So many places! Also Amazon.