So, does Du-par’s, as Esquire magazine proclaimed some years ago, serve the best pancakes in the country?
Maybe. But that’s as far as I’m prepared to go.
As I said when I first reviewed the restaurant last year, such claims by food critics and other writers are designed as sound bites and problematic in nature. I never make them, because I haven’t tried every pancake in the country. But since I didn’t like the texture and off-flavors of my pancakes at Du-par’s, I was pretty sure they didn’t qualify.
After the review ran, I got a call — a very polite call — from Du-par’s management. The pancakes, the man said almost reverently, are cooked in pure butter. The off-flavors and tough texture, he was sure, were an aberration. He asked me if I would please give them another chance.
So I did, recently, once again ordering a short stack ($7.35), which once again brought me two dinner-plate-sized pancakes. Some months later, I still haven’t tasted every pancake in the country and still wouldn’t make a “best” claim. But these were darned good.
Restaurant reviews in the Las Vegas Review-Journal are based on one visit, which now and again draws a shot or two from those who think more are required. But this newspaper pays for everything I eat in the line of duty, while other critics generally take freebies, which is an ethical compromise. Besides, after — holy hell! — more than 30 years of doing this, I can usually tell when something’s not as it normally would be. (And to the guy who recently left me a voicemail saying that I sounded really young, thank you for that, but you’re wrong.)
So why were Du-par’s pancakes subpar last year? That will remain a mystery, but this year’s version was much better. This time, the cakes were nice and fluffy, with a surface that was velvety, not tough. This time, they had clearly been cooked in fresh butter, which gave them a purity and clarity of flavor that was appealing even without the pure maple syrup on the side, and better with it.
Two eggs on the side, over easy ($4), also had clearly been cooked in butter, as the menu promised. And that’s important because pure, elemental flavors generally are the best, by themselves or as a basis for subsequent layers.
But a large patty of pork sausage ($5.75) was a disappointment in that the flavor was pretty much just pork. Du-par’s has been around since 1938 and American cooks used a lot less seasoning back then, so maybe this is a tradition. But a jot of sage would be a big improvement.
The Ultimate Trio ($14.50) was up a buck from last year but still a good deal, offering soup or salad, a half-sandwich and a piece of pie. My friend decided on the New England clam chowder, which was lovely — steaming hot, thick and suitably rich and loaded with chunks of potatoes and celery and also clams, which is more rare than you might think. And it wasn’t overly salty, which is more common than you might think. The roasted turkey half-sandwich was the good old-fashioned kind, the turkey sliced nice and thick. And the slice of apple pie not only had a decent crust for a commercial preparation but also had clearly defined slices of fresh-tasting, still slightly crunchy apples, a truly refreshing change. The “slice” was close to a quarter of a pie and she got it warmed, with ice cream on the side, and this skinny minny was considering a really, really long walk after these huge portions, even with my nibbling around the edges.
Service was much better than it had been last year, perhaps because it wasn’t as busy, but two servers pleasantly and efficiently took care of us, and an assistant was quick with the drink refills.
At any rate, I still wouldn’t say Du-par’s pancakes are the best in the country, because that would mean I’d have to eat a whole lot of pancakes all over the 50 states. But I will say they’re darned good.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.