Staying with my mother in Toledo Saturday morning entailed a Saturday morning experience from my youth – a drive across town to Uncle John’s Pancake House for Breakfast. While my tastes in food and dining have clearly expanded past my early days in Toledo there is one thing that holds true – I still love breakfasts that could easily feign as dessert and Uncle John’s offers just that. Undergoing a substantial upgrade both inside and out since my childhood days enjoying their Chocolate Pancakes we arrived to a bright and inviting house of kitsch – darker and older than Zingerman’s Roadhouse, but similar in Midwestern charm.
Making our way into the restaurant just after 9am the seats were approximately 3/4 full – there would be a line by the time we left. Approaching the pleasant young hostess we requested a table for three and were quickly led to a cozy four-top in the back. Greeted almost immediately by a young server-in-training we were presented with menus and a list of “Daily specials” – something the restaurant certainly didn’t serve on my previous visits. Coffee for myself and mom, tea for aunt and we were left to browse the myriad options.
Returning after approximately 10 minutes (and refilling both my water and coffee on cue then and throughout the meal) with her supervisor, an elderly lady with a significant pack/year history our orders were taken and we were left to chat. Located near the University of Toledo campus the mixture of patrons at Uncle John’s was just as I remembered – older folks in flannel, college kids in pajamas, and some pretty rockin’ mullets. The scenery, including a large sculling boat and plenty of UT paraphernalia intermingled with pictures of old Toledo and signage – very diner, but not dumpy as it once was.
Enjoying our coffee and checked in on frequently our plates arrived after only 20 minutes despite the every growing crowd. Opting against the Chocolate Pancakes for the first time and instead choosing one of the daily specials I was delivered a plate entitled Peaches and Bananas’ Foster French Toast. Featuring soaked and pan seared sourdough with ample cinnamon and vanilla notes the dish was topped with fresh sliced peaches, ripe bananas, and chopped pecans in a hot cinnamon glaze. At $6 this was the most expensive sweet on the breakfast menu, largely due to the fresh fruits, but the portion size was quite ample. Certainly southern in feel I quite liked the blend of peaches and bananas with the sweet glaze, unfortunately while the pecans added texture the bread was somewhat mushy and lacking body. Delicious yes, textural no – comfy diner food.
For my mother her option was the Michigan Cherry Crepes with Sauteed Cherries, Whipped Cream, and Sliced Almonds. Featuring surprisingly light and fluffy crepes wrapped around fresh and hot cherries and topped with a dousing of whipped cream I liked this dish and its nuance moreso than my selection – it was even better with the addition of some of the blueberry syrup on the table rack. Accompanying my mother’s cakes was an enormous plate of well cooked Canadian Bacon. Having dined mostly in high end restaurants in recent memory the Oscar Meyer slices were average and once again gave me a better appreciation for artisan meats and quality farms.
My aunt, not a fan of syrup, opted for the bargain $2.99 Swedish pancakes. Featuring three ultra thin Egg Pancakes Served with Lingonberries and whipped butter this dish was relatively boring to me – it was buttery and the Lingonberries good, but in my opinion it tasted a lot better with something from the syrup sampler (maple, butter pecan, strawberry, and blueberry.)
Settling the incredibly modest tab and thanking our server team with a substantial tip I finished another cup of coffee before we made our way to the front – I’m pretty sure the table was turned before we made it to the door. Good food, great prices, and a comfy setting has kept Uncle John’s at the front of the Toledo breakfast scene since I was a lad and it is great to see that, if anything, the economic downturn has led to an even better experience. If Uncle John’s were in Columbus it would be the best breakfast in town – if it were in a major metropolitan area I gather it would still have a substantial fan base – and the prices would be higher with the lines longer.
After a long morning and afternoon of browsing the Toledo Museum of Art we next made our way north towards Detroit. With dinner plans before the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship still 4 hours away we opted to stop into Mexicantown for a bite at the much celebrated Mexicantown Panaderia. Having had fantastic Mexican pastries in San Francisco and awful versions in Chicago I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Entering the large shop the first thing I noticed was that unlike the previous bakeries this was a fully functional grocery store and that they also served some composed savories. With an ample selection of sweets, groceries, and breads – none written in English – we wandered about for a bit before reconvening to discuss. Clearly meant to cater to the locals and not us tourists the servers were not very helpful – whether they didn’t speak the English or simply chose not to I cannot be sure, but regardless the decisions were all ours to make.
Watching a number of patrons pick up a large round of bread still warm from the oven I opted for one of those, a “Bolillo” according to the sign. Difficult to describe, my best assessment of this bread is that it is something akin to a hamburger bun on the exterior with an airy and fluffy interior somewhat akin to pain au lait – it was delicious and I understand why everyone was buying one. Other options from the bakery case included a Neapolitan polvorones – a chocolate/strawberry/vanilla cornmeal cookie with a great crumb that would have gone perfectly with milk, and an Apple Empanada that I originally figured was pumpkin but pleasantly found out was a compote of apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter.
Selected from the chilled case by my mother and aunt were a boozy Chocolate and raspberry Roll and a pseudo-Napoleon comprised of alternating layers of cream and a crispy shell akin to phyllo dough. While the Napoleon was quite good and the cream balanced well with the crispy layers, the Chocolate roll was saturated with alcohol at the base and quite dry at the apex – the cocoa accented cream was good, the cake was dull. Not as good as the pastries at the Panaderia in San Francisco’s Barrio but vastly superior to those in Chicago I only wish the servers could have been more helpful – perhaps that is why my selections in San Francisco fared so well.