M. Henry's Blackberry Blisscakes ($9.25)
If a better pancake exists than the Blackberry Blisscakes at M. Henry, I want someone to tell me now. Every aspect of this dish works remarkably well, making it not just my favorite pancake in Chicago, but my favorite traditional breakfast meal. The remarkably light pancakes with just maple syrup would be good enough to make this list, but throw in the thoughtful blend of flavors and textures decorating the short stack and you’ve got an unstoppable breakfast force. The heavy dollop of vanilla mascarpone cream between the pancakes slightly cuts the sweetness of the berry-laden sauce, and the crunchy brown sugar and oatmeal makes chewing the whole thing that much more enjoyable. This is a breakfast worth planning your week around.
Hot Chocolate's Buttermilk Pancake ($12)
There aren't many people in the country, let alone Chicago, who can consistently produce the kind of quality pastries that Mindy Segal has been putting out for years. So it should be no surprise that when it comes to pancakes, she's going to make something fairly mind-blowing. This single buttermilk pancake, the fluffiest I have ever had, is studded with chunks of milk and bittersweet chocolate. A partial contrast to the softness of this beauty are the crisp edges that taste like pancake candy, a result of being cooked in a pan in the oven. The brunch menu at Hot Chocolate changes each weekend, but the pancake is a mainstay. The particular flavor of the mountain of butter does change, and on this visit it was a luscious maple butter. Syrup comes with each order, but there's really no point or need to add it.
Bongo Room's Banana & Bacon Flapjacks ($9.95)
No breakfast spot in Chicago has longer lines on weekends than the two locations of the Bongo Room. I'm not going to tell you the pancakes are worth the two hour waits some people put in (no pancake anywhere is), but these are some spectacular hotcakes. And because the four pancakes on the regular menu, in addition to daily specials, are served all day, it's easy to avoid the lines. I opted for the banana flapjacks, which are filled with crumbled bacon and topped with praline sauce, bananas, and a wonderfully obscene amount of crème anglaise. This plate was as delicious as it was decadent. Note: standard orders come with three pancakes, but you can ask to get just one or two if you like.
Ina's Heavenly Hots ($8.79)
Not every pancake has to be some elaborate newfangled concoction to achieve greatness. Case in point: the Heavenly Hots at Ina's. Owner Ina Pinkney, who modestly refers to herself as the "Breakfast Queen," started cooking quality breakfasts in Chicago before going out to breakfast became a trendy social event. She even opened up a restaurant in the West Loop long before it became the hottest culinary district in Chicago. But when it comes to these pancakes, Pinkney is merely the medium. These uberlight and creamy pancakes—made from eggs, sour cream, and a minimal amount of flour and potato starch—are a creation of the legendary Marion Cunningham. The hotcakes are served with a peach, raspberry and blueberry compote that is great, but completely unnecessary.
[Photograph by Robyn Lee]
Meli Cafe's Honey Cakes ($8.95)
These may look like ordinary pancakes, but there's nothing run of the mill about Meli's Honey Cakes. The pancake itself is made from a blend of flour and cornmeal, with enough of the latter for me to trick myself into thinking I was eating a healthy breakfast. The batter is infused with honey and cinnamon, which is especially noticeable on the back end of each bite. To sweeten things up, raw buckwheat honey and a nice dollop of whipped cream complete the meal.
Uncommon Ground's Organic Granola and Vanilla Yogurt Pancakes ($10)
Known to environmentalists as one of the most eco-friendly restaurants in Chicago, to mainstream America as the place where American Idol constestant Crystal Bowersox got her start, and to me as a place to get a damned good breakfast, Uncommon Ground has a little something for everyone. The kitchen relies heavily on local and sustainable ingredients, so the menu changes with some frequency. Made with vanilla yogurt and topped with organic granola, cinnamon, and powdered sugar, these light and delicious pancakes are merely very good. But once the sweet and tangy organic concord grape syrup is poured on top, they become truly special. The bananas make no sense in terms of taste or the restaurant's social ethos, but I was happy to eat them after I finished the pancakes.
Southport Grocery's Bread Pudding Pancakes ($10)
While most pancakes on this list rely on different toppings to stand out, the ones from Southport Grocery use a different approach. In a world where pancakes are judged by their fluffiness, these bread pudding pancakes are proudly dense and gooey. Topped with with cinnamon-sugar butter and vanilla anglaise, these pancakes deserve every bit of praise that's been heaped on them over the years. If you're not in Chicago or just don't feel like leaving the house to try these, you're in luck. The good people at the restaurant posted the recipe for these treats online.
Jam's German Chocolate Pancakes ($10)
Continuing the theme of awesome pancakes not made from anything resembling pancake batter, Logan Square's Jam offers these German chocolate pancakes from 7 in the morning until 9 at night. Topped with coconut caramel, maple marshmallow, and pecan brittle, these are the sweetest pancakes on this list by a wide margin. I love these, but I will never attempt to eat a whole plate by myself.
The Original Pancake House's Apple Pancake ($10.49)
Yes, The Original Pancake House is a chain. And yes, it's based in Portland. But if anyone wants to claim that this Apple Pancake is not one of the best pancakes in Chicago, I will fight them to the death. This behemoth is covered with sliced Granny Smith apples and a cinnamon glaze. It's fluffy and chewy; sweet and tangy; and it's freaking awesome. For historical reasons, several locations in the northern suburbs are called Walker Brothers, but the food there is the same as at every other Original Pancake House.