Pancake Masquerade

Mar 02 2015 | 04:22 AM

    Soak up a post-Halloween hangover at IHOP

    At some point in the Halloween celebration, your addled brain will to realize you need to eat something. This may happen at 4 a.m., while you're still out and about, or it may happen at noon the next day.

    When it does, the vague concept of food that starts to form in your sodden head most likely coalesces into something carb-heavy, childish, unchallenging: pancakes. Thanks to an amazing market saturation and its de facto trademarking of the very word, when most of the country wants pancakes, consumer instinct pulls them to IHOP. Until recently, however, New Yorkers somehow muddled through with Greek diners, and delis.

    Now we too have this oddly sterile breakfast depot at our disposal, on East 14th Street between Second and Third avenues. So when you regain the ability to form complete sentences and manage to say to your friends, boyfriend/girlfriend or that stranger who's in your house for some reason, "Let's get pancakes," your consumer instinct will kick in and lead you straight there. It's an oddity for some, a taste of home for others, and is so far drawing a huge business-so much so that at prime weekend brunch time the wait can be over an hour and at night (it's 24 hours, as all good diners should be) there's a bouncer at the door to keep the crowds civilized.

    IHOP's menu offers a great number of things, and they're clearly hoping to be your one-stop chain restaurant for breakfast, lunch, etc. However, everyone's here for the pancakes and they know it. Even the one woman I saw who ordered a sandwich also got a side of pancakes, just to keep the universe in balance.

    There are basically three types on offer ? plain, fruit-based and ludicrously extravagant-all available in combinations that include a second full meal of eggs, hash browns and meats. Do not venture down that path, even if you're convinced you're ravenous-the pancakes alone will sink you like a stone, guaranteed. Get bacon or sausage on the side, if you insist.

    If you're still feeling shaky by the time you're seated, stick to the plain (sorry, "award-winning original buttermilk") and curl up with the thermos of coffee provided to every table-a genuinely brilliant innovation. I don't know what award they won, but these are indeed the Platonic ideal of pancakes, a feat of corporate cooking that looks and tastes exactly the same every time. Uniformly fluffy interior, golden brown crust ringed with a pale spine where the cake missed the griddle-you're not quite sure they're real, even as you eat them.

    Your steadier companion may decide to keep the party going with a more Willy Wonka-esque innovation. Cinn-A-Stack? pancakes are layered with a cinnamon ooze and topped with cream cheese icing, while New York cheesecake pancakes have pellets of cheesecake scattered through the batter before cooking. The effect is less jarringly dessert-like-as if a real person making pancakes with real buttermilk took these off the griddle a second too soon, leaving a slightly creamier interior and a hint of tang. They come drowned in a strawberry topping that is diabetes on a plate and should be asked for on the side or not at all; these do best with the warmed original syrup brought out with the dishes.

    After a few bites, the sugar and starch will work their magic and you'll start to feel human once again. When you do, you may notice that, though visually perfect, the pancakes taste one-note and mildly chemical, the "butter" reeks of artificial butter flavor and the syrup is more high-fructose corn than maple. Leave those thoughts for another day, though, when you've got your strength back and have washed all of the Cleopatra eyeliner off. Right now, it's as much like food as you can manage. Pancakes and Syrup and Jam, Oh My: IHOP lands in the East Village and serves up all the sugary breakfast foods needed to quell your Hallow's Eve hangover. PHOTO BY ANDREW SCHWARTZ