UNCOVERING DU-PAR’S’ PANCAKE SECRETS
By Bob Vickrey
Du-par’s Restaurant and Bakery employees take their pancake preparation so seriously that they seem to consider pancakes as their own separate food group. Our monthly lunch club decided to get equally serious and investigate their findings firsthand.
When James Dunn and Edward Parsons founded Du-par’s in 1938, they opened a simple nine-stall booth adjacent to the Farmers Market that eventually became one of the most famous coffee shops in Los Angeles. (The partners combined a portion of their surnames to come up with the name of their new restaurant.)
An investment group led by W.W. “Biff” Naylor bought Du-par’s in 2004, and the son of famed Los Angeles restaurateur Tiny Naylor, helped orchestrate the complete renovation of the old shop several years later. When it reopened in 2007, customers were relieved to find the restaurant had maintained the look of its storied past—complete with traditional vinyl booths.
The Du-par’s staff proudly squeezes its own orange juice, grinds its own hamburger meat and hand-peels and cuts its hash-browns. They also make their own ice cream.
Actor James Dean is said to have eaten at Du-par’s just before he took his final spin up the coast in his Porsche Spyder. We were counting on Barry, our highly trusted driver, to produce a more promising outcome for our short trip back to the Palisades.
Shortly after arriving, we noticed they had taken out the counter and added more booths during the renovation, but it was still the same comfortable place with its traditional warm hospitality. Our waiter Jim was quite chatty and wanted to know what brought us there. I think that may have been code for: Are you tourists? We assured him we had been customers for many years—and that Barry had pretty much “grown up” at the Farmers Market.
While we studied the options on the menu, Barry snapped pictures of the restaurant’s décor, as well as a few shots of Caesar the chef with our waiter Jim. They seemed to have enjoyed the attention paid to them by our resident photographer. (I soon realized we were beginning to look like tourists.)
Our server Jim (at left) with Chef Caesar and his buttermilk pancakes
I considered ordering one of their specialties—chicken pot pie, which I had remembered from previous visits, but I kept returning to the breakfast menu. Evidently, that same vibe was in the air around our table as three of us decided upon breakfast dishes.
Josh knew about Du-par’s reputation for making great buttermilk pancakes and ordered the short-stack with turkey sausage on the side. Arnie chose his favorite—French toast—prepared with the house-made brioche, while I selected the traditional breakfast with two eggs over-medium with hash-browns and turkey sausage.
Barry was the lone breakfast holdout and ordered the Tiny’s Classic Patty Melt on grilled rye bread with caramelized onions and melted Swiss cheese.
The minute Josh’s pancakes arrived at the table, I knew I’d made a mistake, but it was too late for a “do-over.” I asked him for a couple of bites so I could sample the house specialty, but after noticing his quickly-dwindling short-stack, Josh appeared threatened by my noticeable pancake envy. He pulled his plate closer to his side of the table and looked as if he might issue a “cease and desist” order at any moment if my fork and I didn’t begin minding our own business.
Du-par’s proclaims its pancakes are world famous and says the recipe is kept under lock and key with the secret known only by a few. (Apparently, the Price-Waterhouse accounting firm was no longer trusted with the information after its Oscar night gaffe.) Du-par’s claims the step-by-step process in crafting the batter involves hours of preparation, and sure enough, the finished product was sufficient enough to convince Esquire Magazine to declare them: “The best pancakes in the U.S.” And you can bet that you won’t hear any arguments from Josh and me.
On the way home, I kept thinking about returning to Du-par’s—only this time—ordering their full stack of buttermilk pancakes. However, I was considerably more preoccupied in wondering where the heck Du-par’s is hiding that lock and key.
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and is a regular contributor to the Boryana Books website. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.