Walker Brothers Pancake House, Arlington Heights, Ill.
Apparently, I’m on a brothers run, as I’m following up Gray Brothers with Walker Brothers, which are of course in no way connected. But Walker Bros. does have a connection to something completely different. If you’re familiar with the movie Mean Girls, you might have heard of it because Walker Bros., found in the northern suburbs of Chicagoland, is referenced in the film, which I didn’t know about until later. In fact, I believe this is the first accidental find to make it on Dan vs. Food.
Basically, the lovely and amazing Amy McFann was visiting me, and our travel plans found us back near the Windy City for a weekend, which had brought us to Millennium Park and Superdawg the night before. That was the last Chicagoland restaurant from either Man vs. Food or the Chowdown Countdown that I hadn’t visited yet, so going into the next morning, in a rarity for us, we had no plans on where to eat the next day.
Well, that wasn’t going to work. We were in Chicago, which has a ton of great food, and we weren’t about to waste that opportunity. So I searched where we were and discovered high marks for Walker Bros., which was conveniently located less than a mile from where we were staying. Amy, who loves breakfast and pretty much any food that doesn’t involve beef or onions, easily agreed and we were on our way.
Upon stepping into Walker Bros., we quickly discovered that this was no ordinary accidental find. Walker Bros. has been named one of the top 10 pancake places in the country, and a look at the menu told me that I was at the North’s version of the Pancake Pantry. Walker Bros. doesn’t have quite as many as its Southern counterpart, but at 16 kinds of pancakes, the variety isn’t bad at all. Some of the kinds on the menu include the Swedish (with lingonberries), blueberry (with compote), bacon (I imagine that is wonderful with maple syrup) and Georgia pecan (nuts and sugar). They claim their specialty is the apple pancake, which is topped with cinnamon and a sugar glaze. Apparently, it’s so popular that it’s sold in freezers so people can have it at home.
That’s a pretty ringing endorsement. But I’ve seen apple pancakes before, and I’ve seen and sampled cinnamon pancakes before. That didn’t seem that unique to me, especially not when compared to Walker Bros.’ oven-baked omelets. I’ve eaten plenty of omelets in my life, usually with my favorite toppings of ham, mushroom and some type of cheese, with maybe another vegetable or two thrown in there. But I’ve never had one baked in the oven. To me, omelets are made on the griddle or in a skillet and folded over. Baking it? This I had to try.
One reason why we work so well together is that Amy and I tend to think alike, and she was as intrigued by the baked omelet as I was. Fortunately, Walker Bros. serves all omelets with your choice of three pancakes, allowing us the best of both worlds. With that in mind, I went with the classic spinach omelet and threw some mushrooms in there. As it’s normally served, the omelet is spinach with Cheddar and Swiss cheese, plus a mushroom gravy to top it with. But because I love the taste, my palate believes something is wrong with an omelet that doesn’t include mushrooms. Hence, a necessary addition.
With a nod to my brother Simon and my friend Erica, who are both huge San Francisco fans, I paired the omelet with the 49er’s Flapjacks, which are thin and chewy pancakes that melt in your mouth, especially when you pour on the syrup. Thin pancakes seem odd at first, but these are wonderful. The texture honestly feels like it’s gooey rather than doughy, and the taste is fantastic. Easily some of the best pancakes I’ve had. The real star, however, was the omelet. Spinach, mushrooms and cheese just goes together, and the oven gave the omelet a nice crust that made the inside simply perfect. The omelet holds together perfectly, it’s cooked to exactly the right texture, the flavors work great in combination with each other and it tastes incredible. Throw on some of the mushroom gravy and it couldn’t be better.
Amy, a lover of Greek cuisine, opted for the Mediterranean omelet, which features feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes, oregano and Greek olives. It also normally includes onions, but as you might have guessed, those were excluded at her request. She added banana pancakes to her order, which are quite excellent from my one sample of them. Her omelet was also excellent and enhanced by the mushroom gravy as well, which normally does not come with the Mediterranean. Luckily, they give you plenty of gravy when you order one that it does come with (you pour it on yourself), so we had enough for both of us. I’m not sure why they don’t include it with every omelet, but that’s about the only thing wrong here.
Breakfasts aren’t the thing Chicago is known for culinary-wise, but the Windy City and its suburbs know how to get the first meal of the day correct as well. There’s a reason that this place has been around since 1960 in a market as demanding as Chicagoland, and it’s quality. The northwest suburbs aren’t necessarily easy to get to, but for this, they’re worth the trip.
Time to go: Breakfast, although all locations are open until evening. Breakfast is just what it’s known for doing best.
Wait during my visit: Somewhat lengthy. The popularity is huge, so you can expect to wait about 15 minutes or so for a table.
Location: There are six. We visited the Arlington Heights location, which is at 825 Dundee Road in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Parking: There’s a nice amount. You’re not in the city, so you can park.
Cost: On the high side for breakfast. You’re probably going to pay about $15 a person.
Seating arrangement: Mostly chairs.
Website: Walker Bros.
Specialty items: Pancakes, omelets