Texas, for those not from around here, has a bit of a different feel from Oklahoma. It’s bigger, busier, but it’s also a state of contrasts; It has sprawling cities and vast swaths of desolate countryside (think “No Country For Old Men”), a strange blend of modern American cosmopolitanism and backwater secessionist crackpottery. This is the home, after all, of both the Kimball Art Museum and Rick Perry.
But what makes such a place worth driving through hours of repetitive scenery laden with casinos and adult bookstores? Naturally, my friend Sarah and I drove to Ft. Worth and back one fine Saturday for one thing: a meal. Yes, one lunch and even one dish at Ol’ South Pancake House is well worth a 200 mile drive both ways. Don’t believe me? Read on.
I would be loath to ignore all of the fun sight-seeing attractions on a road trip like this, and especially all of the cool things to do in Ft. Worth and Dallas. Just because we came for or food and left without so much as a museum visit doesn’t mean you should! I couldn’t recommend the Kimbell and the Ft. Worth Modern highly enough. The former is an architectural masterwork by Louis Kahn (if you’re into that sort of thing) which is probably the closest thing to hallowed space this side of the Red River. The museum is small, but that means every single piece, ranging from ancient to modern, is a stand-out. The light and materials of the space give intimate and beautiful respect to the works displayed within. Much larger is the Ft. Worth Modern, another masterpiece, plain and simple, by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It contains pieces by such names as Ed Rousha, Gerhard Richter, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, and that Andy Warhol guy you may have heard of.
The best part? These museums are right across the street from one another! And only a short drive from our destined pancake house. Not into art? Well I-35 has plenty of diverse and exciting sights to offer! There’s the action figure museum in Paul’s Valley, Ardmore’s bustling Starbucks, even the world’s only osteology museum! The town of Moore, home to Toby Keith and a big movie theater should also top your list! You can even stop off at the monstrosity that is Winstar Casino, an amalgam of reconstructions of famous buildings from around the world which looks like a pile of greeting cards were willed into terrible, monumental reality by the same evil force that gave us Branson, Missouri. As if this weren’t enough Americana for one day, you’ll even get to see the NASCAR Texas Motor Speedway rising up alongside the highway like an ancient temple of beer, fried food and men in tank-tops.
But if you’re like me, you’d like to go straight through without any stops and cut the 4-hour drive down to 3 with careful observance of posted speed limits. The highway didn’t have an abundance of broken heroes on a last chance power drive during our trip, so we made pretty good time. And suddenly, there it was: right alongside downtown Ft. Worth Ol’ South Pancake House sits with a full parking lot, enormous as you’d expect a themed restaurant in Texas to be (Medieval Times is nearby). I’ll admit this restaurant is unusual for my blog. By that I mean it is really down-home. Desserts are displayed up front, and the wooden booths, old-timey lamps and murals of Southern Plantation vistas give the place a folksy, cracker barrel feel. There is no hint of the exotic quaintness of the foreign restaurants I usually seek out. There are no pillows to sit on, no hookahs, no ducks hanging in plain sight. It doesn’t even have organ meats on the menu! But our meal was phenomenal nonetheless.
I say meal, but really there’s one big reason to come to Ol’ South. When we let our waiter know we had come all the way from Oklahoma City, he instinctively replied “Ah, German pancakes then.” He understands. Yes, iHop claims to be the “International” house of pancakes, and this place also offers several international twists on the traditional breakfast pastry (Swedish Crepes, Belgian Waffles, Blintzes, etc.). But I promise, you have never had anything like these German pancakes. The cake itself is like an egg-based crepe: rich and fluffy like a soufflé but cooked nearly crispy on the flat-top. It arrives at the table flat, like an edible plate holding a gleaming dollop of melting butter and snowy coating of powdered sugar. But then the show starts. Your waiter carefully pours a bowl of fresh-squeezed lemon juice over the pancake until it’s steeped in the buttery nectar. Then he folds it over, making it a sweet, juicy present with a pancake wrapper.
Now are these pancakes really just like those eaten in Germany? I don’t know. Somehow I doubt it. But it is one of the sweetest, richest foods you’ll ever eat. After cutting into the mound of pancake, your plate will be swimming in the butter and lemon. Each bite will be just as explosive, the hot, porous cake soaked in the magical liquid. Now my German pancake was actually what they call a “Dutch Baby,” the small version. The standard size is huge, as in hanging off the plate before they wrap it up huge. Should you be brave enough to try the full pancake, that’s a meal in itself. But in the interest of exploring more of the menu, my Dutch Baby was complimented nicely by eggs, bacon and Cheese Blintzes. You have the choice of strawberries or sour cream on the Blintzes, the latter of which I chose because I was already close to a sugar overdose. The pancake may be a hard act to follow, but the Blintzes were like hot cheesecake wrapped in a crepe (with packets of sour cream administered by yours truly). Need I say more?
So we left Ol’ South and Ft. Worth sated and filled with the food of the gods. There was no room for the pies and cheesecake beckoning to us from their glass case on our way out, but I have no doubt they would have been just as divine. This pilgrimage is one I would recommend all my Oklahoma friends take at least once. The German pancake may not be like anything you’ve eaten, but like everything else on the menu, it’s just great comfort food. Maybe the drive there is a little kitschy, a blend of Las Vegas and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it should put you in the right state of mind for a good southern meal. And Ol’ South is just that: Proof that Southern cooking, at least, isn’t gone with the wind (sorry about that one).
*Ol’ South Pancake House is open 24 hours/day.