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.

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: 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: Trader Joe’s Mix


This is literally how I imagine myself when deadlifting – as a man, picking up a pancake barbell.

I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s. Many of my fond memories are from the tiniest Trader Joe’s on Boylston St. in Boston and involve Mac & Cheese Bites and Lobster Ravioli. You can imagine my delight when I discovered Trader Joe’s started selling protein pancake mix. The packaging design gets an A+. This is literally how I imagine myself when deadlifting – as a man, picking up a pancake barbell. I am sad to report that the illustration was the high point of my pancake experience. I tried these twice, just to be sure. Like many protein pancake mixes on the market, all you need to add is water, which is great if you are both very hungry and short on time.

My first attempt at making these failed spectacularly. The main problem was too many blueberries. I got overly excited to use fresh farmers market blueberries and dumped a generous handful (or two) in the batter. Due to the blueberry abundance, the giant single pancake I made didn’t cook evenly. Parts of the middle weren’t cooked through and some of one side was burned. Taste-wise it was terrible. I made a painful decision to throw the pancake away.

On my second attempt, I went back to basics, in case these were terrible due to operator error. I made several small pancakes, instead of a single giant one. I added a few chocolate chips to each after I had dolloped the batter into the pan. I monitored them carefully. Finally, it was time to eat them.

Overall, these were mediocre. They were a little chewy and had a slightly odd, grainy consistency. The pancakes themselves were pretty tasteless and needed toppings. At a certain point, adding chocolate chips and syrup to protein pancakes defeats their purpose but that tipping point is a personal decision. These are marketed as “buttermilk” pancakes and include buttermilk powder as one of the ingredients, but they didn’t have any of that decadent buttermilk taste. On the plus side, they were filling, have a decent amount of protein, and virtually no fat or sugar. I felt sufficiently nourished after lifting heavy things and putting them back down, so these served their purpose, though not in the most delicious way.

Just the Stacks – 5/10 Tasty Stacks  

Overall Taste: Bland with a hint of whole grain.

Mouthfeel: Chewy and grainy.

Protein per serving:  10 grams per 1/3 cup (I used 2/3 cup).

Price: $3.49 for a 1lb. box.

Available at: Trader Joe’s stores.