From the first moment we saw it moving in on a somewhat run-down stretch of Western Avenue, Empanada Boy and I were intrigued about Pannenkoeken Cafe. Pannenkoeken are traditional Dutch pancakes. They are thinner and lighter than the average American pancake, similar to crepes or Swedish pancakes. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to whom this sounded appealing; our friends Butternut Squash and Sir Cheesalot invited us to go there for breakfast last weekend.
For a place that’s only been open for a matter of months, Pannenkoeken Cafe seems to have developed quite a following. Or maybe the line out the door when we arrived can be attributed to the fact that there are only six tables inside this tiny space. We were told it would be a 45 minute wait, so we went to Cafe Descartes for some pre-breakfast coffee. Sir Cheesalot’s cell phone rang less than half an hour later, notifying us that our table was ready. We eagerly dashed back to our seats and opened our menus. We all wanted to try the signature dish — the menu also has a couple omelet choices, regular buttermilk pancakes, a breakfast sandwich and French toast— of which there were only five options, making our decision quite simple.
At least half an hour after we ordered, our pannenkoeken finally arrived. How it took so long for the kitchen staff to prepare four thin rounds of batter with minimal topping for one of six tables in the place is puzzling indeed. But we were prepared to forgive the pacing if the pannenkoeken were as good as our grumbling stomachs hoped. As it turned out, they were not. Empanada Boy’s bacon, cheese and mushroom variety was tasty, but a little sloppy looking and not as flavorful as an omelet filled with the same ingredients would have been. Butternut Squash and I ordered similar dishes. Hers had apples and ginger marmalade on top, while mine had raisins baked inside and dollops of ginger marmalade on top. The bright, tangy ginger marmalade was the interesting, flavor-driving element of both options. The apple slices could have been more lovingly caramelized, and my raisins were few and far between. Sir Cheesalot took the dessert-for-breakfast tack with this chocolate banana version. Decadent though it was, the chocolate could have been richer and the presentation more attractive.
Perhaps more significantly, I could have made all of these in my own kitchen in less than half the time. And that just brings me back to my tired old refrain about breakfast restaurants. So few of them are worth the money and the time waiting in line when my own kitchen can produce omelets, pancakes and baked goods aplenty. Still, there are those breakfast places— M.Henry, Cadillac Cafe, and Tweet, to name a few— that make interesting food, giving breakfast the same treatment a nice restaurant would give lunch or dinner. I’m always on the lookout for these wherever I go. And until I find them, I’ll be spending most weekend mornings in my kitchen at home.
4757 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625