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Stalking the Perfect Pancake: Pershing Square

Pancakes at Pershing Square

One of the joys of adulthood is inventing playful ways of masking vices as virtues, for example: I tell myself that I can avoid going to the gym (again) by taking a very long walk – it’s more mentally stimulating and better for my heart to boot! The fact that the very long walk will terminate at my favorite restaurant in Chinatown, where I will consume 10x the calories that I burned walking – see, that’s the playful part. Here’s another example: I crave pancakes like Kirstie Alley craves… well, pancakes, probably. Steaming hot buttermilk pancakes soaked in butter and real maple syrup is a simply perfect food – but one I shouldn’t indulge too often. Or should I? I happen to live in a city with 34 thousand restaurants – many of which serve breakfast. I also happen to have a blog (…see where this is going?) It is my responsibility to my loyal readers – nay, my duty –  to hunt down the best pancakes in New York City, eat them and report on it here. And so I shall.

The first stop on my flapjack odyssey took me to Pershing Square – an odd little venue wedged into the underside of a trestle outside the main entrance of Grand Central Station. On the strength of another blogger’s glowing revue on one of the foodie blogs, which referred to the pancakes at Pershing Square as “the best” in the city, I forded a river of tourists one early Sunday morning to take a window seat and sample what they had to offer.

Being a purist of the old school I ordered the plain buttermilk variety – a pristine palette, unsullied by complicating fruit – upon which to asses the chef’s skills and they arrived in short order and steaming hot. Good sign. But they arrived without butter. I chalked that up to the frantic pace of the restaurant and the clearly harried waiter. But now I suspect it was by design, that the butter was loaded into the batter. As you can see from the photo, the platter arrived looking close to perfect: an ideal serving size of three cakes each about 5 inches in diameter, not too thin or too thick and browned just enough to provide the toasty caramelized flavor we love without tasting burned. I’m partial to thinner pancakes – they stack better and aren’t as “cakey” in your mouth as thick ones can be – but there was something odd about the mouth feel of these cakes. I literally gagged on the first mouthful — it got stuck in my throat — and I had to wash it down with hot coffee. They tasted good but felt gummy, though they were cooked through, and I suspect it was because of too much fat in the batter. Buzz kill. The pure maple syrup accompanying the cakes was not warmed just room temperature – but at least not cold out of the fridge. The blueberry and strawberry garnish was pretty but irrelevant.

I’m not sure how someone could consider these pancakes to be the best in the city – but I’ll allow that maybe they were having an off day at Pershing Square. However considering that they weren’t cheap ($12 for 3 cakes), I’m not sure I’d be willing to front them the money for another try.

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