Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Original Pancake House in the Gardens: Give It Time – Lots

August 9th, 2009 · 12 Comments

Dutch baby - a specialty

Dutch baby - a specialty

My partner and I went to try the Original Pancake House in Palm Beach Gardens this morning. Sunday morning breakfast out is a ritual, usually with friends. Today, it was just the two of us.

We arrived at around 11:14 a.m. to face a mob of people waiting outside and inside the front door. That was the first sign of the chaos that ensued – we should have turned tail right then. But I really wanted to try the food and write about it, so against my usual rule of not waiting in a big crowd or for a long list, we stayed after being told the wait was 20 minutes. There didn’t seem to be that many on the list ahead of us.

What a fantasy. Everyone who entered was told this – “25 minutes at most.” A number of smarter people walked in, took one look,  then walked out just as quickly.

No control at the door

The gregarious gal with the list at the front door truly was trying to control things, but she was in over her head. People were in groups of two, three or four everywhere in a tiny lobby area, and pushing through the front door into this crowd to get to the lister, and others trying to get out. I prayed there wouldn’t be a fire — it would get toasty real fast.

She had people lining up on the “active” bench in the order in which they were signed in, moving others to their spots vacated at the only other two benches — silliness!  It was aggravating for the feeble elderly who needed to sit and stay put while waiting. There was no loudspeaker outdoors, either, so if you chose to wait on the two small outdoor benches and she forgot about you – as happened at least once while we were there — you were out of luck. (A great case for beepers.)

Fortunately, the folks waiting and being herded left, right and up and down were all joking about it while shaking their heads — none seemed really upset. A few of us “rotated” on the benches on our own to let others sit, and laughed about the nutty system. I could see a few getting to the “anxious” point, however – especially seeing kids taking up the precious few bench spots while older folks with canes were standing.

After being shuffled around and going though a couple of roll calls by the lister, and elbowed by others waiting, we were finally seated around 12:05. I had made up my mind to have a good experience from here on out — surely our servers weren’t to blame for the wait.

Calmer dining rooms

The back, large dining room was less chaotic, though the servers and food runners were plenty busy. We had menus, and waited a bit before our server, Marilyn – friendly and obviously already worn out – came with coffee.

We had to wait another few minutes before we could catch her for cream, however. They make it easy to get attention, though, with their “Service at the push of a button” method: On every table is a wireless button you can press that calls a server. We did that, and one popped up pretty quickly to bring us ice water.

Marilyn made good suggestions on the menu and explained that all the egg dishes came with pancakes – enough to share if we chose.

I wanted the pumpkin pancakes – they sounded great (everything did by then!), and Marilyn deemed them a “good choice.” My partner chose eggs and bacon — and gave me his poached eggs. He only wanted the bacon with the plain pancakes and this was the value way to get them, she said.

It hits the skids

Then, we then waited another 29 minutes for our food. During that time, another server came to ask if we’d mind shifting our table and chairs to the right to fit in a large party next to us. We felt like cattle herded around this whole morning. We obliged and the party next to us was apologetic – they, too, had that “bovine” feeling. We really didn’t mind – it was all such an absurd comedy by this point – we all started laughing about it.

But I was finally grating inside: A table of 10 church women who were seated after us already had their foods. So did six other tables that I counted around us who had been seated after we had.

Clearly there was a snafu in the crazed kitchen – our server had put in our order when we gave it. We pushed the service button again to ask where our food was, and in a few seconds, our server appeared to say it should be right out – she was truly apologetic. The food runner and another person answering the button arrived within seconds after that and our plates put before us. It was 12:36 p.m — 1 hour, 22 minutes after we arrived.

Delicious pumpkin pancakes and good java

Now, to the good part: All of the foodwas piping hot. The pumpkin pancakes were delicious – heavy with spices. I opted not to have the whipped cream and powdered sugar served with them – maple and pumpkin go great together. The eggs were perfectly poached medium (I was asked my choice of soft, medium or hard for those) and not sitting in a bowl of water. The thick-cut bacon was crisp and the plain pancakes were very light and delicious. It all tasted very fresh. The coffee was great, too — I’m a big stickler for decent coffee.

Their other specialties are a Dutch baby, pictured at the top of the column, and the apple pancake. (Both of these and several other items say to allow 30  minutes to prepare. At least you’re warned.) They also feature a wide selection of other pancakes, crepes, omelets, egg dishes – many of which looked delicious coming to the other tables –  and for “brunch” or dinner, sandwiches and salads, as well as a couple of dinner entrees.

They’re not new at this

I’m really hoping for their sake, they settle in to a better weekend routine. This was clearly unacceptable. I would have spoken to a manager (my other rule I broke – always tell the management when things go wrong so they can fix them), but it was even more chaos at the front door as we left. I looked for someone other than the lister in charge, but it was futile and we were being asked to step aside by other diners.

Marilyn did tell us that it’s best to come on weekends either very early (they open at 7 a.m.) or after 12:30 – things seem to thin out then.

Surely, though, this chain from Portland, Ore., that’s been around since 1953 understands that breakfast spots do their top business on weekend mornings, and particularly, Sundays.  You’d think by now they’d have a better seating and service system in place, or at least more servers, cooks and managers on the floor.

There was another Original Pancake House owned by different franchisees who went under at U.S. 1 just north of PGA Boulevard. They had a huge following when they were good; new owners who took it over a few years back couldn’t get it together and it eventually closed. This one is is in the old RJ Gator’s spot on Northlake (Winn-Dixie plaza) and has experienced owners, allegedly.

Off-season now – what happens in fall?

Our server said things are “supposed to pick up in season.”  I, however, won’t be the one who tells you whether that’s true. From now on, I’m saving my visits here for slow weekday mornings or nighttime breakfast cravings.

I’ll likely swing down to the much less frenetic but equally good This Is It Cafe in Old Northwood, or the cheery City Diner in West Palm on Dixie for my weekend hotcakes.

The Original Pancake House

Tags: Talking Tables

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott Simmons // Aug 9, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Behold the echoing air. I’ve been to three of their locations and slow service seems to be a common thread over the course of 20 years of visits. The lingonberry Swedish pancakes are to die for, though.

  • 2 Jan Norris // Aug 9, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I’ll give it another chance — just never on a weekend morning.

  • 3 ksteinhoff // Aug 10, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Sounds like you had the right idea in Paragraph Two, Sentence Two: “we should have turned tail right then.”

    Life is too short to put up with bad service.

    (Unless you can get an easy column out of it.)

  • 4 Jan Norris // Aug 10, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Well, when I said I wanted to write about it, I had hoped the food and good service would be the focus. Alas…

  • 5 diane // Aug 11, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I noticed the change to the Pancake House I am in that area almost every day and my rule of thumb is with a new restuarant is:
    NEVER go there the first 40 days, always wait till they get the cobwebs worked out and their mojo starts working. this is always worked for me

  • 6 Jan Norris // Aug 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I used to follow a rule of “never before 30 days” but, a) A great many came and went in 30 days without my ever getting to try them! and
    b) My readers got upset when I took so long to write about a new place and would bug me about it – so I succumbed to earlier visits, but still do recommend a wait.

    This also led to conversations about: Is it fair to review a restaurant that’s been open only 3 weeks?
    My response: Are they charging full price for meals — or offering a “honeymoon” discount – money off for those willing to come in while they’re still getting their “mojo working” as you say…?
    That’s the fault of many restaurants: They do little to no training before they open – and wonder why they’re bashed for service…amazing to me.

  • 7 ksteinhoff // Aug 11, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    If they came and went in less than 30 days, then why bother to write about them?

    I used to use a variation of the 30-day rule when erstwhile friends (REAL friends don’t ask you to shoot their wedding) asked me to shoot their wedding.

    I’d say, “OK, but you don’t get the prints until your one-year anniversary. If the marriage doesn’t last that long, then you’re not going to want them anyway.”

  • 8 Jan Norris // Aug 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Some are so mom-and-pop, and can’t afford advertising, they lose out because no one knows of them.
    My writing about them gives them at least a chance.

  • 9 Annette Jones // May 4, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for this review. I pass this place on a daily basis during the week and I never have time to stop. After seeing that Dutch baby picture and then visiting their website, I have to at least try them out.

  • 10 Julie // May 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I have been there twice during the week around lunch time . Both times it was a disaster. Ist visit the eggs in the eggs benedict were raw with a tastless fake sauce on top, the canadian bacon was nothing but fat…Ugh!!! 2nd visit I could swear the waitress was on drugs and the whole crew didn’t seem to know what they were doing. The place is too big and spread out for this type of place.

  • 11 Ken Steinhoff // May 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    I saw Julie’s comment and it jogged my memory. I ate at an Original Pancake House just west of St. Louis when I went up to visit my brother in the last year.

    We got there on a Sunday just before they shut down for the day. Service was fast and friendly; food was excellent and quantities were in the I-can’t-walk-after-all-that category.

    When I passed the sign down here, I was hoping the St. Louis experience would transfer to FL.

    Based on these reports, I think I’ll wait until I go back to St. Louis for my Original Pancake House experience.

  • 12 Hostel Lodz // Feb 25, 2011 at 4:28 am

    Great comments guys, thanks

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