Al's Breakfast buttermilk pancakes: 100 Favorite Dishes, No. 100

Star Tribune file

Star Tribune file

What better spot to kick off our countdown than an eatery that feels like it predates the concept of restaurant dining itself? The 10-foot-wide Al's Breakfast has essentially fossilized into Dinkytown's eclectic fabric--that grease glued onto its great, flat griddle is practically Paleolithic.

Al's is cramped and the service can be curt. And when you do get a seat, you're pretty much guaranteed to be eating with a line of hungry souls pressed up against your back and leaning over your shoulder, sniffing the whiff of your coffee.

But that's the beauty of Al's: It's a great equalizer. Some famous asses have certainly seated themselves at one of the diner's 14 stools--and slid down, at the waitress's command, to make room for newcomers, alongside all the other students, retirees, and third-shift hospital workers.

Mostly, these diners are eating pancakes, brown-speckled wonders that nearly cover the entirety of the plate. They come in several variants, but many are partial to the plain buttermilk: their spongy heft, their hint of salt, their richness that renders syrup irrelevant. Just think of the mighty days such a meal has launched.

413 14th Ave. SE, Minneapolis

In early 2010, the Hot Dish named 100 of its favorite dishes in the metro, as a precursor to City Pages' Best of the Twin Cities 2010 issue. Now we're back with round two, counting down, in no particular order, a hundred more of our favorite local eats that we'll wrap up by the time our Best of the Twin Cities 2011 issue hits the streets on April 20. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we should feature, tell us about it in the comments section below, or email us at [email protected]