Pancake World

Minneapolis's most celebrated pancake is at Al's Breakfast, the narrow Dinkytown lunch counter where people stack up as densely as commuters in a subway car for a taste of crispy hash browns and crusty pancakes. Well, maybe not crusty in the baguette sense, but they do have a unique exterior halfway between an edge and a crust. A demi-crust. A crust-ette. The cakes also are distinctly tangy, almost sour, the result of using fresh buttermilk. "A lot of people are used to buttermilk powder," explains Jim Brandes, one of the little restaurant's owners. "When you use real buttermilk, it's a bit zippier. It's an ancient Al recipe." That buttermilk batter "is seldom more than an hour old," specifies Brandes. "It's extremely fresh--we make it all day long so it doesn't run out." The secret to the near-crust is the hot, hot grill, which has been going eight days a week for twenty-odd years. (And no, it's not the very same grill that made Bob Dylan's long-ago pancakes; that one wore out. "We scraped right through it," says Brandes. "This one still has a half-inch of steel to it.")

For the rest of the pancakes I tried, let's wrap it up quickly: They were all good, though not great. Dixie's in St. Paul has some very crisp pancakes. The Day by Day Cafe makes giant, floppy, homemade buttermilk flapjacks, but the day belonged to the buckwheat cakes--thin, resilient disks, with a strong grain taste, that weren't gruff or chewy. I thought I loved the pancakes at Rick's Ol' Time Café--modest, home-style rounds that fit in well with the mock-shack environment, but after having my head turned by greater cakes...well, you can never go home again. The Seward Cafe had nice, fluffy buckwheat pancakes--served with, bless them, a frugally portioned ounce of maple syrup--and a heartwarming scene of grade-school-aged kids reading selections from the children's bookshelf to toddlers. Unfortunately, the Seward also made the only bad cake I found: the poetically named "Righteous Pancake," a sand-dense wheat-free, dairy-free creation made with organic rice, millet, and corn flour that tasted like putty.

Speaking of, did you know that the very first commercially prepared food--at least according to the Dictionary of American Food and Drink--was Aunt Jemima Self Rising Pancake Flour? Or that the annual Dutch carnivals, or kermis, revolved around pancakes? Or...oh, forget about it. I'll never be able to cover all the legend and lore. Time to face the truth: It's a pancake world, and we are merely eaters.

Location Info


Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant

95 Merriam St
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Al's Breakfast

413 14th Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Restaurant > Breakfast

Region: University



IRRADIATE THIS: Well, it's time for the second Consumer's Right to Know Forum, this one on irradiated food, and the whole thing depresses the hell out of me. On one side are the well-funded megacorporations, who insist that the only way their monopolistic, largely unsupervised meat operations can provide "safe" food is to kill disease-bearing microorganisms by bombarding them with radiation. They are supported by well-meaning doctors who'd rather trade in known problems (some food-borne diseases) for a host of known (vitamin destruction) and unknown ones (radiolytic products in foods, irradiation plants, irradiation waste products, accidents at irradiation plants, irradiation-resistant bacteria).

Lined up on the other underfunded, underorganized side is a ragtag band of those who distrust irradiation, some of whom are willing to battle for a democratically safe food supply, and the rest of whom are just taking their marbles and going home--or at least taking their dollars to the small, organic, expensive meat counters where a parallel, but intimately supervised meat culture is developing.

But if you are thinking that the best response to this maddening state of affairs is to crawl under your bed: don't. Steve McCargar, the co-manager of a food co-op in Decorah and the David in this public forum against our locally grown Goliath, former state epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm--puts it well. "The people who think [irradiation] is a great thing are going to be there," says McCargar, and the questions generated by the audience will shape the debate. "What we need to do most is to convince people to ask good questions, and not be intimidated. At the very least stand up for the principle that every citizen has a right to have an informed opinion about these public-policy issues. And I believe an informed citizenry is going to have doubts about the wisdom of embracing this technology." The forum, sponsored by the Wedge Co-op, Mississippi Market, the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Macalester College, takes place at the Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester on Thursday, April 22, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are free and can be picked up at the Wedge, Mississippi Market, and the Campus Programs Office at Mac. Call (651) 696-6203 for more information. Attendees are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item for donation to the Joyce Food Shelf in Minneapolis, or the New Beginnings Center in St. Paul.

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