Unpretentious and folksy, the Original Pancake House in Crown Hill is an unlikely outpost for what's become a national chain of breakfast restaurants. Founded in a red-roofed, white-sided house in suburban Portland in 1953, OPH is now in 111 locations.
Ken Naito, whose family developed a signifcant part of downtown Portland over the decades, bought the Seattle franchise (100 seats at the Crown Hill location, 150 in Kirkland) in 1995. No reservations; the waiting room is the front porch, lined with benches that look like they've come from Home Depot. The plain-spoken dining room is panelled in knotty pine, though a surprising bright spot on a couple of recent visits were original watercolors of Paris by Queen Anne artist Leslie Jenkins.
The signature dish here is the Dutch Baby, $10.83 these days, which arrives at the table still quivering from the oven, a baked soufflé rich in eggs and cream, slightly custardy on the bottom, crisper on the sides, dusted with powdered sugar, begging for lemon juice, melted butter and maple syrup. Now, Seattle residents with very long memories may tell you, with some legitimacy, that the original Dutch Baby was served at Manca's Café, an establishment originally at Second and Cherry, later at First and Columbia. Victor Manca based his "original" recipe (90 cents in 1942) on the traditional, oven-baked German apple pancake. By 1987, Sunset Magazine's version came in second to a chicken-artichoke casserole in a poll of reader favorites, but by then the Dutch Baby was already a staple of the popular OPH on Portland's Barbur Boulevard.
Back in the spotless kitchen on 15th NW, it's Manuel Ramos's job to whip up the batter for the Dutch Baby, its cousin the apple pancake, and the oven-baked omelets. (Officially, the recipe and techniques are closely guarded secrets, but you can find plenty of reasonable imitations online.) Ramos started at OPH as a busser 12 years ago and today he's the only one Naito trusts as Baby-baker. Into an 8-inch teflon-coated pan goes the batter (unbleached hard wheat flour; several AA eggs, cream, a touch of lemon, perhaps?), then 20 minutes of intense heat in the 85,000 BTU Montague Vectaire convection oven. Ramos sends a wireless page to the waitress, and not until she's waiting, across the passe, does he remove the pan, slide the Baby onto a plate, and sprinkle it with confectioner's sugar.
The Dutch Baby clocks in at 700 calories and 9 grams of carbs, about the same as a waffle, before you add whipped butter, lemon, powdered sugar or maple syrip. (it's the apple pancake that'll get you, with 1,530 calories and 309 grams of carbs.) The Crown Hill location alone serves some 2,500 a year. It is decidedly not "gourmet," just amazingly good.