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May 5, 2006

Who’s down with OPH? Original Pancake House serves the good stuff.

When I was a first year, some friends and I sat at the Point all night to watch the sunrise. Someone had told us that at the moment the sun rose over the lake, it was very bright green, which turned out to be true—though less than worth staying up all night for. After the anticlimactic sunrise, we realized we were all starving and walked to Original Pancake House (OPH). I’d never heard of it, and I wasn’t even into traditional, greasy, heavy breakfast food, being more a cereal-and-bagel man in high school. That morning, everything changed.

This hidden gem sits on the corner of East Hyde Park Boulevard and South Lake Park Avenue. Sure, it’s a national franchise with locations everywhere from Birmingham to Honolulu, but in my opinion, OPH is absolutely the best restaurant in Hyde Park. OPH claims that they have “The World’s Most Copied Menu”—a claim that may have some truth to it, as OPH was founded a good five years before its ubiquitous and derivative rival, the International House of Pancakes (IHOP).

To start, the decor of this location is fantastic. It looks like a cross between a 1950s suburban home and a log cabin, but works perfectly. Less pleasing are the small tables and tight quarters. On weekends, expect to be seated inches from other patrons at a long line of small tables, but that’s part of the fun. However, if that doesn’t seem fun to you, you’ll still want to check it out because the food is simply that good.

One of OPH’s specialties is their apple pancake, a huge pancake with mounds of sauteed apples, cinnamon, sugar, and happiness, all baked together. This is one serious dish and could easily be shared between two less-than-starving-people—but then you wouldn’t get to try anything else. OPH’s other specialty, the Dutch Baby, seems a tad out of place and isn’t particularly good.

The skillets are a personal favorite of mine and a great complement to the apple pancakes. The Southwestern Skillet is especially good, with grilled spiced vegetables, OPH’s delicious chunk hash browns, better chorizo than you’ll find at most Mexican restaurants, a couple of eggs on top, and pancakes on the side. Expect to not eat for a while afterwards. All of the omelets are also quite good, as is the corned beef hash and most of the meat dishes.

Another stroke of brilliance is that most dishes that aren’t pancakes actually come with pancakes, and though the menu doesn’t say so, you can request specialty pancakes (chocolate, almond, blueberry, etc.) with your main dish for just a little extra. Also, the coffee is great and should not be missed, especially with the accompanying whipping cream. If you’re nice, they’ll even give you a to-go cup so you can take some for your walk back to campus.

Hours are a bit of a problem. During the week, OPH is only open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., so you may have to get up pretty early or skip class to go (it’s well worth it). On weekends, however, they stay open until 5 p.m.—though the line may be nearly out the door on the early end. Often, the time you’re quoted upon arrival is a good deal longer than the time you’ll actually end up waiting, so stick around. Also, be advised that OPH only takes cash, though there is an ATM next door.