Epicurious Eating: Richard Walker’s Pancake House
Published Thursday, 11-Feb-2010 in issue 1155
Four years ago when Richard Walker’s Pancake House began cranking out German-style pancakes the size of bathroom sinks, it drew lines down the block every morning. With the given economy combined with pricing that averages stubbornly at $10 per breakfast entrée, the cattle ropes nowadays go up pretty much only on weekends.
Returning midweek for the first time since its glory days, service was impersonal, equally frantic, and the food a little less wonderful. A few winning dishes, however, still remain.
Those crater-shaped German pancakes, baked to monstrous puffs and served with lemon and powdered sugar, are worth every penny if you don’t mind forking over $10.95 for one. (Despite their shocking size, keep in mind that they are filled with a lot of hot air.) Add $2.50 for coffee, another few bucks for hash browns and 75 cents for a miniscule ramekin of homemade salsa to pep them up, and you’ve spent what it takes for copping a fine three-course dinner in a quiet restaurant offering “distressed economy” specials.
Fans of corned beef hash are beamed to heaven, as the meat is ground on-site and achieves a perfect semi-chewy consistency that turns rightfully crispy on the griddle. But the line cooks didn’t get the eggs right, or maybe it was because our waiter in his exasperated approach didn’t hear correctly when I requested them cooked “over medium.” In diner language, that means the whites are fully cooked with about half the yolk left runny. These were lukewarm embryonic puddles with their yellow domes sticking straight up.
Also good, but somewhat expensive, is Richie’s BLT. For $9.25, you get the sandwich on bulky egg bread with thick-sliced bacon scored along the sides so that it doesn’t curl when frying. Included are hash browns of the Plain Jane ilk.
A friend’s spinach crepes tasted a million miles removed from their French origins. Thick and heavy on the outside, they were overly stuffed with the spinach, and with barely a hint of aged cheddar promised on the menu. As for the mere dribble of Hollandaise sauce on top, it was glutinous and lacked the starring ingredient of lemon. A couple of potato pancakes accompanied the crepes, but they too, were flavorless and seemingly void of onions. Pass the salt, pepper and Tabasco please!
More price gouging became evident when we asked for a sample of cherry compote with a regular order of so-so buttermilk pancakes. According to promo cards on the tables, February is “national cherry month,” and the restaurant currently offers the fruit mingled with Danish cherry wine (Kijafa) on Belgian waffles, crepes and pancakes. In learning from our waiter that the admixture would cost an extra $2.50, we said, “nada.” The homemade, maple-flavored syrup would be good enough – and it’s free.
It could be argued that Richard Walker’s location in the high-rent Marina District dictates steeper prices, not to mention its upscale interior of wood and stained glass uncommon to other breakfast joints. But the dining experience is the same: Every square inch of space, inside and on the patio, is maximally filled with tables; the food tastes slapdash despite some homemade touches; and service is severely rushed to the point where you may need to ask twice for coffee refills.