Let’s start with a story as related by Edmund Tijerina at mysanantonio.com. “There was a time not that long ago that San Antonio's breakfast impresario didn't like pancakes. Actually, it was more that Robert Fleming was burned out on them from childhood. That is, until he went to a job interview at a hotel in Minneapolis in 1988. He remembered the owner telling him to make sure he tried them, saying, ‘They're the world's best pancakes.’
“’I remember thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, there ain't no such thing.' I was a Catholic kid in Chicago, and I grew up eating Bisquick pancakes every Friday during Lent for my entire life. I hated, hated pancakes,’ Fleming recounted. ‘There was no such thing as good pancakes. So I figure I gotta get the pancakes. I take one bite and say, ‘Damn, this old boy is right.' These are the world's best pancakes, and they truly are.’
“Fleming went to work at that hotel, received that recipe from the chef, almost threw it away several times over the years and later incorporated it when he designed the menu for Magnolia Pancake Haus.”
Robert, I feel your pain. I grew up in the Midwest back in the days when Catholics didn’t eat meat on Fridays. Period. Not just Lent. All year. And in my case, it wasn’t pancakes that appeared with dismaying regularity. It was salmon loaf. Made with canned salmon. With those bones still in it. I am amazed that today I will still eat salmon.
But I digress. When the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives episode featuring Magnolia Pancake Haus first aired, I turned to Chuck and announced “We will go to San Antonio and we will eat here.” When that episode aired, there was one Haus open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. At that time, they were serving 20,000 meals a month. That’s a lot of meals! And today there is a second Haus. But be warned. If you go, expect a wait for a table.
“To nab a table at the Magnolia Pancake Haus on a weekend can warrant quite the wait, and the press of bodies makes it hard to hold a conversation over the intermingling of competing chatter and kitchen clatter. I took the cue to hit the popular restaurant on a Tuesday morning, and it was still packed. I took a seat at one of Magnolia’s spacious booths and absorbed a dollhouse atmosphere of pure sunlight and quaint wooden tables set against a backdrop of ivory and coastal green walls. The haus was perfectly neat and void of gaudy accents. I embrace simple presentation in a restaurant; it usually signifies that the focus hinges on awesome food” (Sophia Feliciano at sacurrent.com).
Again to quote Edmund Tijerina, “This is still very much a breakfast taco kind of town, but Fleming introduced breakfast on a different level. His restaurant makes its own pancake batter from scratch several times a day, so it rises correctly when cooked. His team, with formally trained chefs heading both locations, makes its own syrup, brines its own brisket for corned beef to make corned beef hash, makes its own Canadian bacon, roasts its own turkeys for club sandwiches, turkey hash and frittatas, cracks its own eggs to make scrambled eggs and grinds its own beef for lunchtime hamburgers” (mysanantonio.com).
Taking Sophia Feliciano’s advice to heart, we eschewed visiting on a weekend and instead chose to arrive at about 10:30 on a weekday. There was a wait, albeit a short one. And once we were seated and had a chance to observe the operation, we were amazed with their efficiency. No sooner than a party would exit one of the multiple dining areas, a team of bussers would swoop down on the table. In less than five minutes, the table was cleared, cleaned, reset, and a new party seated. All without frantic and wasted energy.
Chuck studied the menu in vain looking for some kind of sampler platter where he could get one waffle, one pancake, and one slice of French toast. But such a meal was not to be, so he settled on a blueberry waffle with a side of “Magnolia Browns.”
This was quite simply the best waffle I have ever tasted. A crisp outer shell encased a light and tasty center. I just happened to see a repeat of the DDD episode a few days after our breakfast and saw Robert Fleming telling Guy Fieri that he adds “malted flour” or “malt flour” to the white to give additional flavor. Whichever of those two is used, it certainly did the job.
And when have you had hash browns (and that is what the Magnolia Browns are) at a restaurant that shreds the potatoes in house? The only other one that I can think of is Matt’s Big Breakfast in Phoenix. These were a large slab of crispy potatoes tasting of garlic and onion and cooked in butter.
Now I am not usually big on sweet breakfast dishes. Normally, I would have ordered the house-made corned beef hash, or, being partial to variations on eggs Benedict, the Crab Cake Louie Benedict on puff pastry with Béarnaise sauce. But there was that dish I had seen on DDD and that had prompted our visit—the Munchener Apfel Pfannekuchen.
What’s that again? The Munchener Apfel Pfannekuchen (pronounced fan-e-koo-ken) which translates to Munich Apple Pancake. Or something like that. As described on the menu: “This is the real deal translated from Oma’s own cookbook and adapted to our kitchens. Granny Smith Apples, zesty cinnamon, and secret spices all combine to create a puffed pancake that is an authentic taste of Bavaria. Served with powdered sugar and European style whipped cream.”
Or, as Meredith at tsprecipes.com said: “German for ‘best pancake ever.’ When you go to order this at the Magnolia Haus in San Antonio, the friendly wait staff are trained to spot you trying to say “Munk-nih–” and they finish pronouncing it for you, so quickly you want them to say it three more times…”
Words cannot describe how good this was. Apples are sautéed in butter in a skillet with brown sugar and cinnamon after which a egg-intense batter is poured over the softened apples. What happens then is pure magic. It is though much of the butter is pushed by the weight of the batter to the edges of the skillet where it almost fries the edges along with any apples sitting around the edges. What results is crispy and sticky—almost like a stick-to-your-teeth taffy. And as you ate toward the center, the pancake itself resembled something that was part pancake and part soufflé and the apples were less cooked and retained some residual crispness. This was, as Guy (Fieri) himself might say, “off the hook.” This was, and remember I am not usually fond of sweets in the morning, perhaps the best breakfast dish I have ever eaten.
I knew that I needed something salty to counterbalance all of that sweetness and choose a side of sausage. The sausage at Magnolia is made to the restaurant’s specifications and was lean without being dry and flavorful without being too heavily seasoned. When you get an overly seasoned piece of sausage, do you wonder what they are trying to hide? Anyway, this was the perfect partner for the pancake.
Now, if you looked at this and wondered how I could eat that much, the answer is that I couldn’t. So about a third came home with me, along with a part of a sausage patty, and I was able to savor the experience again the following morning.
As we were leaving, we had a chance to talk with Andrew Wintz—one of Magnolia’s chefs—and Robert Fleming himself, so we took the opportunity to tell them both how much we enjoyed this 5.0 Addie experience.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.