Monday, August 20, 2012

IHOP, 2012

Yes, I went to IHOP.

Ok, now that that shock is over.  Let me shock you more.  I didn't just go once, I went twice.

Now, for some history.  When I was in graduate school, the local IHOP had a promotion on Tuesday nights, for 50% off.  This was huge.  The amount of food we could get for $4 was incredible, and as a grad student, something that really did matter.  So we went, basically every week.  And honestly, I loved it.  I had a bunch of favorites, including the "International Passport" breakfast with the Swedish pancakes (basically, crepes with ligionberry jam and ligionberry butter) or the Harvest Grain 'N Nut pancakes.  And of course, everything comes with a slew of sides, like crispy hash browns, eggs, etc.

I hadn't been to an IHOP since graduate school, but I've been on a serious brunch kick lately, just really loving and craving brunch foods.  And, IHOP of course offers a free birthday meal, and you know what fun I've had cashing in on my free birthday items!

So, I went.  The first visit was far better than the second.  The food was pretty decent, served really hot and fresh.  I loved that I got to go to brunch, on a Sunday, in San Francisco, and (gasp!) not wait for two hours.  And while the eggs weren't organic, or free-range, or anything special, it seemed like their short order cooks knew how to cook eggs.  And their pancake recipes are dialed in, this IS what they are known for after all.  Unfortunately, my second visit was no where near as successful, everything was overcooked and cold.  I won't be going back anytime soon, but it was kinda fun.

On both visits, I got the Pick-A-Pancake Combo: "Your choice of two same-flavored famous pancakes. Served with two eggs, hash browns and your choice of two bacon strips or two pork sausage links."  I went with my old favorites, the Harvest Grain 'N Nut Pancakes: "pancakes made with hearty grains, wholesome oats, almonds and English walnuts."  Since I liked them the first time, I couldn't resist getting them again the second time.  This also gave me a great comparison point, so I could see how inconsistent they were.  Certainly, lots of food for the regular $9.69 price.

Service was fine both times, exactly what you'd expect.  No complaints, although perhaps it was the server's fault my food came so cold the second visit?  But she did wish me a happy birthday.

If you want a free brunch, I recommend joining their club, it is one of the better birthday freebies I've found!
2 eggs over medium, hashbrowns, bacon.
My sides, on visit #1.

Mmm, look at the pool of butter/oil on top of the eggs!

The eggs were ordered over medium, but the yolks were totally runny.  They were still pretty good though, the whites not too tough, and served nice and hot.  Nothing extraordinary, but better than eggs often are.

The hasbrowns were quite good.  Crispy exterior, fluffy interior, well seasoned with salt.  Again, not extraordinary, but better than most.  I loved the crisp outside layer.

I didn't have the bacon, and gave it to my dining companion, who said that it was fairly standard.
2 eggs over medium, hash browns, sausage.
My sides, on visit #2.

It turns out, consistency is not IHOP's thing.  I guess I lucked out on the first visit.  Had these been the sides I received the first time, it is less likely that I would have returned.  The eggs and hash browns both arrived fairly cold.

The first time, the eggs were slightly less cooked than I wanted, but decent enough.  This time, they were way over cooked, the yolks 100% solid, the whites tough and rubbery and even burnt.  They weren't good at all.

The hash browns came in a much bigger portion.  They were nicely browned and crispy on each side, but lacked seasoning.  This was fine, as I could add salt, and mostly ate them with ketchup and syrups anyway.

I didn't have the sausage, but it looked well coked and nicely browned.
 Harvest Grain 'N Nut pancakes.
Visit #1.

And the reason I was there.  The pancakes!

These were just as I remembered.  Moist, fairly fluffy.  The mix includes oatmeal and little chopped up nuts, giving them a great texture and a nice heartiness.  Really better than a lot of pancakes I have.  And the giant mound of butter just made for more deliciousness.  I shocked myself by realizing I ran out of butter and wanted more, which I never expected when I first saw it.
Harvest Grain 'N Nut pancakes.
Visit #2.

Again, consistency is not their strong point.

As you can see, these were overcooked.  Not burnt exactly, but definitely left on the griddle for too long.  They weren't nearly as fluffy as my first visit.  They were also slightly smaller.  And like my sides, served barely lukewarm.

[ Not Pictured]
Syrups: Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruit Blueberry, Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity Strawberry, Butter Pecan, Old Fashioned.

IHOP is known for their collection of syrups that are always on the table.  The flavors have varied somewhat over the years, but these are the ones that seem to have stuck.  You can even purchase them in the stores now to enjoy at home!

The syrups are all just flavored corn syrup, but they do the job.  I say this as someone who had never experienced fake maple syrup until college.  My godfather makes maple syrup and his was the only kind I'd ever had growing up.  I didn't know fake stuff existed.  And then a tragic day in college I learned about "pancake syrup", when I complained to the kitchen, after thinking something had gone bad with the syrup.

Anyway.  My favorite both times was surprisingly the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity Blueberry syrup.  Although clearly just sweet blueberry flavored corn syrup, I thought the flavor was nice and it went well with the hearty pancakes.  My second favorite the first time was the old fashioned, just fake maple syrup.  Not the best maple flavor, but it worked.  A close tie for second the first time was the butter pecan, but it was a little too sweet for me, and I didn't necessarily taste the pecan.  On my second visit, I preferred the butter pecan.  Both went well with the pancakes and the hash browns.  Last place goes to the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity Strawberry, which I really didn't like at all, it was just sweet and fake tasting.  On the second visit, I tried it again, and again thought it was quite horrible.

[ Not Pictured ]
Coffee.  $2.49.

Coffee comes by the pot only.  Since I ordered decaf, it was brewed fresh for me, which was nice, but it didn't arrive until after my food.  I had wanted to sip on it while I was waiting and with my pancakes, to help balance the sweetness from the crazy amounts of syrup I was using.

Anyway, the coffee was fine, not offensive but not particularly good.  $2.49 seemed really pricy though, particularly given how cheap the food was.  I didn't bother getting it on my second visit.
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