Ah the Netherlands. A land of many contrasts and confusion. Like is it the Netherlands or Holland or both? Even though both are generally accepted, the Netherlands is the official name of the country/kingdom while Holland is the combined name for two provinces within the country/kingdom. Beyond the name, most people have a few common thoughts about the country. The first thing that probably pops into the heads of many is of Amsterdam and its accompanying delights or vices depending on your moral constitution or perhaps Mike Meyer’s freakish Dutch villain Goldmember, the largest of the Low Countries has a lot more to offer. For example, it is home to the Frisian language. It is currently an endangered language in the Netherlands, but it once was spoken throughout the North Sea’s southern coast. Not only does it have a once distinguished past, but it currently holds the position of one of most closely related languages to English, more so than German. Some are quite clear cognates like “help” which is just the same word or “My name is…” is “Myn namme is …” in Frisian or “I’m from…” is “Ik kom fan …”. However, don’t expect to be able to completely understand them. While linguistic facts, Dutch ones included, are always interesting, I’m here to talk about a Dutch pancake house in Chicago that is homey and filled with delicious breakfast treats. I’m talking about the Famous Dutch Pancake House/Pannekoeken Huis in Lincoln Square on the north side of Chicago.
While there are plenty of great breakfast places throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, each one seems to have its own angle. There’s one that reflects the Swedish community in the Andersonville neighborhood or even a Greek cinnamon themed restaurant. However, it’s not often you hear of a Dutch breakfast restaurant. The Pancake House doesn’t serve any of the “special” treats you might assume, but rather a plethora of Dutch pancakes or pannekoeken (pronounced: pan-eh-ko-kehn). Although the Dutch word literally means “pancake”, they are different than the American ones we are used to. Instead of them being thicker than a Snicker, they are more similar to their French brethren: the crepe, a thin and airy bread that could be sweet or savory. When we got there on a Saturday morning, we managed to beat the rush just barely around 8:30. It’s a very small dining room, so be prepared to have a real cheek to jowl experience. We looked over the menu to find a plethora of sweet and savory pannekoeken along with more common American breakfast items like eggs, French toast, and bacon. After much deliberation and a recommendation from our waiter, I got the apple raisin cheese pannekoek ($9.95) and Janice got a veggie pannekoek ($8.95). When they came out, I couldn’t believe how big they were, i.e. at least as big as a small hubcap. However, they were thin which meant that they weren’t as heavy as American pancakes. Janice’s veggie pannekoek looked verdant and mouth-watering. She had the option of three veggies and her choice of cheese as toppings, so she went with a asparagus, mushroom, and green pepper combo along with some strips of melted Havarti cheese. It was a great savory pancake. While the thin dough provided a solid flavor foundation, the lightly sauteed veggies mixed well with the buttery cheese. Definitely made this carnivore steal more than one forkful off her plate. As for my pannekoek, it was certainly different than what I’m used to eating for breakfast. While I like to keep my savory elements separate from my sweet ingredients when it comes to food, this pannekoek had me singing a different tune. First, there was the plethora of apple slices that almost completely obscured my pannekoek and was occasionally punctuated with an amorphous blob of melted Havarti cheese. Then our waiter hooked me up with what seemed to be syrup for my sweet pannekoek, but it wasn’t quite the same. It turned out to be schenkstroop which derives from the words “schenk”which comes from the Dutch/German verb “schenken” meaning “to pour out”, and “stroop” meaning “syrup”. Aside from the name difference, this Dutch specialty is made from sugar beets instead of the cane sugar our everyday pancake syrup is made from. What this meant for my pannekoek experience was two things. First, it had a much higher viscosity than American syrup which made it seem more like a thick molasses. Second, after I made it rain all over my pannekoek, I found the schenkstroop to have a cleaner and not as overpoweringly sweet aftertaste compared to its American counterpart. I thought it was perfect for this type of pancake because of the many competing flavors for my tastebuds attention. As I mentioned before, I wasn’t a mixing savory and sweet kind of guy. Hell, I find Hawaiian pizza to be an abomination to food lovers everywhere. Pineapple on a pizza? Aloha, brah (and I mean it in the “goodbye” sense). Anyway, pizza rant over. The creamy and slightly salty Havarti semi-neutralized the tart, gossamer-thin granny smith apple slices that melted in my mouth. However, little did I know that the pannekoeken’s dough hid another sweet secret in the form of raisins that were baked right into the cake. They were like little, chewy barnacles riding along on the underbelly of a blue whale of flavor. I couldn’t get enough of the sweet, savory, and salty delight, but it was gone before I knew it.