By Aaron R. Conklin
It's such a simple dish, really. Sometimes there are as few as three or four ingredients involved—heck, some of us even make it out of a box on the weekends, using only water as a mixer. Yet from what can often be a relatively simple foundation, Madison restaurants have found a host of ways to rock a memorable stack of pancakes, in both traditional and highly unusual ways. Some of them would put a smile of familiarity on a lumberjack's face, while others would knock his wool socks right off.To put it another way, Madison's breakfast and brunch cafes love to use pancakes as a palette.
"When you get right down to it, pancakes are a great delivery system," says Susan Hendrix, the chef and co-owner of Sunprint on the Square.
She's right, and what we found when we went pancake hunting only proves her point. Whether it's fruit, sweet chocolate chips or south-of-the-border spicing, there's a stack waiting to be drenched in syrup—real Wisconsin maple syrup, that is. Sharpen your forks and let's dig in.
Lazy Jane's Cafe
Used to be you could score a stack of pancakes only as a weekend special in the cozy confines of this Willy Street staple. Then, about three to four years ago, the staff decided to take it daily, much to Madison's breakfast- and brunch-eating pleasure. Lazy Jane's buttermilk recipe is a result of a meeting of the minds between the staff's four chefs, and it's delicious to the power of four.
For starters, it's not your standard buttermilk. "They're a little more salty, and our batter is a little thicker than some," says kitchen manager Will Tracy. The result is a tall, hearty pancake that carries just the slightest hint of the other things cooked on the grill beside it.
You'll pay a little extra for the Wisconsin maple syrup to slather it with, but it's totally worth it. And, hey, if you're feeling really adventurous on the weekend, see if you can score a plate of mac and cheese pancakes with Andouille sausage. Yes, you read that correctly.
Blue corn pancakes with chile butter
Taylor Anderson knows that Eldorado isn't necessarily the first place people think of when they're hankering for a tasty stack of cakes—but maybe it should be.
Eldorado's Southwestern take on the dish, featured as part of the restaurant's rock-solid brunch lineup, is unlike anything else in the city. It starts with that shocking orange dollop of butter camped on top of a stack of sizable blue corn pancakes. The butter and maple syrup are punched up with cascabel chile—also known as "the rattler," an oval-shaped chile with a woodsy taste. Beverage aficionados will recognize these as the same chiles that infuse Eldorado's vodkas and tequilas with a little extra flavor.
"Our patrons are getting a flavor they’ve never had in their life before," says Anderson, Eldorado’s proprietor and general manager. "It really opens their eyes."
Those thinking they'll be lunging, Marco Rubio–style, for an icy glass of agua after a bite or two can calmate: The spice these chiles offer is moderate, not scorching, and neatly complements the sweetness of the cakes and syrup. The pancakes themselves are made in the traditional style of the Pueblo Indians. And as an added plus, they pack an additional dose of protein.