All the Cool Kids are Having Pancakes for Dinner: Eating Post-Brunch at Clinton Street Baking Co.

Clinton Street Baking Co., conveniently located on Clinton St.

Clinton Street Baking Co., conveniently located on Clinton St.

As a kid I always loved the nights when we’d eat breakfast for dinner. The liberal arts graduate in me wants to assign some larger psychoanalytical meaning to it — the thrill of the perceived rule-breaking, the change in routine from spaghetti or hamburgers. But let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill here. The truth is I just love breakfast food, and at any time of the day I’ll gladly eat a bagel, eggs, or any sort of pan-fried bread-based object covered in syrup.

One of the seemingly most glamorous aspects of being an adult is the ability to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Strawberry Poptarts, raisins, and some hummus? Call it dinner. Cold pizza and some questionably warm milk? Sounds like brunch. In actuality, at least on my budget, this does actually turn into a lot of breakfast for dinner. After all, most of the ingredients of an omelet or frittata are pretty affordable. Unfortunately, this does serve to remove some of the magic of a home-cooked evening breakfast. But just the right restaurant adventure can bring back the spark, and out pops the overeager kid in me once again.

And so it only seems obvious that I would buy a Google Offer from Clinton Street Baking Company. The restaurant is world famous for its pancakes, and perhaps even more well-known for its notoriously long brunch waits. In fact, I had previously tried to go to CSB years ago when my older brother was first admitted to the bar, but after being told our wait would be over 2 hours, my family decided to fill our stomachs elsewhere. And so when that Google Offer popped up selling a dinner for 2, I figured it’d be a great chance to check out a hotspot during the off-hours.

Fortunately, as with my other recently investigated brunch staple Good Enough to Eat, CSB serves many of its most popular brunch dishes on the dinner menu. My offer came with 2 beers, a choice of dinner entree, and an order of those famous pancakes, and so this past weekend I embarked on a lady-date with my friend Sarah to see if CSB’s pancakes would satisfy my nostalgia for syrup at sunset.

First Impressions:

The restaurant is small, but warm and inviting, living up to its bakery title with a glass case full of desserts right as you walk in.

The restaurant is small, but warm and inviting, living up to its bakery title with a glass case full of desserts right as you walk in.

Clinton Street Baking Co. is located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, an area I always regret not spending more time in. Found just off East Houston on, shockingly, Clinton Street, the restaurant is cozy and inviting, featuring the warm pastel colors and decor of an old school luncheonette. Unlike Good Enough to Eat, which played up its inherent quirkiness, CSB is homey but straightforward in its design — stainless steel, wooden tables, and a few posters on the walls that make it feel like a familiar neighborhood joint. My friend Sarah was kind enough to join me for dinner, and she arrived first at CSB, just as they reopened for dinner. CSB serves brunch daily from 9am to 4pm, then reopens at 6pm for dinner. Although the dinner rush is exponentially less busy than their chaotic and epic brunch service, in the scant ten minutes between Sarah’s arrival and my own, the place had nearly filled up. Luckily, Sarah was seated immediately, and had her choice of tables when she got there, picking a lovely little booth by the window.

The handful of tables line the walls, which are sparsely decorated, emphasizing the focus on the food.

The handful of tables line the walls, which are sparsely decorated, emphasizing the focus on the food.

The service at CSB started and ended strongly, but had a bit of a dip in the middle. Our waitress was friendly and aware of the Google Offer, which made ordering simple. As it happened, our booth was directly across from the bar, so it took less than 30 seconds between ordering our beers and their arrival at our table. I got the Empire White Afro, a citrusy wheat beer that reminded me of a more refined Blue Moon, and Sarah had the Captain Lawrence Kolsch, which was slightly darker, but still on the lighter side.

The view from our table -- note the beef taps mere inches away.

The view from our table — note the beer taps mere inches away.

Unfortunately, after speedily taking our order and delivering our dinner lickety-split, there was a lull in the service. I tend to drink a lot of water during my meals, and was disappointed that no one came to refill my water glass while we were eating. Yes, I had my beer as well, but I’m a thirsty person, and ended my meal slightly parched. However, CSB made up for this with the unexpected goody bag at the end of our meal — more on that later. Let’s talk pancakes and eggs.

The Food:

Although the emphasis is clearly on classic American homecooking, Clinton Street Baking Company’s menu is also populated with comfort food from across the globe, from a handful of different burgers and the fried chicken and waffles, to vegetable enchiladas, spaghetti carbonara, and fish and chips. And of course let’s not neglect the only slightly slightly reduced breakfast section. Sarah and I briefly toyed with the idea of fish and chips as our other entree, but ultimately thought it would be a strange combination with the obligatory pancakes. We settled on the Huevos Rancheros to make a full breakfast-for-dinner-play, crossing the spectrum of savory and sweet brunch items. For our pancake order we chose Banana Walnut Pancakes over the Blueberry Pancakes and the special pancake of the day, Chocolate Chunk. As classic as blueberry pancakes are, I’ll choose a banana over a berry any day of the week, and I won’t apologize for it. Perhaps the more shocking move was passing over the chocolate option, but I thought I’d be missing out on the authentic CSB experience if I picked the special over one of the menu’s mainstays. Oh, and just in case we weren’t truly embracing our full carbohydrate potential, we also ordered a side of sweet potato fries. You know, to get our veggies in.

I see your bread basket and raise you some complimentary mini biscuits.

I see your bread basket and raise you some complimentary mini biscuits.

Our meal started with a complimentary plate of miniature biscuits, a pleasant surprise, as I’m always excited to see a bread basket that contains more than plain old sliced Italian bread. We got four biscuits for the two of us, which was generous considering the carbo-loading we were about to engage in. The bad news is that the biscuits were served only with a few regular foil-wrapped pats of butter (“what, no homechurned strawberry butter?” the bourgeois brunch snob in me cries out), and arrived firmly at room temperature. Even so, they still had a great creamy, rich flavor, and had the right slightly crumbly texture, so I actually didn’t feel the need to put butter them further. CSB’s biscuits would definitely have been significantly stronger if warmed — but as they were served, they were just average. (I do recognize that I may be especially biased at this point in time, given my recent fantastic biscuit encounters at Good Enough to Eat and Cafeteria.)

The Huevos Rancheros -- well cooked, but undercut by a lackluster tortilla.

The Huevos Rancheros — well cooked, but undercut by a lackluster tortilla.

The Huevos Rancheros was also a solid dish, but as Sarah agreed, would have been a bit underwhelming if ordered as someone’s sole entree. The sunny-side-up eggs had yolks that broke open with ease, and I really enjoyed the variety of condiments that were served under the eggs and cheese — soft red beans, alternately spicy and cool jalapeno sour cream, salsa picante, and guacamole. What prevented the dish from truly succeeding was its tortilla base. The tortilla seemed barely touched, floppy and dry on the outside, and flavorlessly soggy in the middle under those semisoft toppings. What really clinches a good huevos rancheros is the textural contrast of a crunchy tortilla paired up with the loose eggs and condiments. CSB’s version had all the right ingredients, but had a weak foundation that undermined the overall dish.

Sweet Potato Fries -- perhaps a little random given the rest of our meal, but still deftly cooked and delicious.

Sweet Potato Fries — perhaps a little random given the rest of our meal, but still deftly cooked and delicious.

Although seemingly a little off-theme, the sweet potato fries were very well done, and ended up working wonderfully with our meal (pro tip — try dipping them in the maple butter that comes with the pancakes). I like my sweet potato fries even softer than my preferred model of thick-cut, starchy french fries, mostly because I adore the pure, unadulterated taste of sweet potato. (In fact, I will frequently just roast a sweet potato for dinner with a little salt and pepper, or even cinnamon. Sweet potato and avocado — also a killer combination.) CSB’s sweet potato fries were thin cut in varying shapes and sizes that suggests  they were handcut. Some were slightly charred on the ends, giving a nice crunch go to with the more mushy (in a good way) middle. They were served with ketchup, but I actually don’t particularly enjoy ketchup with my sweet potatoes, and so like the hot sauce that came with the huevos, I largely ignored the condiments (mostly because I’m a spice-wuss).

Banana Walnut Pancakes -- a wake up call for pancake enthusiasts.

Banana Walnut Pancakes — a wake up call for pancake enthusiasts.

Purely by luck I saved the best part of the meal for last — Clinton Street Baking Co.’s legendary pancakes. Now there’s a lot of hype around certain dishes in New York eating, especially when it comes to brunch, so I was fully prepared for these to be a letdown. I’m also of the opinion that so often the pancakes you encounter out in the world are perfectly fine, but nothing to write home about — the average order at IHOP is not going to blow your mind in any way. But these pancakes, my friends, these were the real deal. They reminded me of the true potential of pancakes — from the familiar buttermilk base, to their firm, yet fluffy texture, the pancakes were fully cooked through, browned on the edges and golden in the middle, just thick enough to provide some real chew. Candied walnuts were baked into the cakes and added another layer of sweetness, and freshly sliced bananas came on top. The batter itself didn’t have a strong banana flavor, which I actually preferred, because it let the taste of the pancake itself shine through. They came with CSB’s similarly renowned maple butter, which is more butter-maple than maple-butter, as it is literally melted butter poured into maple syrup. I could feel it clogging my arteries as I eagerly dunked my pancakes in, but God bless the CSB alchemists for producing from two classic condiments one glorious liquid gold. With all that sugar, I was very happy to split the stack of three pancakes — I’m pretty sure it would have been a little dangerous to my glucose levels to eat on my own.

Another merit of eating dinner at CSB became clear when our waitress arrived with the check, and placed two small paper bags alongside it. Inside were baked goods left over from the brunch service — Sarah got a lemon poppyseed muffin, and I got a fullsize biscuit. (For those who are curious, the biscuit reheated fantastically for breakfast the next day, and goes great with raspberry jam.) No wait, classic pancakes, and free baked goods? Why does anyone pick brunch over dinner here?

Sarah's bonus lemon poppyseed muffin.

Sarah’s bonus lemon poppyseed muffin.

Why certainly, I'll take another biscuit -- as long as you're handing them out, I'll keep eating them.

Why certainly, I’ll take another biscuit — as long as you’re handing them out, I’ll keep eating them.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I had a comforting and dependable dinner at Clinton Street Baking Company. The laid back and simple homestyle cooking and decor worked well during the calmer dinner period, and the majority of my meal was solidly executed and plenty tasty. This is a restaurant where you really should try out their famous dishes — the Banana Walnut Pancakes certainly lived up to the hype, and were in a class above the rest of the dishes we tried. Because of this, I feel it’s not totally fair to judge the dinner menu without having tried the similarly well-regarded fried chicken. Because of ease of access, I’m happy to go back and give the chicken and waffles a try (I can’t lie, I’m mainly coming back for more maple butter). I would definitely recommend paying a visit to CSB, but delay your visit till after sunset– I’m not sure any pancakes are worth waiting three hours for. Avoid the tourist trap and come back for a relaxing dinner — after all, you’re an adult, and you can have breakfast as many times a day as you like.

Clinton Street Baking Co.

4 Clinton St (off E. Houston)

clintonstreetbaking.com/

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America: One Nation, Overstufed — Megastuf Oreos

I’ve been thinking recently how the contents of this blog might imply that I lead quite the cosmopolitan lifestyle, my weeks practically overflowing with visits to lauded bakeries and trendy restaurants. Perhaps I should just let this impression continue, since the reality is far less exciting — think Trader Joe’s frozen dinners and Progresso Soups — but tempting as that may be, when I started Experimental Gastronomy, the goal was to provide an outlet for the pent up trivia and fascinations with food that I find taking up far too much space in my brain. So fortunately, this week brings me back to the origins of the blog. Let’s take a break from fancy dinners and get back to my roots — that’s right, we’re talking Oreos.

Last week began with a literal “stop the presses” moment. During my routine morning Google Reader catch-up, I stumbled upon this post from the Impulsive Buy. My mouth fell open. Megastuf Oreos? Could it be? Had Nabisco somehow heard my prayers and broken the double-stuf-creme barrier? I literally said out loud (to no one in particular) — “I need to find these.”

As I declared in my first post about Oreos, I am firmly in the “creme” camp of the “cookie vs. creme” debate (which Nabisco has now made the core(o) of their new ad campaign), so the idea of adding even more filling to an Oreo cookie sandwich was irresistible to me. However, Nabisco is far from first to think of this — Oreo hacksters have been posting pictures of triple, quadruple, or even dodecastuf Oreos on the Internet since reddit was born. How would an officially sanctioned, factory-baked mult-stuf measure up against the indie-stacked competition?

Thankfully, Megastuf was significantly easier to find than the Ice Cream Cookies n’ Creme Oreos — while my crack team of my mother managed to secure me a box from Target, I’ve actually since run across Megastuf in Duane Reade and Food Emporium. This may be due to the way Megastuf fits into Nabisco’s larger advertising scheme, or simply a nod to the sizable audience of creme-preferring Oreo eaters. I’d call us “cremers,” but that just makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

It’s also worth noting that Nabisco had previously attempted to alter the cookie/creme ratio, via the Triple Double Oreo. The TDO is the structural equivalent of a Big Mac — three cookies with two layers of creme, one vanilla, one chocolate. I’d rank the TDO pretty low on my Oreo variations list, for a couple of reasons. First — way too much cookie, and unless these bad boys are stale, that means each bite is gonna be pretty damn crunchy. Second — the creme layers are not Double Stuf, and I have standards. And lastly, who likes chocolate creme Oreos? It’s not even real chocolate — it’s chocolate-flavored. No thank you. That being said, if you’re on the cookie side of things, you may prefer the TDO to the Megastuf at the end of the day. Although if you’re a real Oreo lover, you’ll seek out the Oreo X3, the Argentinian Oreo product that features 3 cookies and 2 layers of original creme. God, I know way too much about Oreos.
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And with that in mind, let’s get down to the overanalysis of processed food. Enter the Megastuf Oreo. Thanks to my boyfriend, I had a box of Double Stuf on hand for a direct comparison. Despite having fewer cookies per box, the Megastuf package felt heavier than the Double Stuf box. I don’t want to think about the implications of the creme being the heavier part of the Oreo than the actual cookies.

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The package is actually stuf(f)ed to the brim with cookies overflowing with creme.

Upon opening the package, I was greeted with the familiar Oreo scent — cocoa intermingling with sugary sweet pseudo-vanilla. I would wager it was slightly more pungent with this product, but thankfully not the chemically-fortified strength of the Birthday Cake or Ice Cream Cookies n Creme varieties. Smell-wise, these are your basic Oreos, but if you maybe slathered the insides of the package in creme. Speaking of slathering, some of the Megastufs looked like they were nearly exploding with filling. The creme cannot be contained! (Getting uncomfortable again.)

Megastuf on the left, regular Double Stuf on the right. The Megastuf looks like it's slowly pulling the Double Stuf's filling into its gravitational field.

Megastuf on the left, regular Double Stuf on the right. The Megastuf looks like it’s slowly pulling the Double Stuf’s filling into its gravitational field.

Side by side with a Double Stuf, it appears that the Megastuf has about 1.5 times the filling of a Double Stuf. So I guess compared to an Original, the Megastuf is really a 3.5-stuffed Oreo? For me, this was drool-worthy, but I could see it being a little imposing for the old-fashioned Oreo pursuits (although really, you all should just be eating Hydrox — why even pretend to be part of the Nabisco sugar-industrial complex?).

The Megastuf was supremely easy to twist apart, most likely due to the lubrication from the extra filling. Tasting the standalone Oreo, the flavor is nothing new — classic, not too sweet cocoa taste. The creme was wonderfully soft, but again was nothing different in flavor. Nabisco was clearly not interested in revamping their formula with the Megastuf. I guess that’s what the Creamsicle/Berry Burst/Candy Corn Oreo monstrosities are for.

It will come as no surprise that overall I found the experience of eating a Megastuf extremely positive. Because of the softness of the filling, it spreads across the breadth of the cookies, providing a balance of cookie/creme flavors, and crunchy/soft texture in every bite. I sincerely hope Megastufs graduate from the Limited Edition space to mainstream Oreodom. The Megastuf singlehandly removes the most unfortunate consequence of underground Oreo hacks — what to do with the remaining naked half cookies once you’ve assembled your leaning tower of creme filling. The Megastufs also maintain the ideal composition, allowing bits of cookie and creme to be a part of the whole eating experience.

God, I'm actually salivating looking at this photo.

God, I’m actually salivating looking at this photo.

The only downside to the Megastufs is their nutrition. Coming in at 180 calories per 2-cookie serving, they’re only 40 calories more per serving than Double Stuf. But the Megastufs make up for it in sugar content, slapping you in the face with a stunning 18g of sugar per serving. For comparison, the worst rated sugary cereal, Honey Smacks, has only 15g of sugar per serving. So maybe hold back on the kids wolfing down a box of Megastufs, unless you’re prepared to wrestle them to the ground after they’ve finished crayoning the wallpaper.

In terms of Oreo product reviews on this blog, the Megastufs are the clear winner (wooo small sample size), but even beyond that, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that this Oreo variety stays around. Thanks to Valentine’s Day treats, I’ve still got 98% of the Megastuf box left, so I’m already deliberating on whether I should mix them with ice cream, or bake with them, or just savor the overflowing creme filling lick by lick. Ugh, regardless of how I eat them, I’ve got to stop writing about it. This post is getting less family friendly by the second. Bottom line: if you’re on the creme side of the cookie v. creme debate, go find these. Your mouth will thank you.