The 13 Tastiest Pancakes in Madison
We’ve ordered up heaping stacks and gotten our fingers sticky to bring you a hot-off-the-griddle lineup of the city’s tastiest flapjacks
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It’s such a simple dish, really. Sometimes there are as few as three or four ingredients involved—heck, some of us even make it out of a box on the weekends, using only water as a mixer. Yet from what can often be a relatively simple foundation, Madison restaurants have found a host of ways to rock a memorable stack of pancakes, in both traditional and highly unusual ways. Some of them would put a smile of familiarity on a lumberjack’s face, while others would knock his wool socks right off. To put it another way, Madison’s breakfast and brunch cafes love to use pancakes as a palette.
“When you get right down to it, pancakes are a great delivery system,” says Susan Hendrix, the chef and co-owner of Sunprint on the Square.
She’s right, and what we found when we went pancake hunting only proves her point. Whether it’s fruit, sweet chocolate chips or south-of-the-border spicing, there’s a stack waiting to be drenched in syrup—real Wisconsin maple syrup, that is. Sharpen your forks and let’s dig in.
LAZY JANE'S CAFE
PHOTO BY MATTHEW ENGELHART
Used to be you could score a stack of pancakes only as a weekend special in the cozy confines of this Willy Street staple. Then, about three to four years ago, the staff decided to take it daily, much to Madison’s breakfast- and brunch-eating pleasure. Lazy Jane’s buttermilk recipe is a result of a meeting of the minds between the staff’s four chefs, and it’s delicious to the power of four.
For starters, it’s not your standard buttermilk. “They’re a little more salty, and our batter is a little thicker than some,” says kitchen manager Will Tracy. The result is a tall, hearty pancake that carries just the slightest hint of the other things cooked on the grill beside it.
You’ll pay a little extra for the Wisconsin maple syrup to slather it with, but it’s totally worth it. And, hey, if you’re feeling really adventurous on the weekend, see if you can score a plate of mac and cheese pancakes with Andouille sausage. Yes, you read that correctly.
Lazy Jane's Cafe
1358 Williamson St.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER FLAVOR
Blue corn pancakes with chile butter
PHOTO BY ANGELA WONG
Taylor Anderson knows that Eldorado isn’t necessarily the first place people think of when they’re hankering for a tasty stack of cakes—but maybe it should be.
Eldorado’s Southwestern take on the dish, featured as part of the restaurant’s rock-solid brunch lineup, is unlike anything else in the city. It starts with that shocking orange dollop of butter camped on top of a stack of sizable blue corn pancakes. The butter and maple syrup are punched up with cascabel chile—also known as “the rattler,” an oval-shaped chile with a woodsy taste. Beverage aficionados will recognize these as the same chiles that infuse Eldorado’s vodkas and tequilas with a little extra flavor.
“Our patrons are getting a flavor they’ve never had in their life before,” says Anderson, Eldorado’s proprietor and general manager. “It really opens their eyes.”
Those thinking they’ll be lunging, Marco Rubio–style, for an icy glass of agua after a bite or two can calmate: The spice these chiles offer is moderate, not scorching, and neatly complements the sweetness of the cakes and syrup. The pancakes themselves are made in the traditional style of the Pueblo Indians. And as an added plus, they pack an additional dose of protein.
744 Williamson St.
Blueberry pancakes with orange-almond butter
PHOTO BY CHRIS HYNES
“Pancakes are part of the lexicon of the American breakfast,” says Sam Mack, the affable director of operations for Marigold Café, taking the words right out of our mouths. He’d better not try taking a bite of the café’s blueberry pancakes right out of our mouths, or he might have a fight on his hands.
As with much of Marigold’s menu, the pancake prep is unusual. Mack treats it almost like a sourdough, making the batter a day ahead of time and infusing it with yeast.
“It gives the cake a little stretch and spring,” says Mack. “It makes it not so cakey.”
True, but it’s the butter that sends these cakes into maximum overdrive. Infused with orange and almond extract, it’s sweet, strong and the perfect complement to the tasty tang of the blueberries in the batter and sprinkled on top. You may even be tempted to eat the pat of butter straight up, but don’t—that would just be embarrassing.
“Some people ask for the pancakes without the butter,” says Mack, a grin stealing across his face. “I always bring it out on a side dish.”
Marigold’s is also one of a handful of pancake places in Madison that uses real Wisconsin maple syrup, a choice that can get expensive in years when the syrup crop’s not as strong as it is this year.
One final piece of good news—Marigold just shifted to serving breakfast all day.
118 S. Pinckney St.
SUNPRINT ON THE SQUARE
Pancakes with fruit compote
PHOTO BY KATRINA TALOZA
Sunprint’s cozy location on the Capitol Square recalls nothing so much as a traditional French café. The pancakes chef Susan Hendrix serves to her patrons on mornings and weekends are anything but. She mixes in an unusual ingredient into her pancakes, you see—malt powder.
“It adds a little extra flavor, and I like that twist,” Hendrix says.
It’s a tasty nuance that adds depth without disrupting the pancake’s texture, but it’s actually not the biggest thing that gives Sunprint’s pancakes their distinctive saveur. That honor goes to the warm and savory fruit compote that Hendrix makes on-site, using fresh fruit scored from the farmers’ market that operates right outside her door on Saturdays for half the year. Strawberries and Melba apples (they’re sweeter than your average apple) are the workhorses that appear most frequently as compote options, but every once in a while, patrons are served a fruit curveball.
And if fruit’s not your thing? The pecan pancakes with maple butter rock pretty hard, too.
10 W. Mifflin St.
DAISY CAFÉ AND CUPCAKERY
Multigrain pancakes with fruit
PHOTO BY ANGELA WONG
Part of the secret of Daisy Café’s tasty multigrain pancakes isn’t really a secret at all—it’s sitting in plain sight, available for sale right as you enter the place. It’s the bags of pancake mix sold by Porchlight, the local organization that works to help Madison’s homeless find a home. In that sense, you can call it a socially responsible pancake.
But café co-owner Daryl Sisson and his staff take it a step further, adding a local twist that makes the pancakes they serve especially delish: Instead of using water as a mixer, they opt for fresh-squeezed orange juice from their nearby neighbor, the Jenifer Street Market. That’s what we call some serious local synergy.
Obviously, the multigrain vibe adds a hearty and healthy sheen to an otherwise decadent breakfast choice—and so does the heaping side of fresh fruit that camps alongside each stack.
“A lot of people really appreciate the multigrain,” says Sisson. We can see—and taste—why.
Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery
2827 Atwood Ave.
THE PANCAKE CAFÉ
PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN
Perhaps you’ve driven down Nesbitt Road on a weekend and wondered why the parking lot of the Pancake Café is so packed. It might have a little something to do with the café’s signature (and Best of Madison award–winning) apple pancake. Simply put, this pancake is a beast; the small version alone completely fills a standard breakfast plate. To manage the large, you might need to ask for extra seating.
Tackling it is almost like eating an open-faced apple pie: Huge slices of Sinkiang cinnamon-glazed apples nearly burst past the clutching fingers of the inch-and-a-half-deep cake. The secret’s in the batter, and also in the preparation. This dish is baked in an oven for twenty minutes like a cake, not prepared on a griddle like traditional pancakes. The batter’s what makes the baking necessary.
“There are a lot of eggs,” says manager Gary Tierman. “More than you can even imagine.” To ballpark it, Tierman says a typical batch of weekend pancake batter contains as many as 220 eggs. Say it with us: Wow.
6220 Nesbitt Rd.