A post for Pancake Day.
Pretty soon after I first arrived in the States my sister asked ‘So have you been to the IHOP yet?’. I was mystified, but it turned out she was referring to the ‘International House of Pancakes – the IHOP’. Apparently this often features in American TV shows, but for some reason I’d never heard of it.
In fact, it took me a while to even locate a branch in DC (though, as I wrote about a while ago, DC doesn’t have many great examples of old-style fast food places). In the same way as my local McDonalds and Burger King don’t exactly invite you in, it was apparent from Yelp reviews that my local IHOP (in Columbia Heights) was similarly unappealing – if I see the word ‘cockroaches’ in a review it’s a fair bet I’m going to be steering clear of that restaurant.
So I was really pleased when I discovered that the branch of IHOP opposite my doctor’s office in Arlington was both clean and well-reviewed. Finally, I would experience this mecca for pancake lovers – the myriad selection of flavoured syrups, those appetizing looking stacks of fluffy goodness, topped with an ice-cream scoop of whipped butter (take a look at their website and you’ll see what I mean).
I don’t really know what I was expecting. The ‘international house of’ part of the name reminded me of the warm and friendly experiences I’d had in Center Parcs in the UK and in Holland. These European holiday parks offer relaxed, comfortable stays in forests, with activities for kids and spa-experiences for adults – and the famous Pancake House.
However, the sterile, cubicled space I entered in Arlington was a far cry from the clean lines and bright colours of the European diner I’d enjoyed. True, I was dining alone, which is often a depressing experience, but I think a certain amount of my disappointment was caused by the decor. It was the kind of design that you could imagine repeated across America, always the same, these 4-people booths with low cubicle walls so they could adapt to fit two sets of separate couples. The best I could say for this place was that they had used the space efficiently.
Good features of the IHOP are the size of their menu and their prices. The menu appears to be huge, partly because they offer nearly every ‘combo’ you can think of to suit your needs and your wallet. I got the 2x2x2 – 2 fried eggs, 2 pieces of bacon and 2 pancakes. It was cheap and it was fast. It’s basically the fast-food version of breakfast. And, as so often happens with fast food, it’s a bit underwhelming. It was all fine and tasty enough, and the service was prompt, and the place was clean – it was fine. The flavoured syrups on the table were fun for a little, but are a bit gimmicky, and I enjoyed the full flask of coffee that was brought for just me, but the whole thing felt a bit sad. Not at all what I’d been hoping for or what that smile on the website had hinted at.
So today I won’t be celebrating Pancake Day at the IHOP. I’m glad I got to experience it, but I’ll be marking the day at home.
I have flour, milk and eggs and will make the traditional British (thin) pancakes of my youth (which I didn’t much enjoy back then, strange child that I was). In the past I have experimented by spreading them with nutella and adding banana, but I think the flavoured syrups at IHOP taught me a lesson. Lemon and sugar is all you need.