If you’re cruising down South Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, keep an eye out for Original Pancake House. This gem is hard to miss – the restaurant looks like a cross between a Howard Johnson’s and a Swiss millionaire’s cabin in the woods. I was immediately drawn to the restaurant when I first noticed it (Plus, the parking lot was packed which is always an encouraging sign – unless it’s Trader Joe’s. Seriously, Trader Joe’s: what the hell?).
Based in Oregon, Original Pancake House is a classic type of restaurant chain (with 16 locations across the country), with a bold name implying authenticity and truth. But, if the focus is “pancakes”, how special could it really be? Pancakes seem essentially basic: you put stuff on them, or in them… or you don’t. Bada bing, bada boom. Well, it turns out that there’s more than one way to flap a jack. And Original Pancake House has flapped them down to a science.
I guess I should start off by asking “What Are Pancakes?” Thankfully, OPH has a helpful FAQ designed to dispel any myths. “A pancake is any kind of batter, fried or baked in a skillet, on a griddle, or on any hot surface.” I like how they summed it up with “any hot surface”, discouraging any snobby pancake-heads from emailing the home office with a detailed list of hot surfaces that didn’t make the cut (“What about a panini press?”).
Furthermore, “The peoples of all nationalities have made pancakes from time immemorial.” This is an important point since some of my best friends are peoples of all nationalities, and some of them think that pancakes are an American invention (I just tell them that Americans perfected it). Also, Christopher Columbus set out to prove that the world wasn’t “flat as a pancake”, as many people claimed back then – and that was some time around 1492 (I learned a song to help me remember the date when I was in elementary school: “In 1492/Columbus, whatcha gonna do/whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”).
All right, enough with the history lesson. The only bit that you need to know right now is that the pancake is a classic treat that, when done right (kudos to The Griddle Cafe in Hollywood, where an order of pancakes is too much for a party of five to finish), can be comforting and exciting. And, boy, Original Pancake House does it right. OPH uses an old-fashioned sourdough yeast for a light, fine textured pancake. The obvious benefit with this approach is that the pancake is enormous when it arrives at your table. It’s hard to not be impressed with the sheer size of the thing. It’s even more impressive to note how quickly you can put it away, it’s like eating a bag of marshmallows.
Their omelettes are a cheesy variation on their fluffy pancakes, and I order one every time I’m in the mood for something savory. I took my mom to OPH recently, and she ordered the “Dutch Baby”. She’s always been really into the Dutch (she even had a pair of wooden clogs at one point), and she had spent quite a bit of time in Holland where the kitchens were lousy with Dutch babies. I asked her opinion of the Dutch Baby and she replied, “You were always such a sweet baby – the doctor said that you were the first baby he delivered that was smiling. Do you remember the time when I took you to the zoo and you asked me if I would buy you a giraffe?” This is a dish that really takes you back.
I’ve made several trips to OPH – which is kind of a trek if you live downtown – and I always look forward to their coffee. It’s a special blend made by Boyd’s Coffee (OPH has been a customer for over 50 years), also based in Oregon, and it MUST be enjoyed “black”. That is, no cream or sugar. I quickly gulp every last drop when I see the server approaching, eager for that customary refill. Damn, that is a good cup of joe! But, like everything else at Original Pancake House, the coffee is proprietary. You could try to find an imitation somewhere else, but you just can’t beat the original. It’s a shame that it’s way the fuck out in Redondo Beach, though.
Original Pancake House:
1756 South Pacific Coast Hwy.
Redondo Beach, California 90277
310-543-9875 (Not open for dinner)