Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Uncle Bill's Pancake House and the "Wait/Yum" Scale
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the amount of time one must wait for a table for brunch must not exceed the quality of the food proffered on the "wait/yum" scale. If the wait exceeds twenty minutes, the deliciousness of the food must increase as well in order for it to be worth the diner's while. In turn, at eateries that do not require their patrons to digest the inner lining of their stomach prior to reaching a table, the expectations for greatness are vastly decreased. For example, the oatmeal I make myself every morning is all the more delectable because I do not have to battle a hungover, Juicy Couture-clad army of hungry waifs to get it.
At Uncle Bill's Pancake House, a sun-kissed seaside brunchery in Manhattan Beach, there is a battle of epic proportions for one of the patio or inside tables on the weekends. The time that my two friends and I spent hobnobbing it on the sidewalk this past Saturday morning approximated 20-30 minutes, thus placing Uncle Bill's in a perilous position. Quite simply, the food needed to pull off some serious David vs. Goliath-type bravado to compensate for the dire hunger pangs that were attacking my friends and me.
At first sight, the menu does seem worthy of the sunglasses wearing crowd cluttering the sidewalk outside. I always struggle to make the pivotal sweet or savory decision when going out to brunch, and miss the days when I lived in the Chicago area and omelets came with a side of potatoes and a side of pancakes. Since moving back to Southern California, I haven't found many breakfast/brunch places that allow diners to overload their bellies with such reckless abandon. I was giddy with all the different ways to get my sweet/savory fix -- like the French toast combo with two slices of French toast, bacon and scrambled eggs or the Belgium waffle combo, and even giddier at the exceedingly reasonable prices.
Because I was craving some extra roughage with my eggs (and was starving), I settled on an omelet with feta, spinach and tomatoes that came with a side of hash browns, and my choice of two pancakes (I selected the buttermilk with strawberries for a $1 extra). My companions also selected savory/sweet combos -- one going for an omelet with chocolate chip pancakes, and the other going for the aforementioned French toast combo. The food came out quickly (1 point can be subtracted from the "wait" side of the yum/wait scale), but I was dismayed to see that I had received the wrong omelet. It had spinach, but also a layer of unsightly onions and gross shreds of American cheese.
Not that there's anything wrong with American cheese. I just like my cheeses to be a little bit more ethnic. Like feta. Or goat. Or something I can't pronounce.
While I was tempted to just keep the omelet, my friends urged me to send it back, and our pleasant waitress was eager to accommodate my request (point for the "yum" side). She rushed the omelet back to the kitchen, and I attended to my pancakes whilst I waited.
Considering that the name of the restaurant is "Uncle Bill's Pancake House," I was suddenly faced with another scale. The "promotion/yum" scale. Because the pancakes were being promoted in the name, I was expecting them to be pretty darn smack-my-thigh tasty. Instead, they were a little meh. Maybe I've grown too accustomed to the sweet stacks at the Griddle and Cici's Cafe, but Uncle Bill's buttermilk babies were still a little too understated in the sugar department. The texture --fluffy and moist -- was on target, but there just wasn't enough flavor to give me the "I'm eating pancakes" sensation.
Fortunately, because Uncle Bill's believes in overfeeding its patrons, the pancakes' mediocrity was forgotten as soon as I tore into my well-done omelet. Rolled around a hefty amount of fresh spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese, it was a feast in itself, and I was perfectly content to satisfy my hunger pangs with the nicely executed egg portion of my breakfast. (And two-thirds of my pancakes for adequate sweet-savory balance.) My dining companions seemed equally pleased to devour their plates as well, and we all left the table with that hazy sensation that a food coma would soon be upon us.
Or at least I felt that way.
As for my conclusion about Uncle Bill's ability to overcome the wait time with its omelets, pancakes and other breakfast fare? I'm sort of on the fence.
Of course, it doesn't really much matter since the restaurant is too far from my West Hollywood apartment for me to go to it on a regular basis anyway. Who wants to drive 40 minutes for breakfast? I think I'd need to create a whole new scale for that one...