The Pancake Factory is essentially Utsunomiya’s take on the Cheesecake Factory–a relatively spacious and trendy restaurant with a large menu serving even larger portions of food, centered around (but not limited to) one sweet specialty. Upon investigation, I’m actually quite surprised that it’s not a chain–apparently there is just one, right on the edge of Hachimanyama Park in downtown Utsunomiya. I went with a friend for lunch to see what it was all about.
It turns out, going with a friend was a very good idea. As I said, the portions are sizable, and honestly, almost everything looks delicious. Of course you go there for pancakes, but then the ribs look so good also… (While they have many Japanese-style flavors of course, they also have a very American menu.) We decided to go for 3 things:
First up was the nut and herb salad, complete with walnuts, cilantro, arugula, dill, chervil, and grapefruit:
It was delicious. Given the size, a bit expensive, but these again are not all the most common ingredients in Japan.
Next we got our quattro formaggi omelet, with a side of chopped potatoes and onions:
It was likewise very good.
Last came our plato principal: our macadamia nut cream sauce, ricotta-folded souffle pancakes:
This was amazing. Pancakes are one of my all-time favorite food, and I don’t dish out that compliment lightly, especially in Japan. It’s not that Japanese pancakes are bad; it’s just that they’re not normally made in the style I like–traditional breakfast-diner-stile with just butter and syrup. Japanese pancakes often emphasize texture as much as taste, meaning that each gets a 50-50 split of importance, which takes away from the 100% (I guess maybe 90%) emphasis on flavor that I like. In other words, since Japan loves thick, fluffy, and less flavorful pancakes, and normally likes to make up for the lack of inherent flavor with a bunch of sauces and fillings (which, if that’s your thing, all the more power to you, but I would take my traditional pancakes over chocolate- or blueberry- or whatever-have-you-filled varieties any day).
In any case, while I wouldn’t hard-line call this a pancake–it’s like pancake meets cake, and both are good things. It’s just one big puff with flavorful sauce and toppings poured over it. The ricotta folded into the batter not only creates this fluffiness, but it also offers the pancake a distinct, sour taste characteristic of the cheese–they don’t skimp, these chefs.
While I had been worrying upon ordering that we would never be able to finish all our food and had been wondering if the restaurant was American enough to offer doggy bags, the two of us actually managed to finish all of it up. The courses (if you can call them that) were spaced out in a way to give yourself some rest and to let your stomach open up for the dessert that came out last, and even though the portions were fairly large, they were also in a way light(ish). Better yet, especially after seeing the price of the salad (which was about 900 yen), I was worried about the final price of our meal–surely it had to be skyrocketing. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it came out to about 4000 yen total to split between the two of us–a good price for a lunch that kept me full for hours (I only had a packet of goldfish for dinner).
Therefore, I’d recommend going in a group of 2-3, 4 at the max, if you are really looking to get a meal in, and not just taste a few bites of a couple dishes. The space is very accommodating, so it is also suitable for large groups or parties (there was a party of 30 at a table across the room from us, and we still got in with no wait on a Saturday afternoon).