A crispy fried chicken breast on a biscuit-like English muffin. A sourdough waffle with Vermont maple syrup and bacon. A splendid quinoa bowl with torn kale, sliced avocado, orange slices, parched peanuts and goober vinaigrette.
These are some of the brunch-all-day dishes you may want to try at Pancake Social, the inspired fast-casual restaurant from powerhouse chef Anne Quatrano and a team of savvy entrepreneurial partners.
And yet as you can plainly see, the main attraction at this North Avenue-facing Ponce City Market newcomer is pancakes.
I count at least eight kinds on the current menu, including: Fat, cakey stacks with pecans and praline syrup. Classic buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and butter. A French-inflected Dutch Baby with apple and Gruyere. Nutty-textured porridge-batter pancakes. Latke-esque potato patties with sour cream and applesauce.
These are some very special pancakes.
Pancakes with a prestigious pedigree. Pancakes conceptualized by James Beard Award winner Quatrano and actualized by executive chef Evelyn Ling. Pancakes of your sweetest sleep-late-and-go-back-to-bed fantasies. Pancakes worth standing in line for, which — be advised — you are likely to do on a weekend morning. Pancakes arguably worth the $30-plus you’ll dole out if you add coffee; a $6 glass of fancy, fresh-blended juice; and a side of bacon, sausage or fried chicken.
I’ve been to this counter-service restaurant three times, on quiet weekday mornings and very social Saturdays. Each time, I’ve departed energized by strong coffee, pleasurably stuffed yet still able to push through the day without donning PJs or slipping into a syrup-induced coma.
Overall, I’m impressed by the quality of the food and drink; the friendly, efficient staff (even when the queue snakes out the door); and the aesthetic of homespun comfort in a sleek contemporary space. I’ve spotted fine-dining Atlanta chefs with their hotcake-loving babies, and grandmas in wheelchairs enjoying a pre-Mother’s Day celebration with a multitude of kin.
A stack of three classic buttermilk griddlecakes are more than delicious and dependable. They are, in a word, proper, if not quite as ethereal as the version at Bread & Butterfly in Inman Park or the levain-batter wonder I tried recently at Frenchette in New York.
I can also heartily endorse the Ancient Grain pancakes. Made from porridge batter lifted by egg, they achieve the impossible task of making you actually feel OK about about having cake for brekky. Never mind the butter, the syrup, the necessary order of bacon (which to my taste buds is much better than the pork links with the spice-cabinet whiff).
I wanted to love the Dutch Baby (apples! Gruyere!). But I found it somehow lacking — texturally weak; not enough Gruyere there. The yeasty-tasting beignets were the least satisfactory bite I tried.
If eating sweet food for breakfast is not your thing, consider a sammie.
Pancake Social winks at a couple of American classics, the McMuffin and the original Chick-fil-A, both on English muffins made at Quatrano’s Floataway Cafe by longtime baker Dorothy Copenhaver. If you eschew the English muffin, it’s because you haven’t tried one fresh and warm. Anything would taste good on such an airy cushion.
The crispy buttermilk chicken sandwich, with honey and sweet pickle, reinvents the S. Truett Cathy masterpiece. How nice that you can buy it on a Sunday. A big old hamburger, with American cheese and a fat ring of pickled red onion, was sensational. I’d order either of these bad boys again in a minute, with a side of potato pancakes.
I know what you are thinking: Is there anything resembling healthy eating on offer here? Why, yes.
There’s porridge, chia-seed pudding, yogurt and granola, a salad with avocado, egg and optional protein, and the previously referenced quinoa bowl, which is really good. The soft white grains are mixed with plumped golden sultanas and scooped into a bowl with lovely sticks of roasted carrot, kale, avocado, etc. The peanut vinaigrette could have used just a touch more rice vinegar to balance the oil. Otherwise, a real keeper.
As for beverages, an iced Americano and regular old iced coffee were both excellent. And every juice blend I sipped — greens-pineapple-lemon-yuzu; ginger-apple-lemon — made me feel more pert and centered. At $6 for a small glass, the juice should have erased a few wrinkles, though.
The fountain of youth? At a pancake house? On Ponce de Leon Avenue? Sorry, Juan. But if Quatrano and her savvy partner-preneurs are looking to replicate, I think they’ve found a format that could sizzle and spread.
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