RESTAURANT: Clinton St. Baking Company
LOCATION: 4 Clinton St.
DATE: April 17, 2005
FOOD: Half of both the Wild Maine Blueberry Pancakes and the Banana Walnut Pancakes, each with warm Maple Butter; side order of two Scrambled Eggs
BEVERAGE: Iced Peppermint Cocoa (Sunday brunch special)
Every Tom, Dick, and IHOP that opens a breakfast restaurant thinks they can make pancakes. Their attempts usually end in one of two extremes: a stale, overcooked, cardboard oval requiring pools of imitation maple syrup to reach even a mild level of edibility; or the opposite extreme of an undercooked wart of a breakfast, oozing puss-like batter from the first fork full. Being a devoted pancake lover, these extremes distress me and often cause me to order an omelet to avoid any chance of flapjack freakishness. But good God, when pancakes are done right, they’re the breakfast equivalent of a full-body massage. Clinton Street’s pancakes give just such a rub down.
First of all, there’s the appearance. These are griddled works of art. Chestnut brown or golden, the choice of adjective is less important than the overall attractiveness of the dish. Danny and I split orders of Clinton’s St.’s two types of pancakes, the Wild Main Blueberry and the Banana Walnut and each were amazing to look at. Layers of thinly sliced bananas and whole walnuts crown the pancakes. Powdered sugar adds a layer of sweet powdery snow to both varieties. But, these pancakes really get beautiful once they’re cut into. As we discovered, they were practically bursting with the fruit and nut fillings. These weren’t afterthought ingredients, thrown on top at the very end without any integration into the batter. Clinton St.’s pancakes bled fresh blueberries; layers of bananas provided a thick bite with the crunchy walnuts. These were how pancakes are supposed to be made. The actual pancake had the texture of a cloud, a fluffiness created by the beaten egg whites mixed into the batter right before they’re grilled. The exterior has enough darkness to provide resistance so that the pancake doesn’t crumble upon being cut. Clinton St. wasn’t messing around.
But it just got better. The pancakes were served with warm maple butter instead of the more conventional maple syrup (or corn syrup imposter thereof). Whatever culinary imaginary came up with this dip of the gods should be honored and adorned with flowers and gold. Though it resembled honey in color, the consistency was just as its name suggests, butter and syrup harmoniously brought together. The maple butter softened the pancakes without making them soggy, enhanced rather than masked the flavor with modest syrup sweetening. We were both astonished at how good this accessory tasted.
My scrambled eggs were also excellent, on the creamy side, just as I like them. A few strands of parsley added some spring green to the top and were a welcome partner for the pancakes. The iced peppermint cocoa, a Sunday brunch drink special, was fantastic on its own, but too much like a dessert to drink during the meal. Which was fine, as I had nearly finished the beverage with a series of rapid, delicious gulps by the time our pancakes arrived. As a warning, Clinton St. does have tremendous waits, especially on Sundays. We waited for nearly an hour and half and when we were finally seated, I was ready to be critical. But the pancakes deflated my pessimism before it had a change to emerge. It was nice to leave the restaurant secure in the knowledge that at least one place in the world, pancakes were in the hands of trained professionals.