Monday, October 10, 2016

IHOP, 2016

Another year, another couple sets of free pancakes: one for my birthday, and one for my anniversary of joining the IHOP Pancake Revolution.

And, another year of loving IHOP.

If you'd like, you may start with my reviews from 201220132014, and 2015 if you wish to read about a lot of pancakes.

August 2016, Fisherman's Wharf Location

I arrived around 10am, on a Saturday, at the location near Fisherman's Wharf.  The place was bumpin', but I was able to snag the last counter seat, as I was dining alone (seriously, friends, why y'all not want to join me at IHOP?  Its GOOD!).

Side note: I actually do kinda like visiting IHOP alone, as I find it fun to people watch the other diners (usually a fascinating set of individuals, very different from my usual crowd) and I love to watch the restaurant in action.  This visit was a good reminder of what an impressive operation IHOP can be.

The counter provides a view directly into the busy kitchen, and I was amazed by the pace of orders flying out of the window.  Every time I looked up the pass was loaded with more and more plates.  The limiting factor seemed to be the time it took the servers to apply the final touches and bring them out to tables.  Since it was busy o'clock, they were operating both passes, one on either side of the kitchen, and seriously, they were full the entire time.

Watching the staff was fun, but also watching the different orders was fun too.  I had been pondering ordering the special croissant-waffle hybrids that just came out, and I was able to see a few go by.  I sorta wished I had tried them.

But, it is so hard to go past the pancakes, as IHOP just makes amazing pancakes.  I did try a new variety this time.  While I didn't love my flavor choice, I was glad to try something new.
Red Velvet Pancakes (toppings on side). $10.29.
"A Seasonal Favorite! Red is your color. You get 4 rich red velvet pancakes topped with cream cheese icing & dusted with powdered sugar. So sweet you’ll think twice about sharing."

I was torn between the cinn-a-stack (as always) and the red velvet.  I'm not sure why I picked the red velvet, but, my server told me it was good pick.  They normally come drizzled with the icing and topped with whipped cream, but I asked for my toppings on the side so I could add them on as I pleased.  I also asked for butter, so I could have some bites simply with butter and syrup.

The pancakes were reddish, but not quite as vibrant as the photos in the menu.  More brownish, really.  Like all IHOP pancakes, they were large in diameter, but were thinner than the buttermilk based pancakes.  I did wish they were puffier, but, they were cooked fine, a bit crisp on the outside.  The pancakes had a subtle chocolate flavor.  Fine, but not particularly interesting.

I set about finding the perfect bite.  I had the toppings that came with the pancakes, plus the 4 standard syrups (strawberry, blueberry, butter pecan, old fashioned) on the table, and I also asked for the Sugar Free syrup.

The butter was Grassland brand, whipped salted butter, scooped out of a huge bucket.  I'm curious how much butter they go through in a day, as nearly every order comes with a big scoop on top.  It was very generic butter, nothing special about it.  A bite with just butter was pretty boring.

The whipped cream was Dairy Star brand, from a can.  Decent whipped cream, for canned whipped cream.  It went really well with the icing.  I easily finished this off, and decided I wanted it with nearly every bite.

The cream cheese icing came out of a squeeze bag, likely IHOP's own mix.  It was super sweet, and I actually liked it.  I originally slathered just a little on, and quickly found myself coating my pancakes in it.  I didn't really taste the tang from cream cheese though, but, it was good sweet icing.  It went well with the whipped cream too.

I also tried all the syrups, as always.  The pancakes didn't really go with any of the syrups.  The blueberry was a total flavor mismatch.  I wanted the strawberry to work, I think because in my head the pancakes were red and so was the syrup, but it didn't really work.  I wanted the butter pecan to work, since I like that syrup, but, the slightly bitter chocolately pancakes were an odd match with the sweet, buttery syrup.  I tried a few different ways, with icing and/or with whipped cream, but I never found a syrup match.

I do have good news though.  The sugar free syrup has been replaced!  It used to be Cary's brand, and now it is Smucker's.  I liked the Smucker's a bit more, it was thicker, with a richer flavor.  But, still, not what to have with these pancakes.

In the end, these were fine pancakes, but I wouldn't get them again.  Best bite was definitely loaded with icing and whipped cream, totally, totally not breakfast appropriate.
Leftovers: Topped with Cream Cheese Whipped Cream and Candied Pecans.
I did have one leftover pancake, which I brought home to freeze.   If you don't already realize this, pancake freeze beautifully.  Wrap them up tight, tuck them away, and enjoy a pancake breakfast anytime.

I never defrost my pancakes, just wrap them fully in foil and stick them in the toaster oven at 350-400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.  They warm up, all moist and fluffy, almost steaming themselves.  Then, because I like a bit of crisp to them, I open up the foil (or toast them on the rack) for a final minute or two.  Honesty, just as good as fresh, and always such a treat when I decide I randomly want pancakes.

I knew I needed to basically turn them into desserty pancakes though, so I mixed up some cream cheese whipped cream, drizzled them with plenty of syrup, and threw on some candied pecans too.  This worked pretty well, and unlike the version that IHOP served, I was able to taste the complimentary tang from the cream cheese.

September 2016, Lombard Street Location

For my second pancake set, I visited the smaller Lombard Street location.  I had plans to have friends join, but, plans fell through at last minute.  Undeterred, I went alone.

I had a lovely time.
Booth ... for one.
I was seated in a booth, normally for four people, by myself.  This location doesn't have a counter or small tables, so, I got the comfort of a very large space, all for me.

I was in a tiny side area, with only 4 tables.  It really was tranquil and a nice relaxing experience.

Even though I had only 3 tables to people-watch at, that was more than enough.

One table was a regular.  Nearly every staff member came by to say hi.  She ordered a burger, and the server noted, "oh, and I know you don't want the mayo on it".  Really a personal touch I didn't expect at IHOP.

The next table was a couple, who each ordered big melt sandwiches, with sides (fries and hashbrowns).  But as soon as my pancakes arrived, they added on a full stack of pancakes on the side, (because "they looked so good")! Oh, IHOP.

The final table was a lady who ordered "a double bacon cheeseburger, extra bacon, but hold the cheese, I'm trying to go light".

Let's just say, each one of these tables was a source of amusement for me.

Service was remarkably good.  My server was friendly and totally on top of things.  He even offered me a box the moment he saw me slowing down.  My food arrived quickly (long before that of anyone around me, which I thought was a bit odd, but welcome).  Overall, it was a lovely visit.
Double Blueberry Pancakes. $10.29.
"Double up on the blueberries! You’ll get a stack of four fluffy pancakes filled with blueberries, then topped with sweet, warm blueberry compote and creamy whipped topping."

I did that thing again where I went there with a plan (to order a Criss-Croissant, the croissant waffle hybrid available only for a few weeks), and instead did something totally random.  Switching my order last minute to pancakes, when I know how much I love the pancakes isn't totally crazy, but going for the blueberry ones, when I still haven't tried the Cinna-a-stack or cheesecake ones, is.  When do I ever get blueberry pancakes?

I don't know why I did this, to be honest, besides that I was alone and knew I couldn't finish a whole stack in one sitting and would want to bring them home, and the cinna-a-stack seemed not appropriate for saving to freeze since they are layered with icing and filling, and the cheesecake ones just felt too decadent.  But why blueberry?  They just jumped out, and I wanted to try another buttermilk base.

The "Double Blueberry" nature of these comes from the fact that there are berries inside the pancakes and they come topped with a blueberry compote.  I forgot to ask for my toppings on the side as I usually do, but, in this case, it wasn't a problem.  In addition to the compote, they were topped with a squirt of standard canned whipped cream.  No butter on these due to the other toppings.

The pancakes were really nicely made.  Large, fluffy, light pancakes with a good buttermilk tang.    Really a great base.  The berries inside were huge juicy blueberries and were plentiful.  They were perfectly cooked, really textbook execution of good pancakes.

On top was the blueberry compote.  It was ridiculously sweet, basically, berries in goo.  While that may not sound great, and it clearly wasn't fresh berries, I enjoyed it.  I decided to use the entire portion of compote on the top pancake, so it was crazy sweet, and no syrup was necessary on that one.  There certainly wasn't enough compote to cover the full stack, but, I was happy to move on to experimenting with the syrups.

Overall, a really fantastic stack of pancakes, and I'd gladly get these again, as boring as they are in comparison to other IHOP options.
The only flaw was the syrup containers.  All 4 provided on the table were crazy sticky.  And, uh, one was missing its lid.

I again sampled all the syrups with my pancakes.  The strawberry one I really liked this time, it was sweet and fruity, and went really well with the blueberry in the pancakes.  The blueberry was also fine with the pancakes, but, the compote was much better than the syrup, so it paled in comparison.  The Old Fashioned, and sugar-free (back to Cary's at this location!) were both fine, boring plain fake syrup.  The butter pecan was the only one I didn't care for on this trip.
Leftovers, Take 1.
As I explained, I partially picked the blueberry pancakes rather than some of the layered creations because I wanted to bring half the stack home to freeze.

The first time I pulled one out, I was actually heading to another brunch, but it wasn't until later morning, and I really wanted something sooner, as I was up early for no reason.  Pancakes to the rescue.

This pancake reheated perfectly.  I served it with a pat of butter and real maple syrup, that I both warmed up and drizzled on cold to compare.  I was a bit shocked though when I realized that the maple syrup was good of course, but, I really just wanted butter.
Leftovers, Version 2.
So, when I went to have my final pancake, I skipped the syrup entirely, and just melted on a pat of butter.  

The pancake was again awesome, although I did crisp it up a bit too much (my own fault, I was busy making pour over coffee and not paying enough attention).  And, don't judge, I realized that I needed more butter.  For a giant IHOP pancake, more than one pat of butter is required.

I'd gladly get these pancakes again, freeze them, and just serve them with butter.


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