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

Protein Pancake Series: Kodiak Cakes

Do you know how hard it is to get perfect pancake fluff with a protein pancake mix? These knock it out of the park every time.

I swiped right on a guy with a beaming smile and muscular arms holding a chicken in his lap. It was the chicken that really intrigued me. “Is that your pet chicken?,” I asked, half jokingly. Not only was it his pet chicken, it was one of several, and they even have their own social media account.

The subject of my pancake blog came up pretty quickly, and he told me his favorite protein pancake mix was from Kodiak Cakes. He made sure to note he could also make excellent pancakes from scratch, but I have yet to verify this. 

Kodiak Cakes is a popular pancake mix with the tagline: “Nourishment for today’s frontier.” The packaging has an aggressive but cute looking bear on the front. They have delicious sounding varieties including: Buttermilk, Dark Chocolate, Cinnamon Oat, Almond Poppy Seed, Chocolate Chip, Strawberry Chocolate Chip (!!!), Peanut Butter, and Buttermilk Chia. 

Up until recently, I had been so happy with Birch Benders mix I hadn’t made room in my belly to try Kodiak Cakes. My date raved about these and I humored him by letting him make me some. He used the Almond Poppy Seed mix and substituted cashew milk for water. This is a brilliant taste-bud discovery we should all be using in our protein pancake mixing. It adds a delicate and silky lushness that makes for a brilliant mouthfeel. 

The pancakes were out-fucking-standing. I topped them with fresh strawberries and syrup but you could eat them plain. They passed the standalone test, or the “naked” test as I like to call it when I’m flirting, which I am absolutely doing here. The Almond Poppy Seed is not a flavor I might have picked on my own and that would have been so sad because these were so damn scrumptious. They were fluffy, creamy, and substantial with a mild, sweet almond flavor. In short, I had found protein pancake heaven.

For the full effect, I recommend these with eggs from your backyard chickens (and bacon, but hopefully not from your backyard pig). Sure, you could use eggs from the grocery store, but what fun is that?

To make sure I really loved the pancakes and was not just smitten with my date, I tried the Buttermilk mix on my own. Absolutely outstanding. Do you know how hard it is to get perfect pancake fluff with a protein pancake mix? These knock it out of the park every time. I prefer the Almond Poppy mix to the Buttermilk but I’m confident in saying these are my new favorite protein pancakes.

Who knows what the future holds, aside from the obvious burning planet and impending zombie outbreak, but one thing is for sure: Kodiak Cakes have seized the coveted golden protein pancake skillet from Birch Benders in a delicious and unexpected twist. You should all be eating these. I’m about to buy every single fucking variety on KodiakCakes.com (because Amazon doesn’t have all the varieties).

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS  

Overall Taste: Pancake bliss; perfectly sweet & fluffy & filling.

Mouthfeel: Really fucking luscious.

Protein per serving: 14g per 1/2 cup (I usually use 1 cup).

Price: $5.50 for 18 oz.

Available at: KodiakCakes.com, Amazon.com

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

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