Original Pancake House is reason to rise and shine
It's pretty effin' rare that I eat at a restaurant and can't find anything to complain about. I've dined at countless restaurants in my 35 years on this shiny blue orb, and I've seen plenty of good, bad and ugly. I've had meals that were overcooked, undercooked, cocked-up so badly my cat wouldn't go near the to-go boxes and -- on incredibly infrequent occasions when the planets align -- I've also had meals where everything from the service to the atmosphere to the food itself was flawless.
I was at the Original Pancake House at 5900 South University Boulevard in Greenwood Village, a part of the metro area I don't get to often. The neighborhood might best be described by a bumper sticker I saw in the parking lot that read "Cut Government Spending!" -- on the bumper of a Lexus SUV.
The original Original Pancake House was opened in 1953 in Portland, Oregon, by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke, with a menu featuring international recipes they'd collected. It was such a hit that they franchised the concept, and the Portland restaurant earned a James Beard Foundation Award in 1999.
By then, Denver's Original Pancake House locations were already wildly popular. And the two surviving remain so: At noon-ish, the Greenwood Village restaurant was packed. I was seated at the second-worst table in the place, the one right by the kitchen, and I decided not to mind because I would have had to wait another thirty minutes for the worst table in the place -- the one by the restrooms -- to open up.
The smack-up-on-the-kitchen table in a breakfast spot is generally a place of suck because of the wafting aroma of omelets -- and when you're making those huge, oversized, feed-four omelets, you inevitably get EBC (egg burn crust) on the outsides. It can't be helped (unless you cheat and only cook the omelets two-thirds of the way and then and zap it already stuffed, like I do at home), and the revolting aroma tends to waft about and permeate everything, including my clothes and my subconscious.
But I wasn't here for an omelet. I'd heard that OPH makes some magnificent food -- including, but not limited to waffles, crepes, house-made corned beef hash and, of course, pancakes. I ordered the house-special waffle -- lemon poppyseed with blueberry topping -- the corned beef hash with two eggs and pancakes, and the house special praline-banana crepes. I saw some other peoples' food go while I was ordering, and the home-fried potatoes looked pretty special, so I ordered a side of those as well.
Ordering accomplished, I looked around the room. The restaurant's ambience would have been off-putting had it been a dinner spot, but a lot of breakfast places do the "pretend-country-outdoors-barns-and-sh*t" style of decor; the Fight Club cornflower-blue-tie-colored walls, faux-rustic blond-wood booths and tables, and blue-and-white painted porcelain plates might have been tacky had they not been clean, meticulously placed and well maintained. The dining room really looked like a well-scrubbed, fake-farmhouse dining room; all it was missing was an antique Victrola and some of those plastic parlor-cushion covers that only come off on Sundays, when there is company.
The service at OPH was gorgeous: fast, efficient, friendly as hell, and worth a good 25-plus percent tip at the end. My food was on the table, smoking hot, in under fifteen minutes. The plates were tidy and the portion sizes far past what I was expecting.
The waffle was feather-light, with butter-crisp edges and perfect pits filled with fruity, floral, warm blueberry compote. The waffle didn't even need that topping, though, because the combination of buttermilk, lemon rind and a bit of sweetness was furiously good.
The corned-beef hash was just as good: tender, brick-red bits of not-too-salty beef and tiny dices of peel-on russet potatoes, flavored with onion and perfectly moist -- according to the menu, the cooks use cream to wetten it up, and that trick works very, very well. Topped with with two over-medium eggs -- I like to weed-whack them into the hash -- and this was the best plate of hash I've ever had, by a f*cking long shot.
The Original Pancake House does not screw around with crepes, either. The plate was stacked with three giant crepes rolled up with what I suspect was over a pound of banana slices, pecans, caramel sauce and whipped cream. The single order had enough stuff to feed me for about three meals, and the crepes themselves were deliciously eggy, sticky, bouncy and warm.
Even the home fries were exceptional, so well-cooked and easy-seasoned that I wondered if the kitchen had par-boiled the potatoes first to avoid the blackened potato-peel edges (because that's what I do at home when I'm not too lazy, which pretty much means close to never).
And then the pancakes: airy-fairy light, uniformly bubbled and sized, with lacy edges and a mildly tangy buttermilk flavor that made that warm maple syrup sing like Katy Perry.
My Original Pancake House breakfast was more delicious than original sin. I'd get up before noon to eat here again...and that's saying a mouthful.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.