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RESTAURANTS / MAX JACOBSON : Great Pancakes? A Hot Cake Lover Will Flip Over These

One friend of mine has been talking about the German pancake at Walker Brothers in Chicago for as long as I’ve known him. Another been bragging about Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, N.H., for more than 20 years.

It is with some satisfaction that I can tell you I’ve finally found a place that shut these guys up for a whole morning.

A pancake lover will be sorely tempted to call the Original Pancake House in Anaheim the best restaurant in Orange County. Yes, it’s a chain restaurant, but yes, it’s that good.

Of course, the Original Pancake House is not to be confused with the much larger International House of Pancakes chain. But maybe the Anaheim OPH has an additional secret of success: It’s totally a family operation. Owned and managed by its former chef, Ron Voll, along with his wife, Nancy, its current chefs are their sons Adam and Gary, and you won’t find more experienced pancake chefs between here and Portland, where the Original Pancake House chain started. Or between here and Tierra del Fuego, for that matter.

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The restaurant itself is modest, just a woodsy-looking coffee shop with cherrywood paneling and coffee-colored vinyl booths. It’s set back slightly from the street, so look for a rather dilapidated sign depicting a smiling chef in a baker’s hat, partially hidden behind a tall tree. If this doesn’t work, keep your eye out for an auto parts store; it’s right next door.

During the week you’ll see the regulars, a colorful crowd of truckers, seniors and secretaries. Weekends, it’s a big favorite with families. There’s standing room only in the lobby as people wait for tables.

Why do they wait? The pancakes served here are anything but modest, every one made from special batters infused with sourdough yeast. These are the pancakes great-grandma used to make: light, finely textured, complex. There are about 30 varieties to choose from.

Tops on my list would definitely be the apple pancake, simply the best pancake dish I have ever eaten. It’s a giant, golden puff the size of a small pie, with a crunchy cinnamon glaze topping half an inch thick and a pile of freshly cut apples glistening in the center. It positively drools butter. This is the one that silenced my friend with the Chicago fixation.

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Second place would be the Belgian waffle, available plain or with various berry toppings. Eggy, crisp and golden brown, this is one of the most perfect waffles I have ever tasted. The batter is whipped until thoroughly aerated, giving a sensuous crunch to every bite. Try it plain. Putting fruit on it is like putting ice in champagne.

Actually, most of the customers seemed to be eating either the German pancake and its smaller cousin, the Dutch baby, probably because they are lighter and more digestible than most of the other dishes. They look like golden sombreros, edges burnt from baking in an extra-hot oven. The tops are dusted with powdered sugar and doused with fresh lemon juice and butter. Don’t let them cool down, because they deflate like an overcooked souffle.

For purists there are classic buttermilk pancakes, puffy and springy with a pleasant sour aftertaste. You can get three of them with any of the menu’s first-rate egg dishes. I recommend the buttery, golden brown ham-and-cheese omelet (served pancake style, natch).

But why limit yourself to the familiar? A host of eccentric offerings are available. “Palestine pancakes” are rolled crepes laced with a runny sour cream sauce faintly tinged with Cointreau. Or how about cherry Kijafa crepes, a still lighter crepe which the menu describes as stuffed with “luscious, blushing cherries simmered in liqueur”?

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The list goes on and on. Swedish pancakes, so thin you can see right through them, served with a heaping bowl of lingonberry preserves. Hawaiian pancakes with pineapple-based “tropical syrup.”

Is the Original Pancake House perfect? Well, no. The buckwheats I got were on the doughy side, and all the pancakes come with a big gob of whipped butter that tends to melt into a big puddle. And the ham and bacon is forgettable, even if they do prepare a pretty mean sausage patty. (Some cob-smoked Vermont bacons and hams would make a wonderful addition to this menu.) Pure maple syrup? At these prices, forget it.

But who cares? The syrup they do serve is awfully good for a commercial brand. Their fresh-squeezed juices are sweet and pulpy and their coffee is always hot. From start to finish, this place is definitely a class act.

The Volls have recently opened another Original Pancake House, this one in nearby Yorba Linda. The new restaurant has most of the same good old recipes, plus a few new ones such as apple waffle, vegetarian omelet, and even a pancake made from cottage cheese. I hope people start going there. It might help shorten the lines at the original Original Pancake House in Anaheim.

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Prices are low. Fruits, juices, and preserves are $0.75 to $1.35, waffles $2.50 to $4.95, pancakes $2.65 to $6.05. Side orders run a big $0.95 to $2.85.

THE ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE

* 1418 E. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim

* (714) 535-9815

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* Also 18639 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda

* (714) 693-1390

* Both restaurants are open Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

* No credit cards.

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