I’ve waited in some long lines for good food. It’s really kind of embarrassing. When Mia Francesca was in its early years after opening in Chicago, there were no reservations, so if you wanted to eat there you had to accept the multi-hour wait (I admit to a three-hour marathon wait there one time. Please don’t tell anyone I did that). The food? Out of this world. I may have been out of my mind too, and the leather on my handbag drizzled with their herb-infused olive oil may have gone down just fine by the time I finally ate, but my countless delicious repeat visits to Mia over the years tell me it wasn’t just starvation that made their food taste so good to me that night.
Up north here in Harbor Springs, before the family got bigger and bigger, we used to head out to eat on Sunday mornings. Not that we were ever a small group, but once you add kids into the mix and you’re more than a table of six, brunch out can be nothing more than a test of patience. Our destination for a special brunch was one spot, and one spot only: the Cupola Room. The place started out around the corner from us on Zoll Street, and I only vaguely recall the meals there. Then they moved up to the bend on State Street and the lovely factor went through the roof: flow blue china and white bead board everywhere, a natural stone wall from bedrock of the bluff behind the restaurant serving as the back wall, and a presentation of pancakes that might cause you to think a lengthy wait while the bay is beckoning is not such a big deal after all.
So when our Sunday dining out trickled off with the influx of people, I started to try to replicate the pancakes, the eggs benedict, the omelets. My pancake batter has been through all sorts of testing, and really the best pancake depends on the eater’s preference. Cupola serves them fairly thin, and that’s how I like them too. The edges are buttery and crisp, which I finally realized just meant I needed to butter my griddle up good for each cake. I don’t always do that in the service of good health, but sometimes, yes.
But the best part of a Cupola plate of pancakes is the fruit on top. It’s always seasonal, and Nancy will tell you what her husband’s cooking with serious, well-placed enthusiasm: Dale’s AMAZING RASPberry pancakes today!….Today I’m serving Dale’s INCREDBILE! PEACH! Pancakes!
Amazing and incredible do nail it. The pancakes seem so simple, and they are, but when I’ve simply made pancakes with fruit on top without a couple of added steps to ensure big flavor, I’ve been disappointed. I suppose I could just saunter in and ask Dale for his recipe, which I’ve learned can work out well, but I’ve enjoyed the America’s Test Kitchen-style challenge of figuring it out for myself. That approach means you might end up pitching a batch or two, as I did with the Lebanese-style yeasted pancakes I tried. I would not feed those pancakes to my (dead) dog Mandy, they were so bad (I’ll tell you about her sometime—it was a brief, very brief, affair).
My ideal pancake is thin, but not too thin, semi-sweet, and scented with vanilla. It always has macerated fruit on top, the favorite of these being summer’s fleeting white peaches along with the pink, syrupy juice they make from their sugar and lemon soak. I triple or quadruple the recipe for the kind of long line that shapes up in the kitchen right here on Main Street, where everyone will happily wait it out for their perfect plate of pancakes.
White Peach Pancakes
The peaches should be ripe for best flavor, which you can determine by pressing into one and finding a slight give and indentation. Leave them out of the refrigerator to ripen when you bring them home from the market. It may be tempting to just peel the skin off without dipping the peach in boiling water. The dip in hot water leaves a pink hue on the peaches, a beautiful color for the plate and the syrup that forms from the macerated peaches. Serve with melted butter and maple syrup in little pitchers, for purists at the table. This recipe makes about six medium-sized thinner pancakes; it doubles and triples with ease, for a crowd.
For the peaches:
3 large white peaches
3 tablespoons sugar
For the pancakes:
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons melted butter or neutral oil
Butter for the pan
Peel the peaches by dipping them in boiling water for one minute, rinsing in cool water, then gently removing the skin. Slice the peaches into small wedges and place in a small bowl. Add sugar and the juice of two lemons. Stir thoroughly and set aside to macerate. The peaches will release a beautiful pink syrup.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg with a hand mixer until very light and fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt until they are evenly combined. Add the milk, vanilla, and melted butter or oil to the egg. Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined.
Heat a pancake griddle over medium-high heat. Add ½ to 1 tablespoon of butter and melt until foaming; swirl the butter in a circle the size of the pancake you want to make. Turn down the heat to medium. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the batter onto the skillet with a ladle, and very quickly spread the batter out to desired thinness with the back of the ladle or spoon. Cook until the top is bubbly all over and starting to dry around the edges. Flip with a spatula and cook until golden brown. Keep pancakes warm in a low oven until ready to serve.
To serve, stack a couple of pancakes on the plate. Top with lots of peaches and several spoons of the peach syrup. INCREDIBLE! PEACH! Pancakes!