I grew up with an idea of diners that came from prime-time TV. Diners were a world where waitresses wore matching uniforms, where chrome barstools and Formica-topped tables were the norm, where the coffee was always hot and the eggs always cooked to order.
Yes, I thought all diners were like Mel’s Diner on Alice.
When I got older, I didn’t see that when I went out for breakfast. Oh, sure, Waffle House has uniforms and coffee, but it’s not the same. Waffle House doesn’t evoke thoughts of a community, or warm feelings about the past. It wasn’t until years later that I’d find the place that met my mental image of a diner.
No, I’ve never heard a waitress there tell a customer to kiss her grits, and there’s no grumpy cook hollering at folks. But the food is good, it’s decently priced, there are regulars that come through on a schedule, and you won’t find a better cuppa joe in Hot Springs National Park.
And that’s the thing -- TV news anchors are just regular folks here. So are just about every sort of celebrity you might imagine. Lots of folks have darkened the doorstep -- including generations of horseracing’s finest, musicians of the like of Liberace, and who knows who else. No matter the magnitude of your own shining stardom, you’ll always get the same warm welcome.
The Pancake Shop’s big thing is breakfast, and that’s what you come to order. The choices are simple -- pancakes, French toast, breakfast meats, eggs, and omelets, drinks and fruit. Almost everything is served with toast, and toast is served with grape jelly and apple butter in individual services. Apple butter is so extraordinarily Arkansan, and it’s so fitting here.
It’s just one more item that’s normal here, where it might not be normal elsewhere. You can have any meat you want, as long as it’s pork -- but there’s also lots of fruit and juice choices. Where else can you get bananas and blueberries, stewed prunes, or grapefruit? Oatmeal, cream of wheat,
My favorite? Banana pancakes -- real bananas in the batter, too. Pancakes are thick, hearty, and the size of a dinner plate. One is enough for a side, two for a complete breakfast -- yet it’s not unusual to hear a neophyte order a stack of three and see the same customer give up halfway through his food. Gargantuan gobs of grub, indeed.
It may sound like I’m in love with the restaurant. Perhaps I am. There’s just something about the simplicity of a place where the most expensive thing on the menu is Ham Steak and Eggs ($7.85). And where the wait staff still refers to customers as “sir” and “ma’am,” not in that smarmy way that teenagers sometimes manage but with the honest respect that good businesses try to foster.
The Pancake Shop is open every day from 6am to 12:45pm. You’ll find it across from the Arlington Hotel at 216 Central Avenue in Hot Springs. Check out the restaurant on-line at www.pancakeshop.com or call (501) 624-5720.
UPDATE: I've come back and written more about the Pancake Shop - once, when I did a cupping, once on the 75th anniversary, once on our epic Scenic Highway Seven adventure... actually, I've written a LOT about the Pancake Shop.