For a Chain, Original Pancake House Seems So Local

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The Original Pancake House
5479 Main St, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: The Original Pancake House
Phone: 716.634.5515
Rating:    [learn more]
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"Several inches tall and the full footprint of an oversized plate, the Apple Pancake is a monster of gooey sweetness, like a caramel apple mixed with a pancake and omelet."

Lines have spilled onto the sidewalks of the Main Street location of The Original Pancake House for years, and in a pre-Internet era, Buffalonians might reasonably have assumed that Williamsville's quintessential breakfast shop was a local phenomenon. It's not - despite its folksy interior and perennial popularity, the House quietly maintains franchised locations all across the United States, including three in Western New York. Certainly amongst the area's very best places to find a crepe, pancake, or specialty morning eat, The Original Pancake House is quieter later in the afternoon and night, serving the same menu of breakfast treats. Our entry on this restaurant is abbreviated only in that we yet haven't included photos of its two most famous menu items, but we'll update it to include them shortly.

The Story: Fifty-five years ago, the first Original Pancake House opened in Portland, Oregon, but somehow - even with over 100 franchised locations now in operation - this chain still seems as if it's home grown. From what we gather, part of this is deliberate: the restaurants thrive on just-made-fresh breadfasts, lack shops in many major cities, and barely seem to advertise. It's as if The Original Pancake House was designed to be the polar opposite of the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) or Denny's, and even as those chains have rapidly opened or shuttered stores, it hasn't veered from that course. What other large restaurant operation could have three locations in Western New York but zero in Manhattan or elsewhere in the state, and 15 locations in California but none in Los Angeles?

Highs: Perhaps the greatest compliment we could pay a pancake restaurant is to say that its two signature dishes, while truly memorable and worth repeatedly ordering, are only standouts because of their prominent places on the menu; any one of The Original Pancake House's renditions of breakfast classics is generally beyond reproach. The best-known dishes, the Apple Pancake and Dutch Baby, are pretty much unique to these shops, but other, more common crepes, waffles, and pancakes are equally delicious.

Despite its name, the Apple Pancake is not what you'd picture, namely a single simple pancake with tiny chunks of apple inside. Rather, it seems like an accident - what happens when a sliced half apple, six or seven pancakes worth of batter, and cinnamon sugar glaze explode on their way to the oven - yet magically work anyway, even addictively, when they're ultimately cooked up. Several inches tall and the full footprint of an oversized plate, the Apple Pancake is a slightly eggy monster of gooey apple sweetness, tasting like a caramel apple mixed with a pancake and omelet. It's unquestionably our favorite dish here.

By contrast, the Dutch Baby initially looks like a massive dry lunar crater, with oversized shell-like sides that have been lightly dusted with powdered sugar. What's odd about the Dutch Baby is that it's a do-it-yourself meal, served with lemons, butter, and powdered sugar in small containers, and you're supposed to add as much sourness, sweetness, and butter as you prefer. Sometimes served with strawberries as an added topping, the Dutch Baby is based on the so-called German pancake, and offers a similar but less over-the-top tasting experience to the Apple Pancake.

Other items on the menu are surprisingly excellent. With rare exceptions, the Pancake House's crepes - particularly the Cherry Kijafa version shown here - have perfect balances of fruit, sauce, and eggy crepe flavors; the potato pancakes are consistently prepared better than at most Jewish delis; and the omelets, pancakes, and waffles are precisely as they're expected to be. Fresh ingredients, including blueberries or bananas, can be integrated into the dishes, while chocolate and coconut pancakes are long-time winners, as well. Regional locations we've visited may have one or two different items, as well, catering to local tastes.

Lows: There are only three modest lows worth mentioning at The Original Pancake House, namely the wait, prices that have creeped upwards, and certain inconsistencies in service items. During high-traffic hours, especially weekend mornings and afternoons - you can expect to wait a while to be seated, especially at the Main Street location. We used to think that the lines were because of the prices, which were shockingly low even by local standards, but when the prices started to go up over the past few years, the crowds didn't stop coming. Consequently, you can probably eat less expensive breakfast elsewhere, but it probably won't taste as good. Finally, though most of the wait staff and service items - syrups, silverware, and plates - are at least good, there are occasionally a few bad ones in the batch. It's possible to get a jug of syrup that's watery or otherwise screwed up, in turn messing up your order; in this case, getting a replacement is typically not an issue. With wait staff issues, you'll just have to deal with it unless the people get fired, or potentially choose a different location to visit.

The Verdict: Even after raising prices such that its breakfasts no longer seem like local deals of the century, The Original Pancake House remains at the top of our lists when we want a special early morning meal. It has been so good for so long that, after discovering locations outside of the area, we used to seek out new stores when we lived outside the state; we're glad now to be living close to several of them. We prefer the Main Street location, but visit the Niagara Falls Boulevard one when we need to be in and out faster; both have superb, highly recommendable food.

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Comments (2)

Chris B :

More like "For a chain that seem so local, Original pancake House is a little pricey." Decent food, often slow/average service, and expensive breakfast. I've been to the Williamsville, Amherst, and Bethesda MD location, and they are slightly different but mostly similar. The problem with this place is that decent food is not enough to justify the only OK service and elevated cost. While most things on the menu are pretty good, very few things are made better than one could make at home, or better than one could find at a few other local breakfast places. I go here from time to time, but its not as good as its reputation.

The prices went up a few years ago, transforming what used to be almost crazy inexpensive meals into something closer to par. Service varies from location to location, and the Williamsville one has in our experience been considerably better in that regard than Amherst, where we've been less than entirely thrilled 2 or 3 times. Slow isn't a word we'd use here by comparison with numerous other places, though, and often times the food comes out downright fast; they tend to warn when you've ordered something that will take 15 minutes.

One claim that we'd take major issue with: "very few things are made better than one could make at home, or better than one could find at a few other local breakfast places."

This probably depends considerably upon what you order, but very, very few of the items we order here would fall into this category. A piece of Canadian bacon? Plain buttermilk pancakes? Sure, they're like what you could eat at home, and good luck finding any place that completely defies convention with such staple items. But the Apple Pancake? Dutch Baby? Kijafa Cherry Crepes? A dozen other items? There are lots of items here that people either don't have the skill or ingredients to just whip up on their own, and they're consistently (very, very consistently) great here. We have never had a disappointing meal at an Original Pancake House - not in 25 or 30 years - and that goes for ones out of town, too.

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