I’m always surprised when I mention The Pancake Shop and someone says, “Where’s that?” And I always say the same thing, “On Summer, by Market Basket,” even though Market Basket has been closed for at least 10 years.
The thing about us lifelong Memphians is that we have long memories. The same people who still refer to the Kroger on Union or the one at Poplar and Perkins as Seessel’s know what I mean. But this city isn’t solely populated with folks who have been here forever, so let’s talk about The Pancake Shop.
It’s open 363 days a year — closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas — and two people can eat breakfast for dinner and walk out the door for not much more than $15, tax and tip included. We drink water with meals if we’re not drinking alcohol; add soft drinks and you’ll ratchet up the bill a bit.
Something else about The Pancake Shop: Anyone can go there now, since Tennessee’s nonsmoking ordinance went into effect in 2007. Before then, the place was always thick with cigarette smoke. The windows and the glass door were coated with a nicotine film, but nonetheless, we’d go from time to time.
Now there’s no worry about that; one outdoor table accommodates the folks who have to light up, and the inside remains smoke-free. It’s clean. The difference is astonishing, and many nights we’ve found ourselves sitting there for dinner when I’m just too tired to cook and we just want to eat, not go out to dinner. The Everyday Special is my go-to dish; my husband goes for the cheese omelet.
Eggs are cooked to a perfect over-easy every time. The bacon is crisp, and so are the hash browns. Don’t bother with the biscuits, which usually run on the doughy side. Anyway, your choice of a bread includes pancakes, and pancakes always trump biscuits at The Pancake Shop.
I like mine plain, with butter and syrup (and no, real maple syrup is not available). But you can get them studded with pecans, filled with sausage or bacon, gooey with chocolate chips and topped with whipped cream. You can order pigs in a blanket and douse them with syrup and hot sauce, as my cousin used to do around 3 a.m. They’re your pancakes, so do with them what you will.
They’re large, but they fit in the center of the plate; I’ve never liked pancakes that go all the way to the edge of the plate or even hang over. You’ve got to have some room for the syrup to pool.
Before we move on to the other food, let’s discuss the stars we use to rate restaurants. Read the legend: Two stars means “very good.” Yet people tell me they won’t go to a restaurant we give two stars because they feel it must not be good or it would’ve gotten a higher rating. That’s just not the way it is.
The Pancake Shop gets 1½ stars, yet I eat there once a month or so. It is what it is, which in this case is a very good place to get a filling, well-prepared and inexpensive breakfast. The kitchen also turns out a decent BLT for about $4, though it seems to have gotten a bit skimpy on the bacon lately. And while the patty melt is good, the last time I ordered it, it was served open-faced — a mystery, as the essence of a patty melt lives in its name: It’s a hamburger patty melted between cheese and bread. I smashed it together and ate it.
Where The Pancake Shop falls short is its home cooking. The chicken and dumplings have a nice flavor, but the dumplings are the thin, flat ones like those from a freezer case. Besides being texturally unappealing to someone who prefers a fatter dumpling, it doesn’t release starch to thicken the broth.
Mashed potatoes taste like instant, and the brown gravy tastes like it came from a powdered mix. The meatloaf is pretty good, thick and hearty, with a tangy tomato sauce that tastes a bit like a spaghetti sauce spiked with Heinz 57 — and I say that in a good way.
If you’ve never been to The Pancake Shop, by all means, go. Enjoy the breakfast, eat your fill of pancakes, order a patty melt (ask that it be melted), a BLT, a club sandwich, an egg sandwich (better on toast than a biscuit) or even the rib-eye sandwich.
The menu is large, and the prices are low. You’ll probably wait for a table for breakfast on weekends, but they turn over quickly. At dinner, you’ll get in and out. And the middle-age couple eating the Everyday Special and the cheese omelet? That could be us, enjoying supper after a busy day, happily dining in a 1½-star restaurant.
The Pancake Shop
Address: 4838 Summer
Hours: Sunday through Tuesday, 6 a.m.-midnight; open 24 hours Wednesday through Saturday. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Reviewer’s choice: Everyday Special ($6.35); Pancake Special ($5.65); patty melt ($4.35); BLT ($3.65).
Note: The Pancake Shop is cash-only.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars