The International House of Pancakes

Or IHOP as she is known by her devotees. Today was one of those days where we got up late and bummed around at the villa until lunchtime. So decided to use the waste of the day to go shopping. But first, breakfast / lunch. Which is where IHOP comes in.

A meditation on pancakes. Where do they sit in the pantheon of food choices ? In England they come out once a year on Shrove Tuesday when, across the land, the threat of domestic violence is raised 100-fold by inadequate pans, poorly prepared batter, kitchens filled with choking clouds of smoke and kitchen implements bounced through windows following a range of pancake-related disappointments. They do appear as ‘crepes’ with a variety of unlikely fillings, but the essence of English pancakes is that they are thin, relatively large and peripheral.

Not so in the US, where pancakes form the cornerstone of the traditional breakfast. These pancakes are around 3 inches wide, slightly thicker than their English counterparts and come topped either with the most disgusting knob of what looks like ice-cream but which is actually whipped margarine, or the more traditional range of syrups (maple, strawberry and so on). They come as the accompaniment to a range of breakfast-related foodstuffs – eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, hash browns, toast, steak (!) and, of course, CHEESE.

Anyway, we shipped up for brunch and it was immediately clear that the IHOP attracts a completely different demographic from the eateries we’ve used so far. I suppose the nearest comparison would be the Happy Eater or Little Chef in England – used to be ok when roadside restaurants were at a premium, towards the bottom of the market now. However, service was good and, given that I was in America, I opted for the full pancake breakfast, as you can see here.

That’s 2 eggs (sunnyside up), 2 bacon strips, 2 sausages, 2 ham portions, hash browns and 2 pancakes with maple syrup. Actually, unlike most other meals we’ve had over here, the reality was slightly smaller than the picture on the menu. So my fears of being wildly over-faced were not realised. It was, however, a struggle. The meal was fine – a good breakfast of the traditional sort (ok, the ham was unnecessary) and lots of good coffee. I just struggled to get where the pancakes fitted in. Likewise Andy, who ordered a sort of bacon burrito with cheese, but which also came with 5 pancakes. The meal was fine – but what do the pancakes add to the whole ensemble, apart from huge amounts of calories, sugars and heartburn around 2 hours later ?

To be fair, pancakes is pushing it anyway. The reality is more like English griddle cakes -smaller in diameter and thicker than our pancakes, with a softer, doughier texture. So actually more filling than English ones too. 

As you can see, the effect on the boys was predictably manic. James declared his pancakes, with scrambled eggs and strawberry syrup (!) the best he had ever eaten. So everyone was, more or less, happy.

The more I see of American ‘cuisine’ – and to be fair, we are operating at the lower end of the scale – the more I am fascinated by the ubiquity of cheese in more or less everything. I’ve already talked about cheese as a salad ingredient, but I can confirm that every single side salad I have ordered has been pretty much a meal in itself with all of the major food groups, protein, carbohydrate, fats and minerals. Cheese comes as standard in most things. And those dishes where cheese is a key ingredient – Quesadillas, for example – well, you just have to be prepared for a world tour through the landscape. Delicious, but after a very short while completely overwhelming. Mind you, Tom baffled our waitress today by asking for the Cheeseburger….but without cheese. She thought about this for a minute and then said, ‘Ah, you mean a hamburger’. So they do get it after all.

Tomorrow the last day in the parks – we aim for Hollywood Studios to renew the love affair with Aerosmith, The Tower of Terror and (hopefully) Toy Story which we missed last time. But time and his winger chariot are fast coming up on the side now and the end of the holiday is in sight. I’ve even found myself buying disgusting bags of American sweets for the people at work today, which was rather depressing. Two full days to go before the marathon return journey day on Sunday and an early morning swoop back into Bristol airport to see whether the house has been burgled in our absence.

But hey, there’s still a few rides left to do.

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