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

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

…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!

The Pancake Spott: Bring A Pancake Truck to Work Day

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.

Shoop’s Part Three: Pancake Mecca

Mouthfeel: FUCKING LUSCIOUS.

It has been over a year since I last reviewed Shoop’s, and because they have clearly usurped my old favorite Nighthawk for best pancakes – this was the obvious choice for birthday pancakes in order to carb up for a hike (humble hike brag). 


As a bonus, it’s clear all those mediocre pancake dates back in the day paid off – I found someone happy to drive the opposite way of his work on the 405 at 7am to take me out for breakfast, and then drive all the way back on the 405 during rush hour. LA people will understand this as the definition of love.


Shoop’s lets you mix and match items on the regular pancake list, so we chose buttermilk, bacon, and pineapple. We also ordered one of their savory pancakes: Pastrami and Swiss. 


My 405 guy, famous for historically declaring he doesn’t like “foreign objects” in his pancakes, thought the savory pastrami and swiss pancake was delicious. Delicious may be an understatement. It was an unexpected joy to eat. Composed of one giant pancake, the batter is mixed with chopped up bits of pastrami and swiss cheese, and topped with fried eggs and grilled onions. The top of the pancake was lightly crisped, the inside was mouth-happy and marvelous. Imagine pastrami pancake angels dancing on your tongue, encased in warm buttery fluff. Even better, go eat these and experience pancake fluff heaven for yourself. 


The bacon pancake, while still excellent, almost pales in comparison to the magic of the pastrami and swiss pancake. The pineapple pancake, which is stuffed with caramelized pieces of pineapple, and one that I’ve had several times before, held up to the standard of excellence I have come to expect from Shoop’s. If you’re into (or curious about) savory pancakes, Shoop’s has several other varieties: Tomato Basil (fucking fantastic), Bacon Cheddar Jalapeno, and Savory Salmon. The latter two are on my list to try as ASAP as possible. 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: FUCKING LUSCIOUS.

Size: Goldilocks would say these are just the right size. Savory pancakes comes as one extra large one.

Presentation: Humble and unassuming. Shoop’s has no need for faff.

Price: $11.95-$17.50

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

Hustler Casino Cakes: Don’t Bet On These

One Sunday afternoon, I found myself at Larry Flynt’s Bar & Grill located inside the Hustler Casino in Gardena, CA. I was in search of breakfast in the South Bay area that didn’t also come with a 45 minute wait. What I got was a relatively quiet place to eat amidst the gentle clinking of chips, an $8 mimosa, and pancakes that were pretty bad. At the time of eating here, everything was served in takeout containers due to covid policies. I also ordered eggs and bacon which were slightly below mediocre. The real standout of the meal was the bread served on the side. This wasn’t the usual trash toast you get on the side, this was real, bakery-fresh, thick cut bread.

The pancakes were a different, sadder story. The first indication was that they were hard to cut into. This is an immediate warning sign you are about to eat sad stacks. The only thing you can really do with pancakes like this is douse them in butter and syrup and hope for the best. Even sugar and fat weren’t much help. About 90% of the pancakes ended up in the trash.

I guess I might come here again if I had a hankering for a table game and didn’t want to make the hop over to Vegas.

JUST THE STACKS – 2/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sad.

Mouthfeel: Not enjoyable, hard to chew.

Size: Large but useless.

Presentation: These definitely looked like pancakes.

Price: Do not recall, but not expensive.

Location: 1000 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247


More Casino Cake Reviews!

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

Shoop’s Part Two – Takeout Pancake Heaven

New year, new pancakes! Except this is more like – New year, same fucking pandemic, getting the pancakes you love to-go and hoping for the best.

Shoop’s, located in downtown Santa Monica and just blocks from the beach, previously scored a coveted 10/10 on the Tasty Stacks scale. How do they hold up in a takeout environment?

My friend and I ordered the Pineapple Pancakes and the Savory Tomato Basil Pancakes to share. The latter comes with “fresh tomato and basil, topped with 2 over-medium eggs, fresh pesto, and feta.” We scooped up our pancakes from the ever-friendly Shoop’s staff and walked them down to the beach. This is the second best way to eat pancakes if you can’t eat them right then and there at the restaurant.

What’s the most common pitfall of takeout pancakes? The fluff deflates, leaving you with a flat circle of sad flapjack. I was expecting at least some fluff deflation, based on past takeout pancake experiences. Instead, we were gifted with two stacks of unexpectedly luscious and perfectly fluffy pancakes.

Most notably, the Savory Tomato Basil pancakes, which I thought for sure would be soggy and weird with the amount of egg and pesto on top, were outfuckingstanding. They were soft inside, not soggy, and Shoop’s has managed to perfect the stuffed pancake technique – these had delicate morsels of tomato and basil in every bite. The eggs and pesto on top elevated the experience – this is a satisfying pancake on every level.

The Pineapple Pancakes were the perfect complement to the savory pancake. The pineapple morsels are caramelized which gives the pancake that coveted ever so slightly crispy edge. If you are looking for pancakes that not only hold their own, but go above and beyond considering the takeout environment, Shoop’s is one of the best choices you can make.

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: Unexpectedly luscious – even more so considering the deflation danger.

Size: Three substantial discs of deliciousness per stack.

Presentation: These are as good as you can make pancakes look in takeout containers. Take them to the beach for bonus aesthetic points!

Price: $10.50-$15.95  

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

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