I love breakfast food. Quite often, and even during all times of the day, I drag the whole family out for traditionally early-morning feasts. One of my favorite decrees is "breakfast for dinner!"
Like Italian restaurants, places serving breakfast in The Caldwells have multiplied threefold in the last decade. There are diners, coffeehouses, and in the specialist category, the Original Pancake House in West Caldwell (817 Bloomfield Ave.)
Inside, the OPH is done in an unassuming "country-casual" motif—yellowish/tan wood tables and booths with forest green accents and ceiling fans comprise most of the decor.
The OPH is very family-friendly—there are toys in the waiting area, and even a kiddie commode. (I sent my daughter into it; she said it was "cool")
Complimentary coffee is also available for folks waiting during busy times.
Warning: This Place May Not Mesh With Your Jenny Craig Plan
The Old-Fashioned Pancake House's menu opens up into a huge rectangle. Pancake creations are front and center: Pancake classics are well represented (banana, buckwheat), as is the ultimate "fun pancake" (chocolate chip), and some exclusive (to our area, anyway) creations. There's the apple pancake, coconut and Georgia pecan.
Other house specialties include the Dutch Baby, which is a light, baked concoction, served with lemon and butter. I saw one go by, and it looked tempting. People seem to share it.
In spite of my comical Jenny Craig comment, there are several lower-calorie items available.
A large lineup of omelettes competes for the pancake spotlight; here too, tried-and-true entries like bacon and cheddar and veggie are side-by-side with the mushroom one, which is basted with a mushroom sherry sauce.
There are also regular egg dishes, waffles and french toast, which caught my wife's eye—nuts about nuts as she is, she quickly ordered up the cinnamon almond variety ($8.25).
After a mini-fight—"C'mon, I have to order from the kids menu?" I relented and let my son order the regular-sized chocolate-chip pancakes ($7.50).
My choice was the bacon cheddar omelette ($11). The menu says that omelettes take a little while longer to prepare—I took that as a hint, and ordered a large bowl of strawberries ($5) with whipped cream for us to start with.
About a dozen fresh strawberries were covered with homemade whipped cream, which was creamy and delicious—while serving himself, I had reminded my son to throw a strawberry in there once in a while. They should bottle and sell the cream on its own, and combined with the fruit, it's a nice starter.
For beverages, my wife and I both ordered coffee ($2 per cup)—life support/regular for her and decaf for me. We also ordered a couple of small glasses of the fresh-squeezed orange juice ($2.50 each). OPH touts their coffee as being an exclusive blend, and it was good enough, but the orange juice was excellent.
Our waiter was very accommodating—when our coffees came with half and half, we requested skim milk, which was brought over immediately. Same with sugar-free syrup, which he brought over with our main dishes.
My wife's plate was impressive in its own right. Four hunks of challah bread were dipped in egg (read as: french toasted), topped with shaved almonds and powdered sugar.
The bacon cheddar omelette was large, taking up much of the 10-inch round platter. It was also about 2.5-inches high. It's huge. When it landed on my table, I grabbed my knife and fork dug in right away.
It was crispy on the outside, sort of like shell around inside, where the eggs were combined with the cheddar cheese and small yet thick piece of bacon. This is how omelettes should be—I managed to only eat about half of it.
Across the booth, my wife was enjoying her dish. She's nuts about nuts, and the taste of the almonds with the fresh challah toast were "perfect—look how much I've eaten already."
Sensing her plight, I relieved her of the last piece. It was good, but I had forgotten I had three pancakes of my own to deal with—the omelette comes with them.
My son's chocolate chip pancakes were of the "silver dollar" variety. A basic batter was used, with the pancakes being topped with chocolate chips and yet more whipped cream (it was his lucky day).
Behind the Scenes
The OPH has been in West Caldwell since 1992, which is a long time time by itself, but there's even more history here. Manager Phil Rhentzis revealed that his father, Peter, has been in business at 817 Bloomfield Ave. since 1968!
"Yes, he had Cooper's Diner here, and then Pier '74," he pointed out.
Pier '74 was a classic restaurant in the area, especially in terms of design—a wrecked boat was "docked" in front of the place! After that, Phil's dad leased the building (he owns the land) to someone else and the restaurant became the Oceania for just four years. Sensing a need for an all-breakfast establishment in The Caldwells, he opened a local franchise of the Original Pancake House 18 years ago—and hasn't looked back.
Phil's father is very hands-on, and can be seen most mornings, talking to customers, and helping to keep things moving. He doesn't cook, though—"he's just a restauranteur, a manager," his son said with a laugh.
Phil (favorite menu item: the '49er flapjacks) also said he's as fond of the clientele at the West Caldwell location (they have another in Ft. Lee, where he also spends a lot of time) as they are of his family's business.
"They're a very cool crowd ... who love homemade breakfast," he said.
Phil went on to say that OPH uses 3,000 pounds of bacon every couple of weeks, and cracks 10,000 eggs in the same time.
At this point, I'm only concerned about the half dozen or so I must have eaten in that omelette—I say goodbye and leave with the family and make some plans to exercise for the rest of the day.
At-A-Glance: Original Pancake House
Address: 817 Bloomfield Ave., West Caldwell
Web site: www.originalpancakehouse.com
Serving: breakfast/brunch—eat-in, take out, catering
Hours: Daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Reservations: not required
Cost: mid-to-higher priced ($$-$$$)
Recommended: The fresh-squeezed orange juice, the bacon cheddar omelette and cinnamon french toast. On the weekends, try to get there a little earlier to beat the post-church rush!
The folks at the Original Pancake House are breakfast specialists. A better grade of egg, fresh-squeezed orange juice and homemade butter and whipped cream are all part of their recipe for breakfast food success, and it adds up to be delicious. In The Caldwells, they're without a peer.