When I made my way to the Midwest this past fall, I kept my expectations at a minimum. I had no preconceived notions of the people, the landscape or the food. And, if I had? Well, let’s just say this…if my trip had been a baseball game, the Midwest hit every ball out of the park. What an incredible place.
I began my trip in Wisconsin, then trepidatiously crossed Lake Michigan to continue my breakfast journey at the Original Pancake House of Bay Harbor.
First, I want to extend a special thank you to my friend, David Renker and his family, who so graciously allowed me to stay in their home. It afforded me a much-needed respite before my long drive from Michigan to Ohio.
I would say the best thing about the Original Pancake House is that they are just about EVERYWHERE. Yep, you don’t need to fly five hours, ride on a ferry for two and drive another six (like I did). The Original Pancake House has multiple locations in 30 of our 50 states. However, if you want to go on an adventure, see a part of the country you’ve never seen before and meet some really wonderful people (like I did), then the Original Pancake House of Bay Harbor is a great place to do just that.
Bay Harbor is an upscale residential and resort community that sits on the shore of Little Traverse Bay in Northern Michigan. The Original Pancake House is located in the heart of Bay Harbor called the Village. It’s incredibly charming with great boutiques, restaurants and is situated near the marina. I’d venture to guess that this place is definitely hoppin’ in the summer, but an early fall visit was perfect.
When I walked into the Original Pancake House the first word that came to mind was “butter”…a result of the wafting aroma that hit my olfactory nerve like a ton of bricks. I took a deep breath in and didn’t really want to exhale, it smelled so good.
I was greeted by two beautiful blondes…Sandy Clark and her daughter, Stacy Kennefeck…who both treated me like I was the Rachel Ray of breakfast. In addition to their charming demeanor and great big smiles, they laid out a breakfast feast like I’d never seen before…two tables of utter deliciousness. I was more than happy to oblige.
I began with The Big Apple – an oven-baked, German pancake that, when presented, looks more like a giant, bubbling apple pie. It takes roughly 25 minutes to bake…and is worth every minute of the wait. Don’t be intimidated when you see it. Just follow Sandy’s instructions and dive right into the middle which is exactly what I did. The texture is more soufflé-like than a pancake and is a fun adventure that you must try. It’s packed with Granny Smith apples, butter, sugar and cinnamon which, when combined, is a true delight.
Next up, fresh squeezed orange juice…which tasted like squeezing an orange directly into my mouth. Yum.
After the tasty OJ was their cinnamon french toast. It’s made from cinnamon swirl bread by Johan’s Bakery located by the Haspitil in Petaskee (or, hospital in Petoskey…love the Midwest accents!). I’d imagine that the bread is delicious all by itself, but add some egg batter and griddle it and it’s beyond brilliant.
Even though I had already devoured two pretty delicious baked treats, I was up for the next challenge…the 49er Swedish pancake. This pancake is really more like a crepe with a sourdough taste to it. It’s served with powdered sugar, butter and lemon. There’s no need for syrup or anything else for that matter.
After loosening the drawstring on my pants, I was ready to accommodate round two which started with their crepes: cherry, peach and raspberry. Each of the fillings are cooked in wines that intensify the flavor of the fruits. Don’t worry all you lightweights, all the alcohol is cooked out leaving really wonderful flavors. My favorite of the three was the raspberry. The Danish wine that it’s prepared with combines beautifully with the raspberry, resulting in a flavor that is a little sweet, a little tart and a little perfect.
Stacy mentioned that one of the reasons their crepes and pancakes are so good is because of the butter they use and what they do with it. Apparently, there are different grades of butter. The United States Department of Agriculture grades butter based on its body, texture, flavor and appearance, and then gives it a score. The best type of butter is Grade AA which has a score of at least 93 out of 100. The butter used at the Original Pancake House of Bay Harbor is a 93 score butter. So, they start with the best, boil it, take all the cream of the top which leads to a super pure, clarified butter. Is your mouth watering yet?
Onto their corned beef hash…it’s ground fresh every day with the best corned beef, fresh potatoes, onions and a secret blend of spices. De-lish. The chef (who looked young enough to be my kid) prepared it with an egg that looked nearly fake. It was the perfect texture and shape.
Their biscuits and gravy were next. Biscuits were light and fluffy. The gravy…insanely rich and flavorful. It’s made with pure whipping cream, chunks of sausage, tabasco, onion powder, garlic and a blend of spices. I expect the South to have great biscuits and gravy, but the Midwest? Well, mmm hmmm, they do too.
Because I hadn’t had quite enough to eat just yet, they gave me a sampler of all the different meats they serve…the standout was their sugar-cured, thick-sliced smoked bacon. I’m convinced that bacon tastes different outside of California. The flavor is out of this world.
Next was their Garden Dutch Baby – the texture is similar to The Big Apple, but it’s the savory version of it. It’s packed with gouda cheese, fresh green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion and broccoli. The aroma and the dish were just delightful, but I barely finished two bites of it since my stomach was quickly approaching maximum density.
I carried on…right into their spicy Santa Fe omelette. The texture of the eggs was surprising…very light and fluffy…apparently due to the heavy whipping process they use on the eggs (similar to spindles Dairy Queen uses to whip their ice cream). It’s then stuffed with tomatoes, jalapeño, cilantro, onions and pepper jack cheese. There is a kick because of the jalapeño but it’s still very enjoyable.
Up next was a sampling of their pancakes: pumpkin, blueberry, chocolate chip, pecan, buckwheat and plain. My fave: pumpkin. The secret to their pancakes…well, they’ll never tell, but what is interesting is that every single Original Pancake House must use the same stabilizer from the original location in Portland, Oregon and follow their precise recipe. In my opinion…a recipe for success!
After a delicious cup of coffee, I presented Sandy and Stacy with the restaurant’s award on behalf of the followers of Little Lee’s BREAKFAST IN AMERICA. And, all I have to say is they got it RIGHT!
You can visit The Original Pancake House of Bay Harbor at 4165 Main Street in Bay Harbor, Michigan. They’re open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., or visit them online at their Facebook page.