The idea for this column came to me when I was told not long ago that the wait for a table at the Clinton Street Bakery would be 3 1/2 hours. That was not a misprint — 3 1/2 hours for a plate of buttermilk pancakes.
The Clinton Street Bakery has done very well. It has built a rabid following of carb-loaders, many of whom travel to that little funky corner from as far away as Japan. Apparently, some dining-in-New-York brochure — Japan’s cross between Frommer and Michelin — has stated that this is “the place” to go for brunch. Hence, you’ll see lots of excited Japanese tourists decamped at Clinton, patiently waiting for a table.
Clinton may be busting out of its tiny space and getting more room, which would hopefully knock the wait time down to a much more manageable 2 3/4 hours for a plate of pancakes. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.
What does it say about people — New Yorkers, Japanese tourists, P.T. Barnum devotees — that they’ll take it and accept this kind of nuttiness? Is it truly worth it to say to your friends and colleagues that you ate at Clinton, which has now morphed into one of those “Worth It” NYC experiences? It’s yet another way of feeling cool about yourself.
Granted, these are very fine pancakes. But at what point do you stand up and proclaim, “F the Clinton Street Bakery!” If so, what do you do? Where can you go to find pancakes that are just as good, if not better? I have a few alternatives. My rule of thumb is: If it takes you more time to get a table somewhere for pancakes than it does to read this article, you’re wasting your time.
Instead of Clinton, check out my ideas for pancakes in Manhattan. And if you think I’m off base or have suggestions of your own, in Manhattan or another borough, please let me know.
120 Hudson Street. This is the pride of TriBeCa. Rumor has it that Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel eat there and Robert DeNiro has his own table in the back waiting for him, whenever he deigns to show up. The pancakes are damned good; I bet that if you closed your eyes, you couldn’t tell the difference between these and Clinton’s. Plus: Nice people work there. And it has a lively atmosphere.
There are getting to be as many Sarabeth’s in the City as there are Gap stores — OK, an exaggeration. But I still like to schlep up to 91st and Madison for the pure Sarabeth’s dining experience. Once, I was standing outside in the December rain waiting for my table when a friend literally ran by, spotted me, and stopped to say hello. She then invited me to accompany her to see PRINCE in concert at Madison Square Garden, for free! I’ll always have a soft spot for Sarabeth’s.
24 West 55th St. This is where the beautiful people in the media world go to be seen (if there are any of them, that is). Steve, the maitre’d, is a prince, and Michael himself is always a pleasure to say hi to. The place has a great rep for power lunches. But I prefer to go there for breakfast, because this place serves the best pancakes in town, hands down. The bill is a little higher than at other places, granted, but I think it’s worth the expense. It’s probably best to go there as the business guest of some media hotshot. You’ll see people you slightly recognize from the pages of New York magazine. You may even see my smiling face there.
So, there you have it. This is my highly unscientific, totally personal survey. Like I said, I know you’re bound to have your own choices. Fire away, please.
And I trust that it took you less than 3 1/2 hours to read this article, too, right?