Stick with pancakes at IHOP
Since last fall, the pancake-starved have been patiently waiting for IHOP -- that's International House of Pancakes for those who've just arrived from another planet -- to open at Windward Mall. I've even gotten e-mails from people on the mainland waiting for it to open so they can buy gift certificates for friends and relatives here.
Well, surprise! The wait is over. While all eyes were looking east, Vince and Sarah Espino quietly opened their franchise in the Ohana Waikiki Malia a month ago.
As perhaps expected, given the pent-up longing and desire, the restaurant leaped to No. 3 in sales within the California-based IHOP Corp., which operates more than 1,200 restaurants across the United States and Canada.
I'm convinced that Americans are hardwired to love pancakes. From a gustatory perspective, they represent a food that appeals to our primitive nature, when fat and sugar were rare and prized for survival. Now that fat and sugar abound, we're still drawn to them, and pancakes combine both evils in a delicious way, as pure pastry drenched in butter and sugary syrup.
From a social perspective, pancakes equal love. The fortunate among us remember hanging around the dining table on weekend mornings as our moms poured Bisquick batter into an electric skillet. Pancakes being a kid-friendly food, my mom trusted my siblings and me to make our own. Mine took on animal shapes and were almost never round -- except for dime-size drips I made to see just how small a pancake could be. And waiting for the batter to bubble marked my first lesson in timing a dish. It turned out to be a process that was educational, creative and filling.
So it's no surprise that a restaurant with "pancake" in its name would enjoy mythic status. Even though our experience with IHOP itself has been limited to mainland visits, check around and you'll turn up an IHOP memory or two. In my office there are people who grew up on the mainland and miss the IHOP presence. I even found a guy who proposed to his wife over breakfast at an IHOP. Pancake love displacement, perhaps?
Given the choice of dining at IHOP this week, or reviewing a restaurant that promised spice and diversity, I asked co-workers what they preferred to read about, and IHOP was the unanimous choice. What could I do but follow the crowd?
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
IHOP manager Glenda Soriano and chef Stanley Bennett offer a plate of strawberries and pancakes.
WAIKIKI'S IHOP is in a pristine space dressed in generic coffee-shop decor and encased in glass for people-watching.
Of course you're going to order pancakes, and you don't have to look far to find them. Original fluffy buttermilk pancakes ($6.99, $5.99 for a short stack) lead the menu, and you can top those with blueberry, boysenberry, strawberry, butter pecan or hot maple syrup, or a combination of all if you're so inclined. My favorite was the butter pecan.
The kids, no doubt, will be attracted to chocolate chip pancakes ($7.99) topped with powdered sugar and whipped topping.
If you've been eating pancakes a long time and are at an age when it might be wise to stop, there's something for you, too, in the form of a healthier "Harvest Grain 'N Nut" pancake ($7.99) incorporating grains, oats, almonds and walnuts. Just go easy on the whipped butter and syrup.
Pancakes also show up as sides on signature breakfasts and omelets, from a basic ham and three-cheese (Swiss, jack and cheddar), to a big steak omelet also featuring onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and cheddar cheese (both $11.99). Create your own omelet for $7.99 plus $1.59 per ingredient, from Portuguese sausage to jalapeños.
I've never had an opportunity to explore the menu beyond breakfast until now, and it's not territory I'd explore again. As happens with love, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Thankfully, breakfast is served from breakfast to closing.
Lunch and dinner items reflect a dining style unchanged since the chain opened in 1958. Convenience foods come in the form of deep-fried onion rings and puny all-batter popcorn shrimp, little better than what's available in a grocery freezer. I'm sure there are places across the nation where this is acceptable and expected, but by Hawaii's culinary progression, this is 1998.
Items from burgers ($8.99 for the basic) to steaks ($14.99 for top sirloin) don't fare much better, although I did enjoy a decent clubhouse spinach salad ($10.99), tossed in a sweet honey dressing, as well as a dessert of cream-cheese banana "cheesecake" oozing from a pastry tortilla topped with caramel ($4.99).
Well, there's a reason IHOP is not dubbed the House of Burgers or House of Steaks, so if you're planning to hop on down, stick to the main attraction and the two of you will be fine.