THE ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
After spending our time driving up on McKnight Road discussing what sort of specialty pancakes we might get -- blueberry, chocolate chip, buckwheat -- we ended up succumbing to two new-to-us dishes that weren't at all like ordinary pancakes. In fairness, the menu at the Original Pancake House reminds diners that pancakes aren't just the cake-like, perfectly round, golden-brown disks served in a traditional American breakfast; technically, they are a batter of eggs, milk and flour, fried or baked.

Of course the Original Pancake House has "standard" pancakes -- the aforementioned varieties plus sourdough, Swedish (with ligonberries), Georgia pecan, Hawaiian (with pineapple), coconut, banana, strawberry and two meat-and-pancake combos (bacon pancakes and three sausage links wrapped in pancakes). Additionally, the menu offers an assortment of waffles, crepes, omelets, eggs and breakfast side dishes like Canadian bacon and grits.

I immediately fell for the boxed signature item: an apple pancake described as "a single large pancake smothered in sautéed apples and cinnamon sugar," then baked. It was like no pancake I'd ever seen -- a passionate marriage of apple pie and French toast, a union presided over by lots of butter. The happy event arrived at my table literally bubbling in its own buttery, cinnamon-sugar pleasure. Easily 10 inches in diameter, it looked like an apple-upside-down cake: Beneath the thick glaze were dozens of sliced Granny Smith apples atop a thick "pancake." When the dish cooled down enough to investigate, I discovered the pancake to be eggy, fluffy and chewy. Around its edges, the topping had caramelized in the oven's heat, creating chunks of crunchy apple-covered cake that fell away from center (no doubt lubricated by the butter oozing out of every crevice); the edge pieces were closer to candy than any pancake. In fact, so sticky-sweet and gooey-wicked was this "pancake" that could you serve it on a stick. It would be at home in any carnival.

I did my best with this platter of sugary apple cake, but it was enough to feed a farm. Bravo if you finish this, but if not, take the remains to go. After being chilled in the refrigerator, the pancake firmed up, becoming something like a thick egg-custard pie. It's utterly different from its warm, fluffier coffeecake texture when served, but still quite delicious.

This dish isn't going to win any heart-smart awards -- there was no denying the copious amount of eggs and butter -- but at least I had resisted ordering it with the suggested scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Besides, it had enough apples to equal at least two of my five recommended daily fruit-and-vegetable servings.

My companion had ordered the restaurant's other signature dish, the curiously named Dutch baby. It appeared somewhat healthier; it was at least less bulky and did not arrive bubbling over with its own naughtiness. The Dutch baby, while wide across the plate, was like an inverted lid with lips of baked "pancake" reaching upwards about two inches. This dish also didn't resemble any traditional pancake. It was pale in color, springy to the touch (it had trapped air inside) and spongy when eaten. Before the fixin's were added, it reminded me of Yorkshire pudding (which of course isn't like a dessert pudding but a batter of flour, eggs and milk baked in the roasting pan while the meat is cooling).

The Dutch baby was accompanied by a condiment holder offering powdered sugar, whipped butter and lemon wedges, as well as a bowl of fresh strawberries that had been ordered as a suggested extra. The diner could regulate the amount of butter and sugar, to make this pancake as sweet or as tart or as healthy as one wished (the strawberries and lemon juice alone would have made a simple sweet-sour garnish). But we were there to indulge, so on went the sugar and butter. (Whipped butter, rather than the chilled foil-wrapped pats one often gets, is so much more practical for application to hot pancakes or waffles.)

I rounded out my sort-of breakfast (I'd say the apple pancake was a dessert in every way but name) with a side of bacon -- four strips of thickly sliced, quite meaty bacon. Two strips were soft, two were crunchy, and they weren't as freshly cooked as the baked dishes. The glass of grapefruit juice proved to be a nice surprise. The menu said "fresh squeezed," and it must have been squeezed with some vigor, because the glass was loaded with pulp. I like thick juice and was pleased to see this juice did involve actual fruit and wasn't simply employing "reconstituted" alchemy.

So, after stating it was high time this area got a pancake restaurant, I fell into temptation -- ordered the exotic dishes and didn't even try the "regular" ones. I might have to go back to see how they fare on some good old-fashioned buckwheat variety. But I have no regrets about meeting these two new-to-town fancy pancakes.
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