Their recipes are well guarded, the restaurant world famous, the chain ever expanding, and they even cooked for the President at The White House – clearly a visit to Pamela’s was on the agenda for our trip to Pittsburgh. Arriving on the strip around 8:00am and finding meter parking for a mere 50 cents we made our way from the car, hit the ATM (cash only at Pamela’s) and entered the restaurant to find it just under 1/2 full. Invited by a friendly young woman to seat ourselves we opted for a booth along the wall and sat for a moment absorbing the kitsch...vinyl furniture, plastic menus, stone walls, and random photographs of celebrities past and present.
Opening the menus and blatantly skipping all the boring eggs, bacon, and ham our waitress appeared to fill drink orders. With only sweet n’ low and sugar available for the coffee I opted to stick with water while my mom chose coffee and my sister selected tea. Drinks delivered, including full pitchers of each to put the diner on refill duty, we placed our orders and browsed the lively restaurant while listening to the sounds of classic tunes overhead. Founded in 1980 Pamela’s certainly appeared older than its stated age, but it worked.
Waiting less than fifteen minutes our waitress checked in on us to be sure nothing else was needed and to let us know our food would be right out…after watching our neighbors receive their options I have to admit I was quite excited…and without fail the food arrived moments later, piping hot from the griddle. With each of us selecting a different item and each plate large in portion and ample in flavor there was much sharing to be done.
Beginning first with my selection, perhaps Pamela’s most famous option, I opted for the Strawberry Hotcakes. Served in Pamela’s famous crepe style the hotcakes themselves were divine. Yeasty and soft yet caramelized and crisp around the circumference the pancakes themselves were stunning. More impressive yet, ordered in the peak of strawberry season, the cakes were absolutely stuffed with super sweet fresh strawberries, brown sugar, and a zippy sour cream then topped with whipped cream. Adding a touch of syrup (unfortunately not pure maple) the whole plate came alive – really, the dish made a fantastic breakfast but could have just as easily been served as dessert.
Following my lead and going with the signature hotcakes my mother received two enormous cakes absolutely crammed with hot bananas, bittersweet chocolate chips, and packed with whipped cream. Nicely caramelized and crispy along the edges I sensed more of the yeasty and buttery nature of the batter in her batch and also perhaps the scent of nutmeg – I think it was in the batter, but perhaps it was the bananas – either way, it was excellent.
Figuring she would get plenty of opportunity to taste the pancakes my sister opted to try Pamela’s French Toast – specifically the Croissant French Toast featuring two split house made croissants soaked in cinnamon-vanilla egg batter and topped with caramel sauce and nuts. In order to understand how sweet this was you’d have to know my sister – the lady puts syrup on nearly anything that can be consumed for breakfast...and after her first bite she stated “wow, this doesn’t even need syrup!” With Buttery croissants nicely pan crisped, crunchy oven roasted almonds and walnuts, and decadent caramel syrup the best way to describe the dish would be a deconstructed cinnamon roll, but better.
Settling the modest bill and leaving an ample tip we left Pamela’s very content and with blood sugar certainly well above fasting levels – the total duration of our meal was only 45 minutes but it actually felt much longer and not at all rushed. Pleasant service, a nice setting, and a wonderful (albeit limited) menu I only wish Pamela’s would offer some alternative sweeteners and a better brand of syrup...with those minor tweaks a great breakfast could have easily been in consideration for one of the best ever.
Walking away from Pamela’s we realized there was still plenty of time left on the meter and that The Mattress Factory didn’t open for another 40 minutes. Wandering up the strip we noticed a shop we’d seen closed the day prior was now open and decided to stop in to Mon Aimee Chocolat. Greeted by owner Amy Rosenfield the moment we walked in the door I was a bit taken aback – she seemed frustrated...but her mood quickly changing as we entered the shop. Jovial, pleasant, and ready/willing/able to discuss her collection of confections at length it turned out that her original frustration was due to a downed credit card machine and getting the runaround from the IT folks over the phone.
Browsing the shop while Amy dealt with the folks via phone we stood in awe of the diversity of the collection Aero bars from Canada, Amadei from Italy, and even Hershey from right up the road. Vintage to current, house made to international, gums, cookies, caramels, and…Capogiro gelato. Already full of Pamela’s fantastic breakfast we debated (briefly) whether ice cream before 10am was a good idea – a unanimous yes. Selecting two scoops at a somewhat pricey $4.25 our choices were Cappuccino and Cioccolato Scuro (“Bitter.”) Having heard great things about Capogiro but not yet making it to Philadelphia all I can say is that the rumors are true – the flavors were superb, the texture like silk, and the weight light and appealing…the Scuro literally tasted like brownie batter without the doughy texture.
Selecting a few creamy salted caramels, a small bag of housemade chocolate covered blueberries, and a few gifts to take home to my aunt we settled the bill and bid Amy good luck with the tech support. A fantastic store with a selection rivaled by few I’d place Mon Aimee on the “must visit” list for the Strip.