Great Pumpkin pancakes
La Cañada’s Dish outdoes itself with holiday season treat
By Erica Wayne 10/23/2013
The days just before we set clocks back to “standard time” seem to grow shorter with a rapidity that defies logic. A month ago, the sun was setting at 7:30; now dusk creeps in at 6. The inevitability of confronting a 5 o’clock indistinguishable from 9 or 10 in another few weeks gets me down. About the only comfort is the looming holiday season, beginning next week with Halloween and progressing through New Year’s Eve and Day, after which there’s only a little more than two months before I can spring forward again.
During the “dark days,” as I term them, seasonal treats are my major solace. Visions of sugarplums (not to mention Snickers bars, cornbread-apricot stuffing, potato pancakes, French toast, homemade fruitcake and eggnog, eggnog, eggnog!) if not exactly dancing in my head do inhabit my daydreams to a considerable and rather unhealthy extent. Aside from the bags of candy at CVS and Vons, the first sign of the season is pumpkins. They show up, like an invasion of locusts, in gargantuan heaps in markets and “patches” everywhere and are processed into a multitude of products.
Just take a gander (another holiday item, by the by) at Trader Joe’s October Fearless Flyer, subtitled “All Things Pumpkin: Pumpkin in All Things.” Therein are advertised ready-made waffles and toaster pastries, yogurt, soup, ravioli, mini pies, cream cheese muffins, instant oatmeal, crisps, biscotti, bread pudding, ice cream, croissants, macarons, butter, ale, mixes for breads, waffles, muffins, scones and coffee. There’s even (for Fido’s sake), dog treats, all heavily laced with pumpkin.
Aside from loading up on just about all of these, my usual modus operandi for guaranteed self-soothing (as well as weight-gain) during the drear winter months is to head for the chain restaurants that specialize in pumpkin pancakes. IHOP, Mimi’s and others can usually be relied on to provide pillowy, spice-perfumed, butter and syrup-drenched sops for people like me. The better ones (like Coco’s multi-grain nut-pumpkin cakes, topped with something called “Pumpkin Harvest Chiffon Topping” whose ingredients I don’t wish to know) can keep me in emotional equilibrium till nearly sunset.
This year, though, I haven’t yet frequented any of the local franchises. Instead, I heeded the large sign on the exterior of La Cañada’s Dish restaurant heralding the fact that “Pumpkin Pancakes are Back!” and headed in last week with my spouse to try them out. Even without pumpkin pancakes, Dish is one of my favorite restaurants. As its Web site says, it provides “the quality and creativity of higher priced restaurants, with the value and comfort of a neighborhood coffee shop,” focusing on “classic American food, the kind of recipes you might find in an old Sunset magazine or your grandmother’s cookbook.”
The interior boasts an unusual elongated contour, with cozy booths that scallop the borders of the well-lit dining room, white paint on the high ceilings, tabletops gaily painted in patterns reminiscent of a Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen. And, while my granny never cooked up a brie and bacon-filled omelet or topped her noodles with wild mushrooms, there’s an all-American charm to Dish’s cornmeal johnnycakes, classic BLTs, grilled cheese sandwiches, fried chicken and craft beer and burgers they feature on certain nights.
About those johnnycakes, they’re made with cornmeal and fresh whole corn and, like their apple oatcakes (whole wheat flour, rolled oats and diced green apple), can be had for $6.95 to $11.25, depending on how many and what you choose to pair them with. The ham is glazed with brown sugar, but I prefer the applewood-smoked bacon or the Schreiner’s maple (pork) or chicken-apple sausage.
Their (free-range!) egg dishes (starting at $6.95) come with roasted red potatoes, fresh fruit, toast (white, wheat, rye or sourdough), strawberry preserves and unsalted butter. Omelets ($8.95-$13.95) are heaven. I don’t know how they manage to make them so fluffy even while folding them over ballooning centers, pregnant with sausage and caramelized onions, jalapeno, tomato, onion, cheddar and bacon.
But I digress. As I said, on our most recent visit, we were focused on pumpkin pancakes, which, with one of Dish’s frequent and generous (free entrée) coupons, would have cost us a mere $11.25 for both of us had we not decided to forgo one of the pancakes in a “tall” (triple) stack for a “short” (double) stack paired with two eggs and a generous side of either ham or bacon for only an additional $1.70, $12.95 for two.
And, as for the pancakes, they were luscious. Unlike those of the chains, whose overly sweet recipes often cater to kids, these were not just fat but plate-draping obese, topped with a ball of unsalted butter and a dollop of real hand-whipped cream laced with only the tiniest hint of sugar and a smidge of cinnamon. The syrup was warm and, if not true maple, was still delicious. And, best of all, it was obvious that the pumpkin in the rich batter was real.
So, thank you, Dish! In addition to our periodic evening visits for grilled cheese and fried chicken, you will be seeing lots more of us in the morning hours as long as you keep providing those magnificent pumpkin pancakes and munificent coupons. In the more upbeat mood generated by your largesse, I might even splurge on an occasional Irish coffee or pomegranate mimosa ($8). After all, just think how much you’re saving me in potential psychologist costs.