If you travel the winding strip of Williamsburg Road, passing east of Richmond, through the quaint town of Toano and into Williamsburg, you are transported to a mecca of pancake houses.
These aren't ordinary pancake houses. They are glimpses from the past, with rock walls and deep vinyl booths. The bathrooms are outdated and the servers are likely call you "Darlin'" - but most of all the breakfasts are sublime.
Max and Carol picked me up for our road trip to Pancake Row. It's the name I made up for it, though I wish it were more clever. Max and Carol are semi-newlyweds living in Lakeside, but it's honestly difficult to describe them with brevity. The above photo says a lot, but this post about their wedding fills in the blanks.
Needless to say, they're fun. They love a good road trip and batter-based breakfast, and I found myself drooling over their pictures on Instagram. It was all stacks of red velvet pancakes, popping egg yolks and milkshakes. But most of all, it felt like an adventure.
And an adventure it was. Like me, Max likes to avoid highways if the scenic route is studded with curiosities. Williamsburg Road does not disappoint. Two hundred year-old farm houses sit so far from the road, you can't tell whether they're abandoned or not. There were antique stores and barbecue joints pumping sweet smoke into the air. There was a suspected commune they would pass every time, and on the day I rode along, that cluster of homes in a field built a high fence around themselves, confirming their suspicions.
Once you pass Toano, a walkable town with old gas stations and a general store, you are nearly there. You start seeing salty old seafood shacks from the 1960s mixed in with pancake houses, featuring names like Not Another Pancake House and Another Broken Egg Cafe. It's adorable.
We cruised the strip as the couple divulged the pros and cons of each pancake house. I admitted to being a salty person more than a sweet person, which narrowed the field. We ultimately settled on The Smoky Griddle Pancake House, run by a Latinx family that infused their dishes with a little kick. While you can still get the breakfast classics, you can also get huevos rancheros or waffles with wings.
I settled on a breakfast chimichanga, loaded with jalapenos and chorizo. I loved the home fries, which were skinless and soft with a load of flavor. For dessert, I ordered strawberry pancakes, while Max and Carol shared the peach pancakes. Rather than pour over maple syrup, he used a pack of hazelnut creamer, and it was surprisingly tasty!
I thanked Carol and Max for their hospitality, and gifted them a box of Dolly Parton's biscuit mix. Not only do we consider her the Patron Saint Of All Of The Things, but Carol can bake. That's a whole other blog post. Most importantly, Carol makes art pieces of these Dolly Parton boxes. I'm not allowed to share them with the world (yet!), but they're joyful.
Spring seems to already be in the air, so if you are looking for a sweet diversion, a culinary adventure where the journey matters as much as the destination, cruise Williamsburg Road. Keep the windows down en route, stop for antiques, and if you see any funny business over the fence at the compound, you are obligated to report back to me.