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

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

Cafe Vida: Party Mood Pancakes

Fucking glorious! These were somehow both fluffy and dense with a texture you’d expect from cornbread.

I went to Cafe Vida in Culver City directly from an early morning dance party (an experience I’d recommend to almost everyone) that started at 6:30 am on a Saturday. I like to practice my terrible dancing in a sea of strangers who absolutely don’t give a fuck, and I’m pretty sure my dancing has improved (slightly) as a result. By 9 am I was very hungry and very ready to eat pancakes. What else would I eat on a Saturday?

Cafe Vida was already busy with at least a 30 minute wait. Be prepared for that if you go here on a weekend with more than just yourself. Luckily, I have not completely shed my loner roots (or is it lonely roots?), and was seated instantly at a counter. 

I quickly located my ideal pancake meal: the “2+2+2”, which is two pancakes, two eggs, and two pieces of uncured breakfast meat. I always appreciate when I can combine pancakes with a savory protein option in one dish. Cafe Vida’s pancake options include: Corn, Buttermilk, Brown Rice, and Blueberry Buttermilk.

I chose the Corn pancakes, which the waitress informed were really Blueberry Cornbread pancakes which is even better. I’m not a huge fan of cornbread. Something about the texture doesn’t work for me. It’s usually cut into big pieces like a cake square and often seems dry. Maybe I’ve been eating bad cornbread? But when cornbread pancakes are involved, it’s a whole different story. 

They arrived with fresh strawberries and blueberries on top, a heap of perfectly scrambled eggs, and a salty slab of chicken sausage. The pancakes were delicious and had a good amount of blueberries inside too. This always scores more points with me than simply dumping them on top. Though imperfectly shaped, they were perfectly cooked. The cornbread flavor was strong but not overpowering, and the delicate amount of sprinkled sugar was a nice touch. My mouth was thrilled.

If I had to find one thing to find fault with it would be the wrapped pad of butter on the side. What am I supposed to do with this? It was chilled, and I’m not about to take the extra effort to unwrap cool butter to add to my already delicious pancakes. Anyway, that’s a pretty petty complaint. These were excellent, and extended my dance party mood to a mouth party mood.

 
JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: The perfect combination of sweet corn flavor, blueberry, and quality pancake. I added a small amount of syrup for the full effect. 

Mouthfeel: Fucking glorious! These were somehow both fluffy and dense with a texture you’d expect from cornbread. I felt like I was eating cornbread the way it was meant to be eaten, in the form of a pancake.

Size: A solid stack of two, they were perfectly sized to complement the rest of the food.

Presentation: Just darn lovely. 

Price $12.50 – $13.50

Location: 9755 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

More Birthday Stacks: The Local Yolk

If I’m eating pancakes, I don’t also need to be eating half a bag of chocolate chips. 

Continuing on the birthday celebration pancake journey is The Local Yolk in Manhattan Beach. While not directly overlooking the ocean, if you walk half a block in either direction you are gifted with a tanalizing ocean view. If you’re here on your lunch break, the desire to run toward the ocean and never go back to work is strong. 

The Local Yolk is a cute diner that offers several classic pancake choices: Banana, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cinnamon Apple, and Chocolate Chip. I ordered the Strawberry Chocolate Chip pancakes and my friend ordered the Banana Blueberry Pancakes. 

The first bite was delightful. But sometimes a celebratory mood overshadows the real quality. After the first bite, I realized the pancakes were just ok. They were chewy, and had a “gummy” quality to them that wasn’t great.  They had strawberries and chocolate chips both inside the pancake which I always appreciate, as well as on top. I thought there were too many chocolate chips on top. If I’m eating pancakes, I don’t also need to be eating half a bag of chocolate chips. 

My friend noted that her blueberry banana pancakes had hardly any blueberries inside of them, which is always a sad thing. The bananas were sliced an arranged nicely on top, with two dollops of whipped cream. 

Despite their “gummy” quality, we both finished most of our pancakes. I used a little more syrup and butter than I usually might to soften them up. I might come back here if I was in the area, but I’m not sure I would get the pancakes.

JUST THE STACKS – 6/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Not bad, but not glorious.

Mouthfeel: Good to gummy. My friend guessed they were made from a mix.

Size: A nice hefty serving of three pancakes.

Presentation: Cute just like the diner, nice topping arrangements.

Price: $7.75 – $9.75

Location:  3414 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Birthday Stacks: Haute Cakes Caffe


Three different mouthfeels!

If you’re me, birthday celebrations almost always involve decadence and pancakes. I went to Haute Cakes Caffee, in Newport Beach, with some friends as the second stop in my pancake birthday tour. (The first stop was Nighthawk, obviously.) Haute Cakes, besides having a cute name, offers a variety of tempting pancake options: Buttermilk, Blueberry Cornmeal, Gluten-Free Oatmeal Blueberry, and Orange Ricotta Haute Cakes.

We tried all of them except the plain Buttermilk. People on Yelp rave about the Orange Ricotta Haute Cakes, and I was most excited for those. They were good, but I found the orange flavor overpowering. I also found the consistency inside to be more like a regular pancake, and less like a ricotta pancake. I was expecting a slightly crispier outside and a slightly more moist inside.

The Blueberry Cornmeal pancakes tasted exactly like cornbread, which isn’t a bad thing unless you don’t like cornbread. These were my favorite, but my mouth was continually confused, because I’m not a huge cornbread fan. Apparently it really works for me in pancake form. You should definitely use the generous tab of butter they give you with these for the full cornbread pancake experience.

The Gluten-Free Oatmeal Blueberry Haute Cakes were impressively fluffy for gluten free pancakes and I am all about pancake fluff. I didn’t get a lot of oatmeal flavor in my mouth with these, which was a little disappointing, but these were still solid, well-crafted pancakes.

The Orange Ricotta and Blueberry Cornmeal Cakes were both topped with a medley of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Sadly, the berries were clearly previously frozen. There is absolutely no reason I would accept for this restaurant to be serving frozen fucking berries. I am pretty sure that even Mel’s Drive-In, the recipient of my worst pancake review, serves their pancakes with fresh berries.

Overall these pancakes were a lot of fun because I was in birthday mode and I get a kick out of ordering extreme quantities of food. Taste-wise they were all good but not great, and my craving for perfectly moist ricotta pancakes is still unfulfilled.

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Good, not exceptional.

Mouthfeel: Three different mouthfeels! Cornbread, gluten-free, and semi-moist ricotta. Yes, these are all mouthfeels.

Size: Appropriately sized, not too big or small.

Presentation: Definitely aesthetically pleasing, especially if you order at least three plates of pancakes. The berry presentation looked nice, I admit, but I can’t get over the fact that they weren’t fresh.

Price: $9.50 – $10.75

Location: 1807 Westcliff Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Monster Cakes: The Griddle Cafe

Let’s talk about the fluff factor! These pancakes measured up to ¾ of an inch thick of pure pancake fluff.

To celebrate my first year in LA, I had to do something big. Something delicious, decadent, and massive. That’s right, I went out to eat giant pancakes. The Griddle Cafe in West Hollywood is known for their gargantuan stacks. You can know this and still not be prepared for them to set down so much pancake in front of you.

I was seated next to a gentleman who debated whether or not to get a pancake at all because they were so large. He was getting on a plane, he explained, and he wasn’t about to take a pancake on a plane. I didn’t tell him that I frequently take pancakes with me when I fly. Pancakes travel pretty well, that’s my travel tip for you.

Image via TastyStacks.

The Griddle Cafe has endless options including “Black Magic” with crushed Oreo’s, “Hear Me Roar” with strawberries and Frosted Flakes, “Banananana” with brown sugar baked bananas, and “Teacher’s Pet” with baked cinnamon apples. I decided on the “BLUESberry,” blueberry filled pancakes with blueberry sour cream on top, and “Eyes Wide Open,” pancakes with a shot of espresso and chocolate chips. I only ordered the short stacks, which is 2 pancakes each. This turned out to be comically too much pancake even for me, but half the fun is having these absurdly large stacks set down in front of you.

The Eyes Wide Open pancakes were fucking divine. The chocolate chips were evenly spaced throughout and they came with a giant scoop of butter. They didn’t even need anything on them, but since I was going for decadent that day, butter seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be an outstanding idea. Both had powered sugar on top, a nice touch. The BLUESberry came with blueberry sour cream on top which was interesting. The first bite was good, but then I lost interest. It just wasn’t that flavorful. The Eyes Wide Open stack was so good this didn’t have a major impact on my rating, but it was a little disappointing. Due to their size, I ended up taking home a good portion. I made my way through the chocolate chip stack over the next 24 hours and it passed the leftover test with flying colors.

Let’s talk about the fluff factor! These pancakes measured up to
¾ of an inch thick of pure pancake fluff. Yes, I measured because I was so impressed. Go here with very hungry friends, or after you’ve come back from an all week hiking or camping trip. Or of course, if you just want to feast your eyes and soul on some truly massive pancakes. It’s impossible for these not to bring a smile to someone’s face.

Just the Stacks – 8.5/10 Tasty Stacks 

Image via TastyStacks.

Overall Taste: The Eyes Wide Open were wonderful, the BLUESberry bored my mouth.

Mouthfeel: Overall luscious and wonderful. Perfect consistency throughout, which can be hard to achieve in such herculean pancakes.

Size: “As big as tires” – the man next to me.

Presentation: Fucking beautiful.

Price: $9.95-$13.95

Location: 7916 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046