TastyStacks Turns One!

A brief rundown of my year in pancakes – pour yourself some syrup and enjoy.

For everyone who asks me what my favorite pancakes have been so far, I always mention Nighthawk, but with a caveat. Nighthawk was my absolute favorite, and also my first review. Then I had to break up with them, and it was not because of my shoeless date. Then Nighthawk redeemed themselves and has been back in my pancake cravings ever since, with only slight suspicion.

I ate a lot of mediocre pancakes, including an all-you-can-eat pancake date with a time limit. I had several really bad pancakes, some of which forced me to create the category “Not Pancakes.” I’ll save you the trouble of clicking that link and let you know that Erewhon makes raw vegan bullshit pancakes that are flat and circular shaped but are most definitely not pancakes. And Birch Benders, which makes one of my favorite protein pancake mixes, totally misses the mark on what makes a pancake with their dreadful “Keto Cups.” Hard pass.

I ate a ton of protein pancakes and pretended to be a runner. Just kidding, I have never pretended to be a runner, though I have finisher medals that say otherwise. You can let me have this humble running brag, as running is basically my kryptonite.

Finally, I had a lot of delicious pancakes and met a handsome pancake purist along the way (only excessive syrup allowed) who didn’t mind when I accidentally flung pancake pieces at him. I look forward to another year consuming delicious carbs and contemplating mouthfeel. And remember, you should never have trouble cutting pancakes.

Paula’s Pancake House: Solvang’s Well Known Pancake Gem

I tend to want to envelop my pancakes in strawberries though, so maybe the amount they use is reasonable.

Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang, CA is known for their their thin, crêpe-like Danish pancakes. I came here on a Sunday morning date which is obviously the most crowded time to go. You would think there were no other cafes or restaurants nearby serving breakfast. There are, but I don’t know if they serve pancakes. To be honest, this place had been on my radar for awhile, but I didn’t want to drive to Solvang by myself, so I convinced my date to drive me. Win-win!

Once we were finally seated, our appetites had become immense and we promptly over-ordered a variety of breakfast food. Our food platters arrived and I thought the pancakes looked lovely. My date thought the whipped cream looked “sad” which I disagreed with. I have seen some tragic whipped cream on pancakes, and this wasn’t that. I also ordered them with strawberries, which went against my dates’ “no foreign objects on pancakes” policy. This meant I got all the strawberries, so it was another win-win.

The pancakes were solidly good, but I don’t think there was anything outstanding about them. They tasted like thick crêpes (but not quite the traditional pancake) and were slightly sweet on their own. The menu describes them as “World Famous Danish Pancakes” and they can be ordered with blueberries, warm cinnamon apples, Danish sausage or ham, or even simple powdered sugar and butter.

Paula’s also serves regular pancakes (including a variety of fillings) and Whole Wheat and Honey Pancakes, which I didn’t get a chance to try. I’d like to go back and order an entire pancake variety spread someday.

Overall, this place is a little too touristy which I found off-putting, but I did thoroughly enjoy my pancakes. The strawberry quality was good, though I think they could have used more. I tend to want to envelop my pancakes in strawberries though, so maybe the amount they use is reasonable. Paula’s also has excellent bacon, some of which I tucked in my purse for a snack on the drive home. 

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Solidly good. Slightly sweet and creamy.

Mouthfeel: Delicate and pleasant.

Size: Large.

Presentation: Two healthy-sized thin pancakes, topped with whipped cream (which may or may not have looked sad) and strawberries.

Price: $8.50 – $11.75

Location: 1531 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463

Country Touch Cafe: More Than a Touch Too Chewy

Immediately, I knew there would be trouble. You should never have trouble cutting a pancake.

Country Touch Cafe, located in Torrance, CA is an adorable hole-in-the-wall diner with delightfully decorated mugs and charming decor which include painted saws hanging from the wall. As lovable as this place is, it is not a good place to order pancakes. In fact, it is a bad place to order pancakes.

I came here on a date with the aforementioned blue-eyed space guy (who I guess was not terribly put off by my food flinging) and we both ordered omelettes. I was unable to resist trying their pancakes too, labeled only as “Hot Cakes” on the menu.

I tried to cut a piece of pancake with my fork, which should be easy to do, but was challenging. Immediately, I knew there would be trouble. You should never have trouble cutting a pancake. It’s a sign they will be chewy and unpleasant to eat.

I sampled a mouthful and it was bad. I tried them with butter and syrup and they were still bad. My date, who continued his disturbing pancake preferences by revealing he liked to “murder his pancakes with syrup” did so and also found them bad.

Honestly, I felt guilty because this place is so sweet. I think I ate half trying to convince myself they were not that bad. On the plus side, these weren’t as inedible as the infamous Mel’s, which is why they have a higher rating.

My date was kind about my pancake disappointment, and told me it was ok I didn’t like them. At one point, while trying to decide if his eyes were actually blue or some delicate variation I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I picked up the milk saucer instead of the syrup and proceeded to pour milk over the pancakes. Despite this extra moisture, the pancakes were still hard to cut.

If you’re in the area and craving standard diner food or maybe the Bul-Goki Omelette I saw on the menu, you should come here. I’d come back for the mugs, which I wanted to steal (but didn’t). Just don’t order the pancakes.

JUST THE STACKS – 2/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Not good.

Mouthfeel: Bad.

Size: Large.

Presentation: Standard pancake on pancake.

Price: $5.95 – $8.45

Location: 3717 W 190th St, Torrance, CA 90504

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 Cake-Off

Let’s say you’re already late for work but desperately need a pancake fix and just don’t have the fucking time to slice strawberries. Whip these fluffers up and wham-o!

I recently updated my dating profile to note I was only interested in dating men who were good eaters. Shockingly, this has not brought the boys running to me. While my next pancake date percolates, I had a very exciting pancake-off between three Kodiak Cakes Power Cake mixes: Strawberry Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Oat, and Almond Poppy Seed. They all have 14 grams of protein per half cup serving, and I made these with unsweetened cashew milk instead of water. Let’s start eating!

Strawberry Chocolate Chip  
I was excited about all of these, but I was most excited for the Strawberry Chocolate Chip. This is one of my favorite pancake combinations and it’s hard to get the consistency right but it can be done. There’s a risk the strawberries end up in a mushy clump in the middle of the pancake, but this problem is avoided using a mix with just the strawberry flavor.

The batter smelled slightly like strawberry milk, which was pleasant. There are adorable mini chocolate chips in the mix! That was my favorite part. The taste was good but not outstanding. The strawberry flavor is a little off. Obviously, if you’re expecting real strawberries you’re going to be disappointed, but I think you’re better off adding real strawberries.

Tasty Stacks Rating: 7.5/10

Cinnamon Oat
The Cinnamon Oat batter both smelled and resembled oatmeal cookies when mixing. Surely this bodes well, right? That’s what I thought too. I hate to write this, but these were bad. We’re talking Mel’s Drive-In bad, except still better than that because I could easily chew them. I’m not sure what to do with this mix, the side of the box suggests I can make these into muffins, which might be better.

Tasty Stacks Rating: 2/10  

Almond Poppy Seed
The Almond Poppy Seed, which I have tried once before, remained my favorite of these three. The flavor reminds me of a subdued marzipan. The batter has tiny poppy seeds in the mix so this impacts the texture slightly, though not in a negative way for my mouthfeel. You should definitely put fresh strawberries on these. I don’t think they even need syrup, but of course they are excellent with (high quality) syrup. 

Tasty Stacks Rating: 10/10  

The Winner!
The clear winner of these three was the Almond Poppy Seed, followed by the Strawberry Chocolate Chip. The Strawberry one is growing on me to be honest. Let’s say you’re already late for work but desperately need a pancake fix and just don’t have the fucking time to slice strawberries. Whip these fluffers up and wham-o! Kodiak Cakes mixes make sturdy pancakes, so you can throw these in your bag and take them with you as you journey through your day.

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: 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

C&O Trattoria: Go With the Garlic Knots

So many things are pretentious in Venice, but also delicious, so this is a poor battle to wage.

I came to C&O Trattoria in Venice Beach on a date with a guy who was a twin, which was maybe the most interesting thing about him. He first suggested Great White, which is also blocks from the beach, and at the time had recently opened and was super popular. I’ve still never been; it’s probably still super popular. I suspected we wouldn’t be able to get a seat anywhere on a weekend morning, but since I had recently moved and he should have done his homework better, I agreed to meet there. It was packed. I suggested we look elsewhere, and led him to Nighthawk, despite knowing that would be packed too. I’ve stopped by Nighthawk a few times without a reservation on a weekend morning and it’s never worked out for me, but I like to be hopeful.

Image via TastyStacks.

We took a look at the Nighthawk menu (or I pretended to, knowing it already), but he vetoed the place after reading the “Duck, Duck, Goose” dish (Fois gras). He was a sometime vegetarian so I thought that was the issue, but he commented the place was a little too “pretentious.” I found this incredulous coming from someone who had first picked Great White. So many things are pretentious in Venice, but also delicious, so this is a poor battle to wage.

Increasingly hungry, we picked C&O Trattoria (yes, an Italian restaurant), on a strip a block away from the beach, and very touristy. I was not expecting great pancakes. I was surprised they even served pancakes but decided that was one of the safest options. Of their 3247 Yelp reviews, there are two that mention the word pancake, and I disagree with both of them. Perhaps the problem was that we didn’t get a side of garlic knots? The pancakes were okay. They were structurally sound and topped with slices of strawberries and bananas which was nice, but lazy looking. This isn’t even a breakfast place though, they are just capitalizing on all the tourists hanging out by the beach desperate for weekend brunch. Anyway, my date ordered the crêpes and didn’t like them, but why would anyone order crêpes from a place like this?

Just the Stacks – 5/10 Tasty Stacks

Image via TastyStacks.

Overall Taste: Fine, unremarkable.

Mouthfeel: Mediocre.

Size: Average.

Presentation: Simple, they tried to make the fruit on top look somewhat nice, but it looked slightly sad to me. Maybe I just really wanted Nighthawk?

Price: $11 for three pancakes.

Location: 31 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292